COVID surges press health systems in several nations

Busy blurry surgical corridor
Busy blurry surgical corridor

VILevi / iStock

Fresh surges in COVID-19 activity triggered strengthened measures in several parts of the world, as soaring death levels in part of England led to the use of a temporary morgue.

Health officials expected a surge of cases from holiday gatherings, but the emergence of at least two more transmissible variants is amplifying new surges in part of Europe and South Africa, as more countries brace for their potential impact.

Surges continue in UK, Europe

Daily cases in the United Kingdom are down bit from record highs reported last week, but hospitals in the hardest-hit areas are struggling, and deaths—which typically lag cases—are up 45.6% over the last 7 days, according to the latest government data.

British officials have set up temporary morgues in areas where local hospitals have run out of space to handle people who have died from their infections, according to Reuters. One temporary facility in Surrey, in southern London, with space for 845 bodies already currently has 170. Other temporary morgues are in the works for London and Kent, as well as in the southeast of the country.

In other European developments, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that the country's lockdown may need to be extended 8 to 10 more weeks, and the Dutch government today extended the  lockdown in the Netherlands by 3 more weeks, with Prime Minister Mark Butte airing worries about the impact of the B117 variant, according to the Guardian.

The variant has become the dominant strain in the United Kingdom and has made up a rising proportion of cases in countries such as Ireland and Denmark.

Elsewhere in European:

  • Portugal's President Marcel Rebelo de Sousa, age 72, tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday but has shown no symptoms, according to Reuters, citing the president's office. The positive test came about a week after he tested negative after having contact with someone was infected.

  • The European Medicine Agency (EMA) announced today that it received an application for emergency use authorization for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, and in a statement it noted that a decision could be issued by the Jan 29 meeting of its scientific committee for human medicines. The EMA has already cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for emergency use.

South Africa's hospitals under pressure

In South Africa, where a more transmissible 501Y.V2 variant has become the dominant strain, the surge in cases has put hospitals under pressure in most provinces, the World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office said in a weekly update today. 

Officials said media reports are describing greater oxygen requirements than for earlier spikes, along with greater numbers of infected health workers.

Though there are signs that cases may have peaked in Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces, levels are still rising in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. On Dec 28, the country recently returned to a modified lockdown.

Lockdown ordered for another city in China

China today reported 42 more local cases, including 40 from Hebei province, where recent spurts in activity have now led to the lockdown of a third city. In an update, the National Health Commission said the other two cases are from Beijing, as well as Heilongjiang province, where a county was recently placed on lockdown.

Hebei province surrounds Beijing, and the third city to be placed on lockdown is Langfang, which is next to Beijing and is home to about 5 million people, according to CNN, which said the "soft lockdown" urges residents not to leave home unless necessary for 7 days.

In Taiwan, where local cases are very rare, illnesses in a doctor and nurse who contracted the virus from a hospital patient prompted evacuation of the facility, according to the Washington Post. The cases are the first known in Taiwanese health providers and the second known instance of hospital transmission in the country.

Malaysia's leader today declared a state of emergency to battle COVID-19. The order suspends parliament and delays an election, leading to accusations from the opposition that the measure had political overtones, according to Reuters. The country recorded a new single-day high in cases today and hospitals are reaching a breaking point.

In western Asia, Lebanon's health system is also under pressure due to a surge in cases, and the country tightened its lockdown, which now includes an all-day curfew in effect until Jan 25, according to Reuters.

Global COVID-19 cases today reached 91,374,370, including 1,956,635 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker.

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