On the last day of the year, the COVID pandemic is closing 2021 with a bang: Health authorities around the world have confirmed more than 1.2 million new cases in the 24 hours to Thursday, a new record.
The United States also recorded a new record, with 355.9K new cases, also dragging the 7-day average to a new record high.
Data on hospitalizations and deaths show that hospitals in the United States still have many ICU beds available, although there are some areas where the outbreak is most intense. An increase in vaccinations put the US rate north of 63% in terms of those considered “fully vaccinated” (a definition that may soon change). Deaths in the United States have actually slowed in recent weeks.
While the number of canceled flights has decreased, 1,125 flights were canceled on Friday as the rise in coronavirus cases has hampered airline staff. Winter storms threatened to disrupt travel further over the New Year’s weekend. JetBlue it scratched 175 flights, or 17% of its schedule, by 1620ET Thursday, according to FlightAware.com. faithful, devoted 96 flights canceled, or 19% of its service. United Airlines canceled 199 flights, representing 9% of its schedule.
A few weeks after the FDA approved the Pfizer Paxlovid pill, which presumably can treat COVID in high-risk patients if taken within days of symptom onset, the UK regulator, the Regulatory Agency for Medicines and Health Products, followed suit.
The decision comes just weeks after UK regulators approved a similar drug made by Merck.
As COVID cases increase and hospitalizations begin to overwhelm the NHS, the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is quick to build an arsenal of weapons against the resurgent pandemic.
BoJo used his New Year’s message to urge all British rebels to go get their lure shots, as growing pressure on the UK’s NHS threatens to undermine its strategy to get over the omicron wave.
As cases increase in Southeast Asia, Singapore is extending its testing regime for travelers arriving via its quarantine-free vaccinated travel lanes for another four weeks, according to the Ministry of Health. Hong Kong, meanwhile, will require visitors to certain restaurants and recreational venues such as cinemas and gyms to have at least one dose of the vaccine before the lunar new year.
South Korea said its recently strengthened social distancing rules will remain in place for at least another two weeks. The restrictions, which prohibit private gatherings of five or more people and close restaurants and cafes at 2100 local time, were reinstated in mid-December when daily cases hit a record high.
Back in North America, Quebec is resuming its controversial night curfew starting Friday at 10pm local time and running until 5am the next day. The dining rooms of the restaurants will also be closed but take-away and home deliveries will be able to continue, as usual.
Finally, despite all his efforts, the Australian government failed to prevent an increase in COVID cases. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported Friday a record 21.2K new cases in the past 24 hours, a 73% increase from a day earlier, although hospitalization numbers increased more modestly.