Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Dec. 30: New XBB Variant is First to Be Product of Two Prior Strains, Fraudsters in New York Face Higher Penalties

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Photo caption: Times Square in New York City

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 995th day of the pandemic.

It will not come as a shock to regular readers that the new Omicron subvariant XBB that is rapidly spreading around the world has a higher transmission rate and is resistant to the immune response many people have from prior coronavirus infections.

A new study coming out of Japan found that XBB is the product of two strains merging, something not seen in previous coronavirus variants.

Meanwhile, over 21 million people currently have SARS-CoV-2, a figure that is some 50% higher than figures we reported just one month ago.

And you thought the pandemic might soon be over.

In other news we cover today, people who commit pandemic-related fraud in New York will face higher penalties when convicted and Spain joined Italy and the United States in putting into place coronavirus-related entry requirements for Chinese travelers.

UNITED STATES

Individuals who commit pandemic-related fraud will face higher penalties under a bill signed by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who recently won election to the post she acceded to after the resignation of Governor Andrew Cuomo in August of 2021.  “We are sending a clear message: New York has zero tolerance for fraud, especially in our most critical times of need,” the governor said in a statement.

Two bills signed into law by the governor address the issue. The first empowers the state’s attorney general to sue fraudsters for up to three times the amount stolen or $15,000, “whichever is greater.”  The second allows individuals “to file civil lawsuits on behalf of the government to help recover defrauded money” and receive a portion of the funds.

Meanwhile, then White House counselor Kellyanne Conway discouraged the Trump administration from having Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx speak on national television about the coronavirus pandemic, former White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin told the House panel investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

GLOBAL

It may come as a shock, but the city of Wuhan is once again besieged by Covid — three years after it recorded the world’s first cases. The news comes just weeks after China abruptly ended its draconian “zero-Covid” policies without putting any guardrails in place.

Meanwhile, both the United Kingdom and France said Thursday morning that they currently have no plans to reintroduce mandatory Covid-19 tests or additional requirements for travelers arriving into the country, including those from China.  The comment came after Italy put into place such restrictions and urged the European Union to follow its lead.

Spain, however, said it would require travelers from China to either produce a negative coronavirus test or proof of fully vaccinated status in order to enter the country.

Meanwhile, Stella Kyriakides, the EU health chief, said that the European Union should consider immediately scaling up genomic sequencing of coronavirus infections and monitoring of waste water, including that from airports, to detect any new variants given the virus surge in China.

TECH

Twitter CEO Elon Musk said that company employees had a Slack channel called “Fauci fan club” for those who supported Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and President Biden’s chief medical adviser.

TODAY’S STATISTICS

Now here are the daily statistics for Friday, December 30.

As of Friday morning, the world has recorded 664.2 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.5 million cases, and 6.7 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 636.2 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.5 million.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Friday at press time is 21,349,430, an increase of 117,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 21,309,171, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 40,259, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 115,787 new coronavirus infections on Friday for the previous day, compared to 122,934 on Thursday, 75,769 on Wednesday, and 4,923 on Tuesday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 7-day incidence rate is now 51,927.  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 58,354, a decrease of 9% 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 355, a decrease of -5% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 41,620, an increase of 3%. In addition, the number of patients in ICUs was 5,080, an increase of 10% and the test positivity rate continues to stand at 14%, an 18% increase.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Friday, recorded 102.5 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 530,699.

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 39.3 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 37.3 million total cases.

Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 693,734, has recorded 36.2 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 29.1 million cases, South Korea, with just under 29 million cases, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with over 25 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.1 million, and Russia, with just under 21.8 million.

VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Thursday, 268.4 million people in the United States – or 80.8% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 69%, or 229.9 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 663.8 million. Breaking this down further, 91.8% of the population over the age of 18 – or 236.9 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 78.7% of the same group – or 203.3 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 17.3% of the same population, or over 44.7 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 69.1% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Friday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 13.17 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 3.44 million doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 25.9% 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.

Anna Breuer contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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