With New Year's Eve right around the corner, it seems 2021 is closing much like last year: with markets and COVID case tallies at record highs.
The US set a record with 488K new cases on Wednesday, just shy of the half-a-million mark. It's more than double the worst days from last winter (although we didn't have take-home rapid tests last winter). Wednesday’s 7-day average of new daily cases, 301K, was also a record, compared with 267K the day before.
Globally, the world topped 1 million cases for the third day in a row, with cases soaring 32% to 1.73M on Wednesday. As authorities revive travel restrictions, Cathay Pacific Airways is planning to scrap Hong Kong flights as Hong Kong tightens its rules.
The WHO warned this week about a "tsunami" of omicron and delta cases, though many observers might surmise that the surge has already landed.
Germany put Italy, Canada and Malta on its high-risk list, meaning travelers from those countries need to quarantine for 10 days unless they’re vaccinated.
Still, some government are loosening their restrictions because citizens are expressing their discontent and exhaustion with the status quo. Italy is dialing back its COVID curbs as authorities adjust to the fact that hospitalizations and deaths haven't risen commensurately with the new case tallies.
Australia is also dialing back its curbs as violence explodes in the capitol: Australia's former parliament building in the capital Canberra was briefly set alight on Thursday by protesters during a demonstration for Aboriginal sovereignty. Well, authorities must be relieved that they're not protesting the lockdowns anymore.
Meanwhile, more evidence is emerging that omicron may be less dangerous, particularly in vaccinated people, as virus deaths in the US decline.
A Johnson & Johnson booster shot provided strong protection against the Omicron variant, greatly reducing the risk of hospitalization, according to a clinical trial in South Africa.
That study used data from 69K boosted health care workers with a corresponding group of unvaccinated South Africans, found that two shots of the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization from Omicron by about 85%. In comparison, another study in South Africa found that two shots of the Pfizer jab reduced the risk of hospitalization by about 70%, along with a handful of other studies.
Over in the UK, Britain’s NHS "is now on a war footing," one of its top medical officials warned on Thursday. He said they would start erecting field hospitals to absorb a feared surge in hospitalizations as cases continue to climb. In a statement, the service outlined plans for temporary wards in England, called "Nightingale hubs" in response to the surge in omicron cases.