Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Dec. 18: ‘China Is Going to Blow Up,’ Germany’s Hospitals Are Putting Elective Surgery on Pause as Beds Fill Up

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A street scene in Frankfurt

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 983rd day of the pandemic.

It’s no longer a question of whether there will be a Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s surge in coronavirus cases: The surge is already beginning to build momentum.

The 7-day incidence level is currently over 68,000, a figure that, just two months ago, was at 36,000, and new daily cases continue to increase seemingly in geometric proportion.  Hospitalizations, the most reliable indicator of a coming surge, are up sharply as is the death rate, which is up an astounding 68% in the past 14 days.

This isn’t even the surge: Public health experts see the actual surge happening at the start of the New Year.

Indeed, all these numbers mirror the beginning of the past two winters of pandemic surges.  More importantly, they are a dramatic reminder that people need to take the issue of indoor exposure to not only Covid but to influenza and RSV, or respiratory syncytial syndrome, more seriously, by donning face masks indoors including at family gatherings and, if not vaccinated or recently boosted, to run, not walk, to the local pharmacy for the appropriate Covid and flu shots.

There is no reason we have to have a big surge of SAVS-CoV-2 cases this season, but, without taking steps to mitigate the spread of the disease, we are unfortunately on track expressly for that.

In other news we cover today, the Charité in Berlin is pausing elective surgeries as patients with respiratory viruses including Covid and influenza fill its beds and China is likely to see a massive explosion in new cases in the coming weeks.

UNITED STATES

New details have emerged in the case of a Florida pastor and his son wo were arrested for an $8 million Paycheck Protection Program scam last week   The two – Evan Edwards and his son, Josh – fraudulently obtained more than $8 million in federal coronavirus relief funds and reportedly used some of the money to buy a luxury home near Walt Disney World near Orlando.

The Paycheck Protection Program loan application stated that the ASLAN International Ministry employed 486 people and had an average monthly payroll of $2.7 million. In the indictment, however, federal prosecutors said that Evan and Josh Edwards knew that ASLAN’s actual number of employees and actual monthly payroll expenses were “significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent.”

GLOBAL

Germany is experiencing a surge in respiratory virus infections at unprecedented levels.

The Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, or Berlin University of Medicine, one of Europe’s largest public hospitals, has paused all elective surgery as beds are filled with patients suffering from the flu and children with RSV.  The hospital said that it “regretted the move” but added that it was necessary in order to “carry out critical surgeries such as tumor removal and transplants, and care for stroke and heart patients.”

As the “zero-Covid” guardrails end, China is on course to seeing millions of new coronavirus infections in the next three months and at least one million Covid-related deaths, health experts believe.

“I think China is going to blow in the next six to 12 weeks,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, while speaking at a webinar last week.

“Instead of falling off a 5-foot cliff, we’re going to watch them fall off a 1,000-foot cliff.”

Meanwhile, despite the end of formal government controls, streets remain largely deserted in the Chinese capital of Beijing and other major cities, as people stay home to protect themselves from infection.

TODAY’S STATISTICS

Now here are the daily statistics for Sunday, December 18.

As of Sunday morning, the world has recorded 657.7 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.4 million cases, and 6.67 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 631.4 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.3 million.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Sunday at press time is 19,639,014, an increase of 182,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 19,600,879, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 38,135, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 4,928 new coronavirus infections on Sunday for the previous day, compared to 74,158  on Saturday, 135,697 on Friday, 154,709 on Thursday, and 49,268 on Wednesday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 7-day incidence rate is now 68,334.  Figures for the weekend (reported the following day) are typically 30% to 60% of those posted on weekdays due to a lower number of tests being conducted.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 65,459, an increase of 27% averaged over the past 14 days, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 408, an increase of 63% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 40,799, an increase of 15%. In addition, the number of patients in ICUs was 4,699, an increase of 15%.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Sunday, recorded just under 101.8 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of just over 1.1 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, just under 44.7 million, and a reported death toll of 530,672.

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 reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July, 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 38.8 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 37 million total cases.

Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 691,830, has recorded 35.9million cases, placing it in the number five slot.

The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are South Korea, with 28.2 million cases, Japan, with 27.1 million, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with 24.9 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.1 million, and Russia, with 21.7 million.

VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Thursday, 267.9 million people in the United States – or 80.7% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 68.9%, or 228.8 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 660.4 million. Breaking this down further, 91.6% of the population over the age of 18 – or 236.6million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 78.7% of the same group – or 203.1 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 16.3% of the same population, or over 41.9 million people, has already received an updated or bivalent booster dose of vaccine.

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

Some 68.7% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Sunday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 13.06 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 2.14 million doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 25.1% 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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