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March 22, 2022

Covid-19 update: ‘Risky to assume that the pandemic is over’ – McKee

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 6 million, with a figure of 6,093,876 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 472 million to a world wide figure of 472,127,529.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 79.7 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 972,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The Omicron subvariant BA.2 is continuing to gain ground in the US, according to Covid-19 tests sequenced over the last two weeks. Helix, a San Diego-based genomics firm, has been watching the BA.2 variant since it first popped up in the US in early January. Although it was initially slow to take hold, Helix now estimates that 50% to 70% of all Covid cases nationwide are BA.2.

US government advisers will meet early next month to discuss the use of additional Covid-19 booster shots as states and companies lower prevention safeguards such as masking and work at home. The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet 6 April, with the FDA calling the meeting for help deciding which populations, such as the elderly or immunocompromised, might need boosters, and when they should be administered.

Europe

Europe faces a revival of a revival of virus risks as cases spread rapidly, accelerated by the emergence of the more-transmissible BA.2 Omicron strain. Germany is now setting fresh records for infection rates almost daily, while Austria has also reached new highs and cases in the Netherlands have doubled since lifting curbs on Feb. 25.

“The messaging from politicians is encouraging many people who were taking precautions to mix with others,” says Martin McKee, professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “It does seem very courageous, and indeed risky, to assume that the pandemic is over.”

However, most authorities have shrugged off the surge, showing little appetite to re-impose curbs after easing measures just a few weeks ago. Germany has stuck with plans to let most nationwide restrictions expire. Austria last week suspended a law that made coronavirus vaccinations mandatory, stepping back from one of Europe’s strictest measures. In France, millions of high school students and teachers ditched masks for the first time in almost two years last week.

UK: Data from the UK — where BA.2 has already caused cases to spike — show the country’s rise in infections began around the same time that BA.2 surpassed the 50% mark of overall cases.

Asia pacific

China: Chinese medical clinics will be able to buy Pfizer’s Covid antiviral Paxlovid at a price agreed between its producer and the government, and expenses will be covered by medical insurance, the country’s National Healthcare Security Administration said. China will also temporarily include rapid antigen tests and kits in its medical insurance reimbursement list.

Meanwhile, Shanghai saw 896 Covid-19 cases on Monday, CCTV reported, posting a record for a second straight day. The flareup has come after authorities expanded testing to more residents to root out silent transmission chains. The city last week ruled out imposing a broad lockdown, but officials said Monday that some areas will remain locked down for further testing.

Japan: Japan’s government lifted quasi-state of emergency measures in Tokyo and elsewhere across the country on Monday, bringing to an end steps introduced in early January to help curb a surge in Omicron cases. Cases have slid in the capital since peaking in early February, with Tokyo seeing an average of about 7,500 cases a day as of Monday. A Kyodo News survey found that 53% said the timing of ending the steps was appropriate, with 32% saying it was too early. Another 11% felt the move came too late. The quasi-state of emergency in practice was used to call for bars and restaurants to close early, with eateries that followed the largely voluntary steps in Tokyo having closed at 9 pm.

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