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World's COVID-19 cases rise 59% but deaths down 7%; Australia triples in week

By Allen Cone
World's COVID-19 cases rise 59% but deaths down 7%; Australia triples in week
Pedestrians wear face masks walk near the Eiffel Tower iluminated in the colors of the European Union flag to mark France's presidency of the EU, in central Paris on Sunday. Pjoto by Ian Langsdon/EPA-EFE

Jan. 2 (UPI) -- COVID-19 cases have surged to record levels throughout the world, including many nations in Europe as well as the United States and Canada, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant despite restrictions and vaccines. Even Australia, which had controlled the virus with only a few thousand cases daily, has endured a huge spike, tripling in one week.

Infections exploded before Christmas and through New Year's, forcing Atlanta, Athens, Berlin, London, New Delhi, Paris, Rome to scrap plans on New Year's Eve. New York's festivities went on but there were restrictions, including required vaccines and mask wearing.

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The strain, which was first detected by scientists in South Africa on Nov. 24, has surpassed the Delta variant in many parts of the world.

In one week, infections rose 59% with 9,417,922 for a total of 290,589,607 on Sunday with many nations not releasing data on New Year's Day, according to tracking by Worldometers.info. One week earlier the rise was 13%.

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Deaths went down 7% or 40,583 for a toll of 5,460,222.

Nations' cases more than doubling were Greece 350%, Argentina 234%, Colombia 225%, Israel 218%, Australia 214%, Saudi Arabia 172%, Italy 164%, Portugal 164%, Canada 141%, India 167%, France 131% and Brazil at 110%.

Several nations set daily cases records in the past week. Marks broken on Friday were France at 232,200 (population 65.5 million), Britain at 189,846 (population 68.4 million), Italy at 144,243 (population 603 million), Canada at 41,210 (38.2 million population). Spain, which doesn't report data on weekends and holidays, on Thursday reported a record 161,688 (population 46.8 million) along with Greece 40,560 (10.3 million population) and Canada 41,217 (38.2 million population).

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The record in Australia (125.9 million population) was 35,208 Saturday, one week after 9,947.

The United States broke its daily record on Thursday with 572,029. The most listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was 486,428 posted Thursday, and the agency won't update its data until Monday.

The United States has the world's most deaths at 847,181 and cases at 55,873,243.

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Worldwide, cases hit a daily record 1,893,363 Thursday, one weekly after around half that amount, 982,822

On Saturday there 1,190,598 cases.

Some countries have been immune to the new strain despite record surges earlier in the year. Indonesia was down 22% weekly with only 174 reported Sunday after a record 54,000 in July. South Africa, the original epicenter of the variants, dropped 48% with 9,793 new ones Saturday. Poland dropped 24%, South Korea 23%, Russia 17%,

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One week after India's cases declined 7%, they rose 120%, including 27,553, with only 6,987 seven days ago and until the past week under 20,000 since the beginning of October. India had the world record 414,188 in May until the spike in the United States.

Travel restrictions, especially from African nations, have been in place. On Friday, the United States dropped the ban from South Africa and seven other nations.

"Omicron is so infectious,'' Peter Openshaw, a member of Britain's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group told the BBC on Friday. "We're lucky really that it wasn't this infectious when it first moved into human-to-human transmission. It almost needs just a whiff of infected breath and you could get infected."

Early studies in Scotland and England suggest that infections from the variant could be milder, meaning fewer hospitalizations. But hospitals are reporting an increase, including in the United States with 99,763,one week after 71,011 Sunday. It was more than 100,000 during the Delta surge in the summer.

Hospitalizations were lower among those who had received three doses of vaccine, according to a report issued by the kingdom's Health Security Agency.

Those with three doses with the Omicron variant reduced it by 88%, compared with unvaccinated people with that variant.

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Analyzed between Nov. 22 and Dec. 26 were 528,176 Omicron cases and 573,012 Delta infections.

The report covered mostly younger patients.

"The Omicron wave is starting in younger people,'' Nicholas Davies, an assistant professor of mathematical modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The New York Times. "It's important to bear in mind that we don't have much data on risks in older people yet."

Much of the world's population has been vaccinated, though the Omicron variant appears to be more resistant to vaccines than other strains. Boosters are showing a greater impact.

In all, more than 9.19 billion doses have been administered, an increase of 240 million in one week with the world's population of 7.9 billion, according to Bloomberg tracking.

Broken down by world regions, the United States and Canada have administered at least one dose to 75% of the population, followed by Latin America at 71%, Asia-Pacific 70%, Europe at 65%, Middle East 49% and Africa at 13%, according to The New York Times tracking.

