With the world poised to pass the 2-million-death threshold, COVID-19 outbreak situations are worsening in several parts of the world, including Peru, where intensive care unit (ICU) beds in and around Lima have almost reached capacity.
Outbreaks are gathering steam, as expected, following holiday gatherings and travel, but global health officials are bracing for an even bigger impact from the simultaneous emergence of more transmissible variants from different continents.
Yesterday during a social media chat, Mike Ryan, MD, who directs the World Health Organization (WHO) health emergencies program, warned that the second year of the pandemic could be even tougher than the first year.
UK warns of further burden on hospitals
In the United Kingdom, so far the country hit hardest by a surge partly fueled by a variant virus, cases have declined a bit from record levels, but Public Health England (PHE) Medical Director Yvonne Doyle, MD, MPH, today on Twitter warned that more people will be hospitalized in the coming weeks.
"The rate that people are being admitted to hospital is now higher than at any point during the pandemic. We are still seeing thousands of people having to go to hospital each day," she said, warning that the trend is likely to get worse.
Though other countries in Europe are seeing new surges, French health officials say the situation there is under control, but remains fragile. Prime Minister Jean Castex today announced a nationwide 6 pm curfew, which begins tomorrow and lasts 15 days, according to France24. Most of the country is already under an 8 pm curfew, and some parts of France are already under a 6 pm curfew.
France's schools are still open, and health officials have unveiled a mass testing plan for students and teachers.
Virus keeps health officials on edge
Peru is among the countries in the Americas where virus activity is surging again, and the country's health system is near collapse, according to the UK-based Telegraph.
Nearly 99% of ICU beds are full in Lima and the nearby port city of Callao, an area with a population of 10 million people. Only 6 ICU beds are available in Lima, with nearly 40% of patients at one hospital on the waiting list for the ICU. Some patients are dying before they can be placed in critical care.
According to the report, hospitals in several parts of the country are already overflowing, and the country is challenged by a low proportion of ICU beds per population and a scarce supply of ventilators.
Health officials told the Telegraph that large political protests in November are likely driving the latest surge. The latest updates from the WHO and its Pan American Health Organization said the Americas is currently the world's biggest epicenter, with cases rising in nearly all of the region's countries.
In another Americas development, a technical report from Brazil's Fiocruz Institute, translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary (AFD), said the B1128 variant detected recently in Amazonas state likely emerged sometime between December and January, and they note that variants emerging in different parts of the world bearing similar mutation patterns suggest similar evolutionary pressure during the process of infecting millions of people. AFD is an infectious disease news blog.
Brazil is grappling with surges in parts of the country, including Amazonas state, where hospitals in the capital city of Manaus are running out of oxygen, according to Reuters.
In China, where the pandemic began and where health officials have successfully battled the virus to date, more local cases were reported in two provinces—Hebei and Heilongjiang—where a few cities are on lockdown or are sealed off. The country's National Health Commission reported its first COVID-19 death in about 8 months, which involves a Hebei province resident. Of 138 new cases, 124 are local, all from Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, and Heilongjiang province in the far northeast near the border with Russia.
In other global headlines:
- The WHO joint mission to explore the zoonotic source of SARS-CoV-2 arrived in Wuhan, China, but two members of the country were delayed in Singapore after antibody tests in their home countries were positive for past exposure to the virus, according to the Washington Post.
- PHE yesterday published a report on its website that suggests protection from COVID-19 infection lasts at least 5 months, though people may still carry and transmit the virus. The findings are based on regular testing since June in health workers. They emphasized that conclusions should be drawn for antibody and other immune response from vaccination.
- The global death toll from the virus closed in on 2 million today and is at 1,986,398. The illness number has risen to 92,770,898, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.