Coronavirus Morning News Brief – April 15: The March of the New Variants, XBB 1.6’s New Symptom

Hong Kong Government Adviser Says WHO Will Declare End to Pandemic ‘in About 3 Months’

By Jonathan Spira on 15 April 2023
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Città Antica along the Adige, the second longest river in Italy.

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 1,130th day of the pandemic as well as World Art Day, an international celebration of the arts.  The date was selected honor of the birthday of Leonardo da Vinci, who was born in 1492. Da Vinci was considered to be a symbol of world peace and freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, new variants continue to reveal themselves and multiple new variants have been found in recent months, with a few considered to be concerning, to say the least.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a new variant as a viral genome with at least one mutation from a previous version.

Most variants circulating now are subvariants of omicron.

The Global Institute on Sharing All Influenza Data, a global effort to make all virus information readily available, has long since expanded beyond influenza into SARS-CoV-2 and has documented new variants in over 80 countries just since April.

The risk posted by future variants is unknown, which is why the United States is spending $5 billion to develop vaccines and therapeutics that will have greater efficacy against existing and new variants.

In other news we cover today, the XBB.1.16 subvariant has a scratchy new symptom, cases are surging in India, and levels of Covid in wastewater are down in some areas.


If your eyes are red or itchy, you probably should take a Covid test.

Itchy eyes could be a signal of the start of allergy season – or they could be due to having contracted the XBB 1.16 subvariant of SARS-CoV-2.

The unusual sublineage – it is a recombinant of BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75. – appears to be spreading quickly in many parts of the world.

In the New York metropolitan area, 9% of cases are the new subvariant and the CDC estimates that its prevalence could be as high as 15%.

Wastewater testing doesn’t always bring bad news.  Levels of SARS-CoV-2 found in wastewater in the Boston, Massachusetts region have dipped to their lowest levels in a year.

“It is worth celebrating,” Shira Doron, an epidemiologist and chief infection control officer for the Tufts Medicine health system, told WBUR news.


Professor Lau Yu-lung, chairman of Hong Kong’s Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases and a government advisor on the pandemic, is predicting that the World Health Organization will declare an end of the coronavirus pandemic in approximately three months, speaking on a radio program in the special administration region. Lau said that infections had entered a final stage with very limited impact on society. “The number of Covid infections has slightly rebounded recently with about 200 new cases on Friday,” he said.  “But there is no cause for concern as our focus should be on the number of fatalities or serious cases.”

Meanwhile, the worst of XBB 1.16 appears to currently be centered in India. Cases there are surging, up almost 50% over the past three days alone.


Now here are the daily statistics for Saturday, April 15.

As of Saturday morning, the world has recorded 685.6 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.1 million from the previous day, and 6.84 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 658.3 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.1 million from the previous day.

The reader should note that infrequent reporting from some sources may appear as spikes in new case figures or death tolls.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Saturday at press time is 20,443,051, an increase of 11,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 20,403,531are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 39,520, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past five months.

The United States reported 120,530 new cases in the period March 30 through April 5, a figure that is down 23% over the same period one week earlier, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The death toll for the same period is 1,773, a figure that is down 22%.  The average number of hospital admissions from Covid was 5,396 on April 10, a figure that is down 8% over the preceding 14 days.  Finally, the test positivity rate is 6.4%, down 6% over the 14 days preceding April 7.

Starting on March 25, 2023, the Morning News Brief began to update case data as well as death tolls on a weekly basis.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Saturday, recorded just under 106.5 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of just under 1.16 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 44.8 million, and a reported death toll of 531,091.

The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States.  Rosstat last reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July 2022, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.

Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with over 39.8 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 38.4 million total cases.

Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 700,811, has recorded just under 37.4 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.

The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are Japan, with just under 33.6 million cases, South Korea, with just under 31 million cases, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with 25.7 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.4 million, and Russia, with just over 22.7 million.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Thursday, 270.1 million people in the United States – or 81.4% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 69.4%, or 230.5 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 674.7 million. Breaking this down further, 92.3% of the population over the age of 18 – or 238.2 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 79.1% of the same group – or 204.2 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 20.2% of the same population, or 52.2 million people, has already received an updated or bivalent booster dose of vaccine, while 23.3 million people over the age of 65, or 42.6% of that population have also received the bivalent booster.

Starting on June 13, 2022, the CDC began to update vaccine data on a weekly basis and publish the updated information on Saturdays by 8 p.m. EDT, a statement on the agency’s website said.

Some 69.9% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Saturday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 13.37 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 251,328 doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 29.3% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.

In addition, with the start of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines.

Paul Riegler contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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