China, which has the world's largest population at 1.5 billion, had administered 2.8 billion doses, or about 90.0% of the population for one shot, and ahead of India at 1.5 billion with 61.8% rate and the second-biggest population at 1.4 billion. The United States is third at 507.7 million and 73.4%.

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In Europe, the total is 744 million vaccinated with a 73% one shot rate. In the European Union, it's 87.1% in Denmark, 85.2% in Spain, 81.6% in France 80.1% in Italy, 77.2% in Netherlands, 74.7% in Austria, 74.2% in Germany. Britain, which has left the EU, has a 77.5% rate.

Russia is lagging the world in vaccination with 50.3% of its population with at least one dose of a domestic-produced vaccine, including Sputnik 5, according to tracking by Bloomberg.

Two other Eastern European nations have low vaccination rates: Ukraine at 35.3% and Romania at 40.9%. Poland's rate is 57.1% and Czech Republic's is 64%.

Cases have been surging in Europe. They rose 59% with a world-high 3,069,570 one week after an 8% gain for 88,734,163 in first place among continents. Deaths decreased 5% to a total of 1,531,409, also in first place.

Besides several nations doubling, other European nations also had been increases in cases: Iceland 98%, Finland 75%, Romania 69%, Denmark 60%, Britain 51% and Spain 37%.

France reported the most cases in the past week at 1,103,55 for 10,537,966 total in sixth of all nations in the world, passing Turkey in the past week. Britain was second at 1,096,712 for a total of 13,100,458 in fourth place. Italy had 644,712 in ninth at 6,328,076, passing Spain at 6,294,745.

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Britain, which reported 137,583 cases Sunday, first surpassed 100,000 10 days ago with 119,557. Until the recent surge, the record was 67,794 in early January.

Britain's deaths are 148,851 in seventh, including 73 Sunday. The kingdom added 332 deaths Thursday, the most since late February.

Officials hope to avoid further restrictions.

"The widespread use of testing is an illustration of the fact that the British public is taking sensible steps to keep themselves safe to keep their friends and family safe," Tory Minister Steve Barclay said Sunday. "So that, combined with the booster programs, is the key way that as a country, we will avoid the need for further measures."

Hospital admissions in England have risen to their highest level since January 2021, and the number of hospital staff absent due to the virus nearly doubled in a month.

Current Plan B rules for England include vaccination passes for certain events, face masks in more places and people urged to work from home if possible.

Before the onset of Omicron, COVID-19 had already been at high levels in Russia, Germany, Ukraine and Poland.

On Sunday, Russia reported 811 deaths, with the record 1,254 on Nov. 19, for a total of 310,518 in fourth place. And the nation added 18,233 cases for 10,537,966, in fifth place, including a record 41,335 on Nov. 6. Russia's deaths are down by 10% for a total of 6,300, which is second in the world behind the U.S. with 7,695, and a 18% drop in cases to 145,946.

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Russia hasn't been below 700 since July. In 2020, deaths reached 635 on Dec. 24.

Germany also experienced an earlier surge. Cases hit a record 76,132 on Nov. 25 in Germany. Until Nov. 4, the record was 32,546 on April 14. On Sunday, Germany reported 6,849 for a total of 7,203,003, which is eighth in the world.

Cases declined 7% in one week and deaths dropped 18% in Germany.

On Dec. 24, Germany reported 575 deaths, the most since 589 on Feb. 16. Sunday's gain was 29 for 112,855 in 14th. Deaths are nowhere near the record of 1,249 on Dec. 29.

Germany is under a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated, including nonessential services. Large events are all banned.

In deaths elsewhere, Italy is ninth with 137,646, including 133 Sunday. In the top 20: France is 12th with 123,942, an increase of 91; Poland 15th with 97,592; Ukraine 16th with 96,187, including 98 more Sunday; and Spain 18th with 89,405 and no data on weekends.

Eighteen days ago France's cases increased 65,713, the most since a record 83,324 in November 2020. But in the past week they were three times as much.

France posted 219,126 cases Saturday then 58,432 Sunday.

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On Monday, self-isolation times for fully vaccinated people who test positive will drop to seven from 10, with it cut down to five days with a negative test result, Health Minister Olivier Veran told the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche on Saturday.

Mask mandates will extend to children aged 6 and above at public venues.

A vaccine pass, which requires proof of full vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 in public venues and establishments.

"Omicron is so contagious that it will affect all populations of the world," Veron said. "It will lead to enhanced immunity, we will all be better armed afterwards. But to put the maximum chances on our side, we must continue to immunize the planet urgently, especially in countries where access to doses is more complicated."

