The cumulative total of global COVID-19 cases surpassed 298 million, with the death toll exceeding 5.4 million as of Friday, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Specifically, there had been 298,915,721 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 5,469,303 deaths as of 17:08 Central European Time (CET) on Friday, the WHO’s COVID-19 dashboard showed.
A total of 9,118,223,397 vaccine doses had been administered across the world as of Tuesday, according to the dashboard.
The United States on Friday reported a cumulative total of 57,535,858 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 826,022 deaths, both the highest in the world, the WHO dashboard showed.
WHO data also showed that India is the second worst-affected country, with 35,226,386 confirmed cases. It is followed by Brazil with 22,351,104 cases and the world’s second highest death toll of 619,513.
Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, on Friday said that the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly and has been detected in any region where there is complete viral gene sequencing capability. In some countries and regions, Omicron is replacing Delta as the dominant variant of infection.
Britain reported another 178,250 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 14,193,228, according to official figures released on Friday.
The country also reported a further 229 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 149,744, with 18,454 COVID-19 patients still hospitalized.
Some 200 Armed Forces personnel are being deployed to support the National Health Service (NHS) in London as hospitals are grappling with staff shortages, according to Sky News.
More than 90 percent of people aged 12 and above in Britain have had their first dose of vaccine and more than 82 percent have received two doses, according to the latest figures. More than 61 percent have received booster jabs, or the third dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
France reported more than 328,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the latest 24-hour period, marking the second time that the country registered more than 300,000 new cases in a single day since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to statistics released on Friday by the French Public Health Agency.
Another 193 coronavirus-related deaths were also reported during the same period. As of Friday, France registered a total of 11.51 million confirmed cases and more than 125,000 deaths.
According to a Reuters report on Friday, Alain Fischer, who orchestrated France’s vaccination strategy, said that France is approaching the peak of the current round of pandemic, which could “appear in the beginning of the third week of January”.
Italy reported more than 108,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past 24-hour period, bringing the total caseload to over 7.08 million, said the Italian Ministry of Health on Friday.
The country reported a further 223 coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the death toll to more than 138,000.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, the Federal Chancellery said, adding that he was infected by a member of his security team.
Nehammer shows no symptoms and carries out his official duties from home via video and telephone meetings. He will not attend in-person meetings in the next few days, the Chancellery said, adding that Nehammer has received three COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The country has seen a surge in new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the new year. According to statistics from the Austrian Ministry of Health, the country reported more than 8,700 new cases on Friday, with a total caseload of more than 1.25 million and 13,830 deaths.
Austria has been enforcing a lockdown for the unvaccinated in an attempt to stem the surge of coronavirus.
The pandemic situation in Japan has deteriorated rapidly since the beginning of the new year. According to NHK statistics, the country reported 6,214 new confirmed cases on Friday, which is the first time that the country registers more than 6,000 new cases in a single day since Sept 15 last year.
Japan registered nearly 1.75 million confirmed cases and 18,399 deaths with one more death being reported on Friday.
On Friday, Tokyo reported 922 new cases, while Osaka Prefecture reported 676 new cases, both the highest in the last more than three months.
Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, on Friday announced that it would expand requirements for the application of the “vaccination passport” in response to the surge in confirmed case caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
The municipal government of Sao Paulo started to enforce a “vaccination passport” policy on Sept 1, 2020, requiring local residents to present proof of receiving at least one dose of COIVD-19 vaccine when attending a public event involving more than 500 people.
The new regulations require that residents have to get vaccinated with at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccines to enter certain public places, and that they must show vaccination proof before attending parties or entering places such as dance halls and clubs, regardless of how many people attend the events.
The city on Thursday canceled Carnival street parades following an increase in infections and hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant.
Argentina reported 110,533 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past 24-hour period, the highest number ever recorded in the country in a single day, according to data released on Friday by the Ministry of Health. The country has recorded more than 100,000 new cases in a single day for two consecutive days.
