Cases, deaths worldwide dropping from peak in January

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Feb. 14 (UPI) — Worldwide attempts to control COVID-19 with vast vaccine distribution and restrictions, including lockdowns, are paying off with reduced cases and deaths from peaks in January.

In the past week, there were 2,766,623 newly reported infections worldwide, including 324,165 on Monday, which was the lowest since 321,203 Oct. 13, according to tracking by Worldometers.info.

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The previous week there were 3,210,403 newly reported global cases.

Infections hit a peak of 5,083,656 the week of Jan. 3-9, including a record 845,695 in one day on Jan. 8.

Fatalities also have slowed but not quite as dramatically. In the past week, there were 80,164 when the high was 14,163 on Wednesday. One week earlier, the total was 89,225.

The peak was 98,937 from Jan. 9-16. On Jan. 20, the single-day record was 17,594.

The total number of deaths so far Sunday was 2,408,054 and infections had reached 109,248,019.

The three nations with the most deaths are on the Western Hemisphere: No. 1 United States with 484,409, No. 2 Brazil with 238,647, No. 3 Mexico with 173,171. India had been No. 3 until two weeks ago with its total now 155,642.

India, with nearly 11 million cases, is second behind the United States, which has 27.6 million, followed by Brazil at 9.8 million.

Europe remains the continent with the most deaths at 765,759 and less than 200,000 behind North America with 32,201,309. But they have dropped over the past two weeks. Cases decreased from 1,085,293 to 910,050 in a week and deaths went from 43,009 to 29,371.

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In Europe, six nations are in the top 10 for most deaths: No. 5 Britain at 117,116, No. 6 Italy at 93,577, No. 7 France at 81,647, No. 8 Russia at 80,126, No. 9 Germany at 65,438 and No. 10 Spain at 64,747. Also in the top 10 is Poland in 16th with 40,807.

Numbers have been declining despite the presence of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant COVID-19 variant that originated in Britain.

Researchers, examining 10 existing studies, suggested that the B.1.1.7 variant is linked to more hospitalizations and deaths. However, researchers found the “absolute risk of death per infection remains low.”

Britain reported a high of 1,820 deaths on Jan. 20 with a high of 1,052 Tuesday compared with 1,449 the previous week on Feb. 2. Sunday’s rise was 258. New cases have been dramatically dropping from a peak of 68,053 Jan. 8 to 10,972 reported Sunday.

Britain remains in its third lockdown, including closed schools and universities.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes to soon ease some of the restrictions, including opening schools in England on March 8, because it is nearing its goal of 15 million vaccinations.

A total of 14.7 million of the 66.7 million people in Britain have had shots. Britain was the first country to authorize the vaccine jointly produced by U.S.-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech in December. The nation also approved the other main vaccine, U.S.-based Moderna, but supplies are not expected to be available in Britain until later in the spring.

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“I’m optimistic, I won’t hide it from you,” he said Saturday while visiting a plant in Billingham, Teesside, where the Novavax vaccine will be manufactured. I’m optimistic, but we have to be cautious. Our children’s education is our number one priority, but then working forward, getting non-essential retail open as well and then, in due course as and when we can prudently, cautiously, of course we want to be opening hospitality as well.”

France, with a similar population of 6.54 million has overtaken Britain for the most second doses: 617,715 compared with 530,094. But France is much farther behind in total vaccines with around 2,840,000.

France reported 199 deaths Saturday after 932 on Nov. 13 that was the most since a record of 1,437 in April. In addition, there were 21,231 cases after a record 86,852 on Oct. 31.

Italy, which at one time was the world’s epicenter, reported 221 deaths Sunday, compared with a record 993 Dec. 3 and 11,068 cases after record 40,896 on Nov. 13.

Italy has a new prime minister to handle the crisis, Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, was sworn in Saturday.

“Mario Draghi was the Italian who saved Europe, and I think now he is the European who can save Italy,” former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told the BBC’s Newshour program.