Italy reported 61,046 infections Sunday. Until the spike, the record was 41,198 in November 2020.

Italy's government has stricter rules on health passes and masks. Outdoor public events and parties are banned during the festive season.

In Netherlands, with a 19% weekly rise in cases, the nation is on a lockdown through at least Jan. 14 with schools and colleges, all non-essential shops and cultural institutions shuttered.

In Asia over the past week, deaths decreased by 16% with a current 1,256,469 but cases were up 50% with 84,907,502.

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India's deaths droped to 2,088 nine weeks after a surge of 83%. Cases were up 120%.

On Sunday, India reported 284 fatalities for a total of 481,770 in third place.

India is second in the world in cases at 34,889,132.

India holds world daily records, not including major reconciliations: 6,148 deaths in June and 414,188 cases in May.

The nation's cases have been below 50,000 for 189 consecutive days.

India, which is the prime manufacturer of vaccines for the world, has a one-shot rate for the entire population of 61.8% in a ramped-up effort.

In restrictions, restaurants in Chandigarh, which is the capital of the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, will now open with 50% capacity. Only those who have taken both doses of vaccine will be allowed entry.

All universities and colleges shall remain closed till Jan. 12 for students.

Since Dec. 15, all social, political, sports, entertainment, cultural and religious events are prohibited.

The pandemic began in late 2019 in Mainland China, but the nation's death toll has stood at 4,636 for several months and 83rd behind Palestine at 4,675. China added 191 cases Sunday and 231 Saturday, the most since 325 in April, three months after its peak.

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China ended the final week of 2021 with its highest tally of local coronavirus cases for any seven-day period, 136, since overcoming the first outbreak.

The worst outbreak is in Xi'an, a northern city with a population of 13 million under a lockdown, reporting 122 infections reported Sunday after 150 on Saturday.

"There are people standing guard at the entrance of my building, and people are lining up for PCR tests," Xi'an resident Zhang Xiaojuan told Radio Free Asia. "You're only allowed to go downstairs when you are called."

Samsung and Micron, two of the world's largest computer chip manufacturers, had to adjust operations.

South Korea's cases rose 3,830 Sunday after a record 7,843 on Dec. 15 with 2020's highest 1,237 on Dec. 25. South Korea added 69 deaths Sunday after a record 109 Dec. 23.

Social distancing rules have been extended past Sunday to Jan. 16, including curfews at restaurants.

South Korea's vaccination rate is 85.6%, after getting off to a late start.

Japan reported two deaths Sunday and seven total in the past week with a total of 18,407.

And there were 554 cases Sunday, which is the highest since the middle of October, compared with the record of 25,492 on Aug. 21 after the Summer Olympics ended on Aug. 8. On Nov. 22 there were only 50 cases.

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Japan has a relatively low 13,776 infections per million and 146 deaths per million. Worldwide, it's 37,181 cases per million and 700.3 per million deaths. The United States' figures are 2,537 fatalities per million and 167,302 infections per million.

Japan, which administered its first vaccine doses two months after the United States, has vaccinated 79.6% of the 129.4 million population.

On Saturday, Vietnam reported a record 19,868 cases, fewer than the record 16,715 in August with 16,948 Sunday and 221 deaths. The deaths mark is 803 on Sept. 1. Vietnam's vaccination rate is 80.2%.

Indonesia ranks eighth in the world at 144,097 with an increase of one death Sunday, way down from a record 2,069 on July 27. The Asian nation's cases are 14th at 4,263,168 including 174 Sunday, also a fraction of the record 54,000 in July. Indonesia has vaccinated 60.6% of its population with at least one dose.

Iran is 10th at 131,680 deaths, including 41 Sunday. Iran's one-shot vaccination rate is 71.5%, up from 43.6% 12 weeks ago.

Turkey is seventh in the world for cases at 9,519,281, including 333,520 reported Sunday and rising 81% in a week. Turkey is 19th in deaths at 82,506 including 129 most recently. Turkey has a 68.4% vaccination rate.

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Israel's one-shot vaccination rate is 72.5%.

Israel has a death toll of 8,244 with none reported Sunday, one on Saturday and two in the past week and 4,383 cases most recently with the record 20,523 on Sept. 1. Israel has among the world's worst infection rates: 149,125 per million.

After Omicron emerged in the nation, all foreign nationals were banned from coming into Israel.

But Israel plans to lift its travel ban on most African countries and some destinations in Europe, the Health Ministry said. The United States, Britain and Canada among 14 countries with high coronavirus infection rates will remain on Israel's list of "red" destinations.

