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Countries across the globe are reporting record surges in Covid-19 cases as the Omicron variant challenges countries with both low and high rates of vaccination.
Last week, 20 countries spanning four continents recorded record-breaking numbers of Covid-19 cases, according to The Financial Times. Australia, Denmark, and the UK experienced a surge of more than double previous peaks, and the proportion of positive tests is climbing in several countries. Australia’s infections are more than five times their previous peak, and hospitalizations surpassed record numbers, according to SCMP. South Africa, however, which was one of the first countries to detect Omicron, is believed to be past its peak.
While some experts believe Omicron to be “milder” than previous strains, it can still cause devastation in countries with minimal immunity, as reported by The Financial Times.
Only 8.5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data, compared to 58.5% of the world population. Globally, 49.92% of the population has been fully vaccinated or received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Israel has begun offering anyone over age 60 a fourth shot of the coronavirus vaccine, expanding eligibility, as reported by the Washington Post. The country logged more than 6,500 positive cases Monday, the highest daily rate in months, according to Health Ministry figures. Some students have been forced back to remote learning if they have been exposed as more than 100 cities implement their strongest protocols. Israeli epidemiologists said this week that they expect the omicron variant to hospitalize about three out of every 1,000 infected people.
Meanwhile, the country has seen a spike in flu cases, with close to 2,000 people hospitalized in recent weeks, according to the Times of Israel. The country confirmed its first case of an individual infected with both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 at the same time, authorities said on Thursday. The identified case of “flurona,” as some have dubbed it, was relatively mild.
Initial results of a fourth dose study in Israel have shown a significant increase in antibodies, as reported by The New York Times. The fourth shot has produced a fivefold increase in antibodies in recipients’ blood.
In France, researchers have discovered a new variant called “IHU” that contains more mutations than Omicron, according to WION news. Twelve patients have tested positive for the variant amid a surge in cases. The country saw four consecutive days of record-breaking new cases above 200,000 and expects those figures to possibly double in the coming days.
Doctors across Mumbai are warning that already overwhelmed hospitals could run out of staff in a few weeks amid surging case numbers, according to The Telegraph. At St. George’s Hospital, one of the largest in Mumbai, 25% of resident doctors have contracted the virus. By last Sunday, new cases in India had tripled and doubled overnight in Kolkata.
In Asia, Japan is preparing for a possible Omicron surge by delivering Pfizer’s oral treatment nationwide so patients can recover at home rather than in hospital, according to SCMP. In The Philippines, coronavirus restrictions will be expanded this week as cases surge. The provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, and Rizal have been placed under the third-highest alert due to a sharp increase in cases.
A remote indigenous community in northern Ontario has requested Canadian military personnel to help with a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected at least 50% of its residents, according to Al Jazeera. The Bearskin Lake First Nation declared a state of emergency on December 29 and is in need of health workers, medical resources, food, water, and chopped wood.
Aruba’s cases are skyrocketing at more than 500 cases per 100,000 population, prompting the country to deny entry to any cruise ships with Covid outbreaks, according to CNN.
The United States added more than 1 million people to its Covid-19 case count on Monday, setting a world record for most of the new cases in a single day, according to Bloomberg. The surge has put pressure on the country’s health care system as hospitalizations increase. Last week, one in four hospitals with intensive care units reported at least 95% of their ICU beds were full, according to The New York Times.
Children are making up an increasing share of Covid-19 hospitalizations across the U.S., according to U.S. News and World Report. Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C have recorded record numbers of children hospitalized due to Covid. In the past week, children hospitalized have increased by 97% nationwide.
Puerto Rico has had a 4,600% increase in new cases in recent weeks, despite having one of the country’s most successful vaccination campaigns, according to The New York Times. A third of all recorded coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic have been reported in the past month alone. In December, the number of hospitalized patients doubled, twice. While the average age of newly infected people is 33, there is concern that with the holidays, older people are likely to become infected as well. Puerto Rico has a disproportionately high percentage of older adults, many of whom live with diabetes, obesity, or other health conditions. There is also concern that the island’s fragile health system will be severely understaffed in trying to deal with this latest wave.
The Minnesota Department of Health has noted that flu cases are growing faster than before, according to MPR News. Eighteen percent of flu cases came back positive last week, compared to 12% the week before. Fewer patients are being hospitalized for the flu than last year. However, it is not clear how Covid is affecting the availability of hospital staff to treat flu patients.
Cases in Florida have risen 948% in the past two weeks, and hospitalizations have increased by 40%, according to The Guardian. Lines for testing facilities have been reported to be hours long.
In Washington D.C., the seven-day positivity rate has increased from 1% in November to 13% this past week, as reported by The Guardian.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that Americans who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine seek a booster shot five months after the second shot and not six according to earlier guidance. The CDC also recommends that immunocompromised children between the ages of 5 and 11 receive an additional primary vaccine shot 28 days after the second shot, matching guidance for people 12 years and older. The FDA has cleared 12-to15-year-olds to receive a booster.
Direct Relief’s Response
Since the pandemic’s start, Direct Relief has delivered more than 51,000 medical aid shipments, including more than 200 million pieces of personal protective equipment, oxygen concentrators, ventilators, Covid-19 therapies for hospitalized patients and more requested resources to 56 U.S. states and territories and 112 countries. The organization has also supported health organizations during the pandemic with more than $100 million in grant funding and facilitated the logistics and transport of more than 10 million Covid-19 vaccines.