Covid updates: New York also lifts mask mandate

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

The world surpassed 400 million known coronavirus cases on Tuesday, just a month after hitting 300 million, a staggering increase driven by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron as governments and individuals around the world grapple to tackle the next stage of the pandemic.

It took more than a year for the world to reach 100 million confirmed infections: the first cases were identified at the end of 2019 and the 100 millionth in January 2021. It took only seven months to double this number, and now six months to double it. again. The number of daily cases has started to decline, but there have been an average of more than 2.7 million infections reported each day, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The actual number of cases is undoubtedly higher, and probably drastically. Many rapid home test results are never officially released, and not everyone infected is tested because they may not have access to them, show no symptoms, or choose not to.

As the virus has mutated, nearly five billion people have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and research indicates that vaccines still offer protection against the worst outcomes. The current dominant form of the virus – Omicron – is less likely to cause hospitalization or death, so case counts alone have become less useful as a metric, at least in places where vaccination rates or previous infection are higher. In New York, for example, cases peaked 541% higher this winter than last winter, but deaths rose much less, peaking 44% higher than last winter.

But scientists have warned that protection against infection may diminish over time and that future variants may better circumvent our defenses.

Still, many governments have eased restrictions as Omicron-powered surges in many places have diminished. Australia will soon reopen its borders to vaccinated visitors. Sweden is lifting most pandemic regulations, following in the footsteps of Denmark and Norway. Just this week, several US governors said they would end statewide indoor mask mandates, some of which applied to schools and others to public places.

Dr. Celine Gounder, infectious disease expert and epidemiologist at Kaiser Health News, said in an interview on Tuesday that whether such relaxations were appropriate or premature depended on the local context, including vaccination rates, infection numbers and rates. of hospitalization in relation to hospital capacity. .

In the United States, “if there is one place that is able to roll back mitigation, it would be parts of the northeast,” Dr Gounder said. But she added that she was surprised at the decision to do so across the state of California, where local circumstances vary widely.

The moves reflect the deep exhaustion people are feeling two years into the pandemic and the understanding that the coronavirus is here to stay in one form or another. But what which seems remains unclear. “The virus will become endemic” is a truth widely accepted by people who disagree on the very meaning of the word.

Endemicity may, but need not, mean a mild threat: the common cold is endemic, but so is malaria in many parts of the world. The coronavirus will likely end up posing a greater or lesser threat in different places, depending on vaccination rates and other factors. New variants could further complicate the picture, especially with billions of people around the world still unvaccinated.

According to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, only 11% of people in low-income countries have received a dose of the coronavirus vaccine, compared to 78% in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Africa has the lowest vaccination rate of any continent, with only 15.4% of the population receiving at least one dose. Some people with disabilities, chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems remain vulnerable despite vaccinations.

And the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, including in the United States, where the virus has killed at far higher rates than in other wealthy countries.

Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), US state and local health agencies. Daily cases are the number of new cases reported each day. The seven-day average is the average of one day and the previous six days of data.

More than 5.7 million people worldwide have died from the virus, including more than 900,000 in the United States alone. On average, the United States reports 2,598 new deaths per day, equivalent to a disaster worse than Pearl Harbor each day. Worldwide, 10,900 people a day die from Covid-19.

“We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that due to vaccines, and due to the high transmissibility and low severity of Omicron, prevention of transmission is not possible and no longer needed,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Chief Executive Officer. of the World Health Organization, said last week. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

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