In November, the United States was allowing entry to fully vaccinated foreign travelers from 33 nations, including by air and land. Travel for U.S. residents was allowed earlier.

In North America, the deaths are 1,246,011 with a 6% weekly decrease, and cases are 66,523,301, increasing 57%.

The United States' deaths decreased 7% and cases rose 54%. On Saturday, the United States reported 257 deaths and 161,398 cases though most states don't report data on weekends.

Mexico is fifth in the world in deaths at 299,525 with a 31% weekly decrease and 97 recorded on Saturday. The nation's cases rose 88% with 9,193 most recently for 16th at 3,951,003.

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Canada's cases rose 141% in one week with 35,127 Sunday for 27th in cases with 2,254,663.

With Canada passing 40,000 cases last week, the record until the spike was 11,383 one year ago Jan. 3.

In Ontario, there were 18,445 new cases Saturday,

Canada's deaths went up 110% and the nation ranks 29th worldwide with 30,369 including 30 Sunday. The record is 257 on Dec. 29.

Canada has around one-third the rates per million than the United States with deaths 793 and cases 58,045.

Canada has the best one-shot vaccination rate of the three largest countries in North America at 83%. The United States is at 73.4% for one shot. Mexico's percentage is 64.2%, though it was the first Latin American nation to begin vaccinating people.

Quebec is the only province in Canada with a curfew. Since Friday people are required to be home by 10 p.m., and to stay there until 5 a.m.

Of Mexico's 32 states, all are low-risk green on the federal government's coronavirus stoplight map except for Durango, Aguascalientes, Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua at medium-risk yellow.

Mexico's government announced last week that it would let cruise ships dock at its ports, even if passengers tested positive. Asymptomatic travelers to disembark on its shores.

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In South America, cases increased 172% in one week with a total of 39,912,105 but deaths were down 3% to 1,192,436.

Brazil's deaths rose 6% to 619,171, but up 172% in cases.

Brazil reported 32 deaths Sunday. Cases were 1,721, among the lowest since the start of the pandemic. The record was 115,0412 on June 20.

Also in the top 10 for deaths, Peru is sixth at 202,741. Colombia is 11th at 130,026, Argentina is 13th with 117,204 and Chile 23rd with 39,162.

On Sunday, Chile reported 22 more deaths. Peru added 51, Colombia 4 and Argentina 23. These numbers are way down from records: Peru with 1,154, Colombia with 754, Argentina with 791, Chile with 316.

Peru has the world's highest death rate at 6,022 per million people.

Some South American nations have high vaccinations rates. Chile has the best vaccination rate on the continent at 90.5% with Argentina 85.0%, Brazil at 79.1%, Colombia at 76% and Peru 73.6%.

Though the variant emerged in Africa, the continent's situation has stabilized with a 3% weekly cases rate after 52% two weeks ago with a total of 9,874,096. Deaths went up 0.8% for a total toll of 229,357.

South Africa's infections decreased 44% two weeks after a 49% gain and deaths down 11%.

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Overall, South Africa has reported 3,472,436 cases, in 18th worldwide, with 4,357 Sunday. Twenty-one days ago there was a record 37,875

The nation is 17th in deaths at 91,228, including 30 most recently.

Tunisia has the second-most deaths with 25,586 head of Egypt with 21,797.

The situation is actually easing in South Africa and symptoms are generally less severe than other variants.

The government lifted a curfew and restrictions on alcohol sales before New Year's Eve. Remaining are mask-wearing requirements and limits on gatherings.

"The fact that hospitalizations are declining is reinforcing that this is probably coming to its natural decline," Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Deakin University in Australia, told The Washington Post.

Oceania, with only 42.3 million people, has 4,525 deaths with an increase of 67% in seven days and cases are 627,201 with a rise of 212%.

New Zealand's deaths rose by two in one week to 51. Australia's toll increased to 2,259, with six reported Sunday and 69 in a week.

New Zealand added 137 cases Sunday after a record 222 on Nov. 16. Australia was up 35,208, then 32,216 Sunday with the record until the Omicron surge at 2,688 on Oct. 14.

States reporting records Saturday were New South Wales, the most populous state, with 22,577, and Victoria with 7,442 respectively.

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Those states are no longer in lockdowns after months-long ones.

In New South Wales, there are 1,066 hospitalizations compared with 388 hospitalizations reported on Christmas Day.

New Zealand is on a traffic light system based on vaccinations with only a portion in the north in Red. Auckland earlier ended its 107-day lockdown for vaccinated people.

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