Global COVID-19 cases declined a bit last week, but the number of deaths rose to record levels, as hot spots within world regions shift and more countries report the detection of variant SARS-CoV-2 strains, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday in its regular weekly update.
Small drop in cases but 9% rise in deaths
Cases were down 6%, partly led by declines in parts of Europe and the Americas. Deaths, however, increased by 9%, with the world reporting a record weekly high of 93,000, the WHO said, noting that hospitalizations and deaths are a lagging indicator.
Illness levels rose in the Eastern Mediterranean, African, and Western Pacific regions. In the Middle East, countries reporting recent large spikes include Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. In Africa, cases fell in South Africa, the continent's main hot spot, but were up sharply in Nigeria and Zambia. And in the WHO's Western Pacific region, Japan reported the most cases, but Malaysia and the Philippines reported steep rises.
In another example of shifts among regions, cases in the Americas were down slightly, by 2%, mainly due to a decline in the United States, but Brazil and Colombia both registered double-digit rises.
Today, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that the collapse of the health system in Manaus, Brazil, is making it impossible for the group to send critically ill patients from two remote upriver towns where MSF teams are working. One of the cities is low on oxygen, and MSF said it is desperately looking for ways to help the most severely ill patients. It also added that MSF teams began arriving in Manaus this week to help the struggling health system.
Ten more countries reported the B117 variant virus first detected in the United Kingdom, raising the total to 60. And 3 more countries reported the 501Y.V2 virus that was first identified in South Africa, putting the total at 23.
The WHO added that further investigations are under way into two new variants that were recently detected in Brazil, one of them in Manaus, which is in Amazonas state.
Europe braces for more variant spread
Some countries in Europe recently announced more steps aimed at slowing the spread of more transmissible variants and blunting post-holiday spikes. The Dutch government today proposed a nationwide night curfew, its first since World War II, and a ban on flights from Britain and South American countries, according to Reuters. The country's parliament is slated to discuss the measures tomorrow.
German leaders yesterday agreed to extend the country's lockdown until the middle of February and make respiratory protection that is more protective masks—N95 respirators or similar—mandatory for those using public transportation and shopping in stores, according to CNN.
In other European developments, cases continue to decline in the United Kingdom, the first European nation to experience a third surge, but the country today reported a record high single-day total for deaths, 1,820, according to Public Health England.
Meanwhile, other countries in Europe are now reporting sharp rises, including Spain, which today reported a record single-day high of 41,576 cases, and France, which reported 26,784 cases, its highest since the middle of November.
More cases in Beijing prompt new steps
China has been battling clusters in three northeastern provinces, including Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, where sporadic cases have been reported. Today the country's National Health Commission reported 103 more cases from the cluster hot spots, including 7 in Beijing.
According to media reports, the cases in Beijing have prompted the closure of a subway station near where the patients live. Also, city officials ordered the temporary closure of kindergartens and high schools. In a related development, China is building a 4,000-bed quarantine center near the Hebei provincial capital of Shijiazhuang, with a population of 11 million, according to CNN.
In other global headlines:
- A WHO committee, which routinely reviews how the International Health Regulations (IHRs) work during public health emergencies, presented its findings yesterday to the group's executive board. The panel said some areas need improvement, but major changes aren't needed.
- India today said it began supplying its locally made AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to other countries in the region, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Seychelles, according to the New York Times.
- The global COVID-19 total over the past day topped 96 million cases and is at 96,640,644 with 2,068,921 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.