Before Giuseppe Conte left office, Italy had extended the travel ban between regions past Monday until Feb. 25.

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Starting Sunday, the health ministry has designated Abruzzo, Liguria, Tuscany and the autonomous province of Trento orange zones.

Russia announced 430 deaths and 14,285 cases Sunday after records of 635 fatalities and 29,935 infections on Dec. 4, ranking fourth overall in cases with 4,071,883.

Last week, Lancet, a Medical journal paper, found Russia’s Sputnik V “safe and effective” based on data from a Phase 3 trial.

“The Kremlin is having a whole lot of problems in other areas right now but this is one unvarnished, unmitigated win they can point to right now,” Judy Twigg, a professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., told CBC.

Deaths and cases had been surging in Germany, moving from 14th in late December with 30,502 to ninth with 65,422, including 379 Saturday.

In December, Germany posted a single-day record 1,244 deaths and 31,553 cases.

Until mid-November, the most deaths were 333 on April 8.

Starting Sunday, Germany has banned travel from its borders with Austria’s Tyrol region and Czech Republic because they are designated as “mutation areas.”

A national lockdown has been extended until May 7 though schools in some states will reopen this month.

Coronavirus has been surging in Spain, which reported the highest weekly number of COVID deaths since the first wave: 3,415, according to Health Ministry data. That is an 11.35% increase in one week. Spain, which doesn’t report data on the weekend, had a high of 766 Tuesday, the most since the record 996 on April 2.

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Cases had hit a daily peak of 35,118 on Jan. 15.

Last week, Spain restricted travel from Brazil and South Africa, where variants have been detected.

The Brazilian variant, which was first identified in the Amazon, may be three times more contagious though an analysis suggests vaccines are still effective against it, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said Thursday.

Less than one month ago, Brazil began vaccinating its residents with doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech and Britain’s AstraZeneca. So far 11 million doses have been distributed and the minister has a lofty goal of vaccinating half its 213.5 million population by June.

Brazil is among four nations from South America in the top 15 for most deaths. Besides Brazil in second, Colombia is in 12th with 57,425, Argentina in 13th with 50,188 and Peru in 15th with 43.491.

On Saturday, Brazil reported 1,046 deaths compared with a record 1,554 and 45,561 cases vs. a record 87,134.

Overall, the continent has reported 440,926 deaths, which is 45,000 less than the entire U.S., and 16,887,752 cases.

The United States has issued a travel ban from Brazil of non-U.S. citizens as well as Britain, Ireland and the 26 countries that comprise the Schengen Area of Europe.

Additionally, a travel ban has existed since March between Mexico, the United States and Canada for non-essential movement. The current ban lasts through Feb. 21.

Travelers returning to Canada will be required to take a COVID-19 test at the airport’s expense and spend the first three days of their quarantine at a supervised hotel while awaiting their result, all at their expenses, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.

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Canada is 21st in the world with 21,228 deaths, including 66 Saturday, as well as 3,047 cases. Canada set the record for deaths, 257, on Dec. 29, and cases, 11,383, on Jan. 3.

Canada, with 37.9 million population, has vaccinated 2.55% of its population with 1.3 million doses received, according to tracking by CTV.

Mexico has a population of 129.8 million but through late last week, the nation has administered only 725,447 doses of the Pfizer vaccine out of the 766,350 it has received. And President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said 1 million doses from India are coming this weekend.

Mexico had been consistently near the top of the list for most deaths in a single day in the world. For five days in a row it exceeded 1,000 deaths. Until Dec. 31, deaths had only surpassed 1,000 twice, both in the summer.

On Saturday, Mexico reported 1,214 deaths after a record 1,803 Jan. 21. Cases were 9,741 after record 22,339 Jan. 21.

In Mexico, the federal government recommends restrictions but all 32 individual states decide what to do.

Mexican Health Ministry official Ricardo Cortes said that Guanajuato and Guerrero only will remain in the maximum red risk next week while another 11 maximum risk states will switch to high-risk orange.

