Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 6 million, with a figure of 6,030,581 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 450 million to a world wide figure of 453,526,641.
The death toll from Covid-19 may be three times higher than official records suggest, according to a study that found stark differences across countries and regions. As many as 18.2 million people probably died from Covid in the first two years of the pandemic, researchers found in the first peer-reviewed global estimate of excess deaths. They pointed to a lack of testing and unreliable mortality data to explain the discrepancy with official estimates of roughly 5.9 million deaths. “At the global level, this is quite the biggest mortality shock since the Spanish flu,” said Christopher J.L. Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, where the study was conducted. Covid drove a 17% jump in deaths worldwide, he said in an interview. The flu pandemic that began in 1918 killed at least 50 million people.
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US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 79.4 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 965,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.
An appeal challenging United Airlines’ decision to place employees on unpaid leave as a religious accommodation from its Covid-19 vaccination mandate should be dismissed as moot in light of changed public health conditions and company policies, the airline told the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The US Justice Department said veteran prosecutor Kevin Chambers has been appointed director of its Covid-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force. Chambers will lead criminal and civil enforcement efforts to combat pandemic-related fraud.
China: China’s daily caseload exceeded 1,000 for the first time in two years, as the highly infectious Omicron variant spawns outbreaks at a scale only seen at the peak of the start of the pandemic in Wuhan.
The country reported 1,100 domestic infections, data from the National Health Commission showed. The tally has ballooned from just over 300 cases a day in less than a week, presenting a significant challenge to China’s zero-tolerance approach to the virus.
“China has adopted a coordinated approach to its Covid response and economic and social development,” Premier Li Keqiang said as the National People’s Congress in Beijing drew to a close. “We will continue to work to make our response more scientific and targeted based on the Covid situation.”
Li also commented on Hong Kong, which is battling one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks, saying the government there “needs to fulfill its primary responsibility in tackling the situation and the central government will give its full support.”
Hong Kong: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said anti-epidemic measures in place are “effective but not sufficient” and that more vaccination points will be added for children and the elderly. The government is monitoring if the city’s outbreak has peaked, she said. More than 40,000 residents living in over 900 care homes have been vaccinated, amounting to about 52%, civil service secretary Patrick Nip said.
South Korea: Omicron will probably peak in South Korea over the next 10 days and the number of daily confirmed cases may reach as high as 370,000, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a meeting. However, the mortality rate, or deaths per cases, has fallen to 0.17% from 0.88% before the Omicron-fuelled surge.
Japan: The Japanese government is considering administering a fourth vaccine dose as soon as this summer, Yomiuri reported, citing an unidentified senior official at the health ministry. People will need at least six months between their third vaccine to be eligible.
Separately, the Japanese government will announce new benchmarks Friday for assessing whether to lift Covid-19 measures covering 18 prefectures including Tokyo, public broadcaster NHK reported without attribution.
Australia: The Australian government urged citizens to get booster shots as daily case numbers climb again in New South Wales, fueled by the highly-infectious Omicron BA.2 sub-variant. The country’s most populous state reported 14,034 daily cases Friday, up from 9,430 a week earlier.
The sub-variant is more transmissible but doesn’t appear to result in “more severe clinical outcomes” and the vaccine seems to be as effective as against the original Omicron strain, Deputy Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett said. “We don’t expect to see the cases that we saw in January,” she said. Australia’s National Cabinet will meet Friday to discuss a “winter preparedness plan” ahead of an expected surge in cases during the colder months.
Japan: Toyota Motor Corp. lowered its Japan production plan for the April-June quarter, reflecting the automaker’s continued struggle to boost output after months of disruptions. Toyota has cut its planned Japan output by 20% in April, 10% in May and 5% in June, a spokeswoman for the company said. The move comes as the auto industry faces a wave of supply-chain challenges, including from Covid. Japan’s household spending fell 1.2% in January from December, as consumers held back during the rapid spread of Omicron and renewed restrictions on activity, adding to the risk that the economy will shrink this quarter.