As of Friday, Argentina registered a total of 6.13 million confirmed cases and over 117,000 deaths with 42 new deaths being reported during the past 24-hour period.
Experts said that the peak of the current round of pandemic in the country could come in mid-to-late January, with a possible maximum of 250,000 new cases being reported in a single day.
German chancellor Scholz tests positive for coronavirus
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has tested positive for coronavirus and is showing mild symptoms of a cold, Reuters quoting a government spokesperson said on Monday.
Scholz is isolating in the federal chancellery. He has cancelled all his public appearances this week but will attend scheduled meetings remotely, said an emailed statement.
Germany is rolling out booster vaccinations for older and clinically vulnerable citizens going into winter, read the report.
The World Health Organisation said last week that the coronavirus remained a global emergency but the end of the pandemic could be in sight if countries tackled it properly.
Pfizer CEO tests positive for COVID for second time
Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said on Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19 but that he was symptom free.
“I’m feeling well and symptom free,” Bourla said in a statement.
Bourla, 60, back in August had contacted COVID and had started a course of the company’s oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, Paxlovid.
Paxlovid is an antiviral medication that is used to treat high-risk people, such as older patients.
Bourla has received four doses of the COVID vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
The chief executive said he has not yet taken the new bivalent booster.
Developed by Moderna and the team of Pfizer and BioNTech, the new so-called bivalent shots aim to tackle the BA.5 and BA.4 Omicron subvariants, which make up 84.8% and 1.8%, respectively, of all circulating variants in the United States, based on latest data.
“I’ve not had the new bivalent booster yet, as I was following CDC guidelines to wait three months since my previous COVID case which was back in mid-August,” Bourla added.
In August, the FDA authorized Pfizer and Moderna’s updated booster shots that target the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants.
A federal health agency said this week that over 25 million doses of the so-called bivalent shots had been sent out. That consisted of mostly the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, as production of the Moderna vaccine ramps up.
Fight to end virus pandemic takes place on UN’s sidelines
In four days of fiery speeches over war, climate change and the threat of nuclear weapons, one issue felt like an afterthought during this year’s U.N. General Assembly: the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press reported.
Masks were often pulled below chins — or not worn at all — and any mention of COVID-19 by world leaders typically came at the tail-end of a long list of grievances.
But on the sidelines of the annual meeting, the pandemic was still very much part of the conversation, AP reported.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gathered with World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and others to discuss equitable access to COVID vaccines, tests and treatments.
And earlier that day, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield joined leaders from around the globe to mark the progress that has been made to fight COVID-19 — including the more than 620 million vaccine doses to 116 countries and economies that the United States has provided. But she emphasized there is still much work to do.
Tedros noted that the number of deaths around the globe is near its lowest since the pandemic began, and two-thirds of the world’s population is vaccinated. But the encouraging signs mask a deep disparity between wealthy and poor countries.
For instance, only 19% of people living in low-income countries are fully vaccinated compared with 75% in high-income countries. And only 35% of health care workers and 31% of older populations in lower-income countries are fully vaccinated and boosted.
Key to closing those gaps, according to Guterres, is countering misinformation about vaccines and overcoming hesitancy while also increasing testing to snuff out the potential for more variants. The world also needs early warning systems for pandemics and must ensure a well-paid and well-supplied workforce in the health care sector.
“Let’s get it done,” Guterres said. “Let’s end this pandemic once and for all.”
Thomas-Greenfield said that COVID-19 care needs to be shifted from being offered primarily in emergency facilities to integrating it in routine services.
She outlined three new initiatives: a pilot program to be launched in 10 countries to help people get screened for COVID-19 and receive antiviral medications; a $50 million commitment from the U.S to improve access to medical oxygen critical for treating patients with severe cases; and a global clearinghouse to make medical supply chains more resilient, efficient and equitable.
While few would argue that the situation has not improved — and indeed U.S. President Joe Biden recently remarked that the pandemic was over before walking back his comments — no one on Thursday was ready to call it quits.
“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view,” Tedros said, and instead runs harder to get to the end.
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