All but around 24,000 of the total deaths in North America are in Mexico, Canada and the U.S.

North America has the second-most deaths of the continents, 716,280, behind Europe, and the most cases, 32,213,721.

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In Asia, the death toll is 385,6523, the fourth-most of the continents, and cases are 24,027,277, which ranks third.

India is the lone Asian nation in the top 10 for fatalities, but numbers have been dropping, including 92 deaths and 12,194 cases Sunday.

India, which has the second-greatest population in the world at 1.4 billion, had a high of 1,283 cases and 97,859 deaths in September.

The Serum Institute of India is manufacturing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and has contracts with three other developers – Novavax, Codagenix and SpyBiotech.

India hopes to inoculate about one-quarter of its population, including medical personnel.

Though the virus originated in mainland China, the nation has reported only a few deaths since April and stands at 4,636 behind Bosnia and Herzegovina in 50th. China added seven cases Sunday.

World Health Organization researchers released findings last week that it was unlikely the coronavirus had originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, though transmission from animals to humans needed to be further investigated. Researchers visited the area for four weeks.

But on Saturday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan says the White House has “deep concerns” over how preliminary results were communicated from China and the WHO.

“Going forward, all countries, including China, should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies — so that the world learns as much as possible as soon as possible,” Sullivan said in a statement Saturday.

Two other Far East nations, with far fewer cases and deaths elsewhere, are beginning vaccine rollouts.

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On Sunday, Japan has officially approved its first vaccine — by Pfizer/BioNTech — for its 126 million people.

The country received about 400,000 doses of the vaccine from Belgium on Friday, the Health Ministry said. Japan has signed a contract to receive 144 million does — with each person needing two — by the end of this year.

Japan hosts the Summer Olympics in July.

Japan has reported 6,983 deaths, including 38 Sunday with a record 120 Wednesday. Cases are 1,364 with the record 7,882.

South Korea’s record is 40 deaths on Dec. 29 with eight announced Sunday for a total of 1,522, as well as 326 cases, behind the mark of 1,241 on Dec. 25.

In South Korea, vaccinations for medical workers won’t begin until later this month followed by those 65 and older in May.

On Wednesday, South Korea granted emergency approval to the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine with inoculations scheduled to begin Feb. 26. The ministry is warning against South Koreans older than 65 years of age getting the shots.

Africa has 98,340 deaths, which increased by about 3,000 in one week, and 3,767,690 cases.

South Africa ranks 14th worldwide with 47,821, including 151 Saturday with the record 839 set on Jan. 19, as well as 2,342 cases for a total of 1,490,063, which is 16th in the world.

Egypt is second on the continent with 9,935, including an additional 36 Saturday, and Morocco was in third with 8,460, gaining 10 Saturday.

A variant first detected in South Africa, 501Y.V2, has been spreading worldwide.

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But South Africa says it will reopen 20 of its land border crossings Monday. The borders, including with Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana have been closed since Jan. 11.

All people entering South Africa from abroad from land and air must present a negative COVID-19 test result.

Oceania, with only 42.3 million people, has 1,078 deaths and 50,385 cases.

New Zealand’s deaths have remained at 25 since Sept. 16 and Australia’s toll stands at 909 with the last two deaths Nov. 30 and Dec. 29.

New Zealand reported two cases Sunday, tallying eight in one week, for a total of 2,328, and Australia was up five Sunday for 28,892, an increase of 42 in seven days.

On Friday, the Melbourne area began its third lockdown for five days because the British variant was detected at the airport and infected 13 people. Melbourne has a population of 4.9 million and the Victoria state’s is 6.4 million.

“I know it’s not the place that we wanted to be in,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters. “However, we’ve all given so much, we’ve all done so much. We’ve built something precious, and we have to make difficult decisions, and do difficult things, in order to defend what we’ve built.

“I am confident that this short, sharp circuit breaker will be effective. We will be able to smother this. We will be able to prevent it getting away from us.”

The Australian Open is taking place without spectators.