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COVID-19 surges in Hong Kong with 300,000 cases, 1,200 deaths in week

By Allen Cone
People work on the site of a makeshift hospital in Tsing Yi, Hong Kong, Monday. The makeshift hospital, located near the shipping containers terminal, is the first newly added isolation facilities that can provide can provide over 3,800 beds. Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE
People work on the site of a makeshift hospital in Tsing Yi, Hong Kong, Monday. The makeshift hospital, located near the shipping containers terminal, is the first newly added isolation facilities that can provide can provide over 3,800 beds. Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE

March 6 (UPI) -- More than two years after COVID-19 was detected in Mainland China, Hong Kong is now experiencing an "unprecedented health crisis" of nearly 300,000 cases and 1,200 deaths in the past week after largely being immune from the outbreak.

The surge comes as coronavirus numbers subside worldwide following the emergence of the Omicron variant three months ago with a weekly 19% decrease in deaths and 10% in cases. One week ago, fatalities fell by 16% and infections by 10%.

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In the past seven days, global cases increased 10,006,601 for a total of 446,721,728, according to tracking by Worldometers.info on Sunday. Deaths, which lag a few weeks behind infections, increased 48,475, for a total of 6,020,582, passing 6 million on Thursday, which was 153 days after hitting 5 million. Johns Hopkins has the death toll at 5,997,994.

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Besides Hong Kong, also bucking the downward trend are two other Asian nations with record daily cases : South Korea (254,326 Saturday) and Vietnam (142,136 Sunday) along with Indonesia's 325 deaths Tuesday were the most since last mid-September.

And New Zealand reported a record 24,106 infections Wednesday.

Until this year, Hong Kong, an island of 7.6 million people that has separate governing and economic systems from Communist China, had reported only 163 deaths and 243,612 cases. In 2020, it was 148 deaths and 8,847 cases.

In Mainland China, the nation of 1.5 billion people -- the largest population in the world -- the bulk of China's fatalities were announced only a few months after the first confirmed one on Jan. 9, 2020. The last reported fatality was Jan. 28, 2021, and the figure now is 4,636 in 86th behind Denmark with 4,868.

China reported 327 cases Sunday.

In Hong Kong on Saturday, 37,529 cases and 220 deaths were reported. The records are 56,827 infections Thursday and 246 fatalities Tuesday.

Until this year, the most cases were 128 in a week in July 2020.

This past week Hong Kong's cases rose 334% and deaths went up 298%.

Hong Kong reported more deaths per million people than any country or territory in the past week and the most of countries were more than a million people.

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Like Mainland China, Hong Kong had adopted a zero COVID stance with lockdowns and massive testing.

But now the health system is being pressed with hospitals packed with bodies piling up in morgues there. And massive isolation units are being built.

At Queen Elizabeth, one of Hong Kong's largest hospitals, patients wait for a bed in an isolation ward.

"A patient is unlikely to get into an isolation ward unless that patient is on the verge of dying," one staffer told CNN. "No matter how hard we work, the situation doesn't change, yet we still cannot stop. The situation is hopeless."

Hong Kong Doctors Union said in an open letter in February: "Our healthcare system is at the edge of collapse."

To help contain the outbreak, the government is again limiting public gatherings to two and closing restaurants and bars after 6 p.m.

Schools will also break for summer early and be used as isolation, testing and vaccination facilities.

"March is going to be a very, very difficult time," Hong Kong University clinical virologist Siddharth Sridhar told CNN. "Definitely an unprecedented health crisis for Hong Kong."

The nation is also emphasizing vaccines with 82.6% of the population getting one dose and 70.8% two shots compared with Mainland China with 90.2% for one and 87.3% for both.

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But just 48% of people aged 70 or older have received two doses. And at the start of the year, just 25% of people age 80 and older had been vaccinated.

Virtually all of the city's COVID-19 deaths reported this year are elderly and unvaccinated.

"People really started to believe that even the minuscule risk associated with vaccination was higher than the risk of COVID," Karen Grepin, an associate professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, told CNN. "We are paying for that complacency."

In all, more than 10.8 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, an increase of 100 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 78% of the population, followed by Latin America at 77%, Asia-Pacific 76%, Europe at 68%, Middle East 54% and Africa at 18%, according to The New York Times tracking.

Following is the rank order of some nations' vaccination rates elsewhere in Asia: Singapore 87.7%, India 70.2%, Malaysia 82.4%, Vietnam 81.6%, Japan 80.9%, Israel 76.5%, Iran 75%, Indonesia 71%, Turkey 69% and Philippines 62.4%.

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In Asia over the past week, there were 4,339,411 cases, the most of the continents with an increase of 9%, for a total of 121,129,001 and deaths down 0.3% at 13,402 for a cumulative 1,360,586.

South Korea reported the most cases in the world over seven days at 1,381,369 for a 42% gain. And 901 deaths were announced for a 67% increase.

In all, South Korea has reported 4,456,264 cases, including 243,612 Sunday. Cases were under 4,000 daily before the Omicron detection. And deaths are at 8,957, including 161 most recently with the record 216 the day before.

Despite the surge, South Korean officials announced an easing of social distancing restrictions. Curfews at restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other indoor businesses will be extended by an hour to 11 p.m. starting Saturday.

"The government took into consideration the prolonged and worsening hardship of business owners and small merchants despite a series of government compensations and partial easings of social distancing," Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said in a report by The Korean Herald.

Vietnam's cases rose 68% at 790,687 in second behind South Korea and a head of Germany, for a total of more than 4.4 million. Deaths were up 8% and a total of 40,813, including 87 Sunday.

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Indonesia, with 278 million people, had been relatively immune from the spike. Two weeks ago, cases rose 74% but most recently dropped 38% for a total of 5,748,725 in 17th, including 24,867 Sunday. The record is 64,718 Feb. 16.

But Indonesia's weekly deaths rose 26% rise for a total of 150,172 in ninth place, including 254 Sunday. The record is 2,069 in late July 2021.

India holds the world daily record for deaths, not including major reconciliations: 6,148 last June. The Delta variant emerged in India.

India's cases declined 50% with 5,476 Sunday, the fewest since late December before the Omicron surge, to 42,388,475 in second place behind the United States. During the Omicron surge, the most cases has been 347,254 in January. The record during the Delta surge was 412,618 on May 5, 2021.

Fatalities dropped 28%, with 158 Sunday, four weeks after rising 68% The total is 515,036 in third behind the United States and Brazil.

Japan reported 53,969 cases, 21 days after a record 100,959 with a 5% weekly drop. The total is 5,403,393. Until the surge, the record was 26,184 less than two weeks after the Olympics ended.

Japan also added 132 deaths Sunday for a total of 24,964, rising 1% gain. The record was 322 on Feb. 22.

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Japan has a relatively low 42,424 infections per million and deaths at 197 per million.

Japanese scientists reported last week the Omicron strain is 40% more lethal than seasonal flu. The case fatality rate of Omicron in Japan was about 0.13%, according to an analysis by scientists who advise the country's health minister. Earlier in the COVID-19 outbreak, it was 4.25%.

Iran is 12th in deaths at 137,948 including 201 Sunday.

Turkey is eighth in cases, adding 27,671 Sunday for a total of 14,353,888, and 19th in deaths at 95,549 including 170 new ones.

Israel has a death toll of 10,274 with four reported Sunday and 7,048 cases for a total of 3,669,119.

On Tuesday, all tourists will be allowed entry into the country, regardless of vaccination status, and the Green Pass system, requiring present proof of vaccination for most venues, also ended.

Guam, a territory of the United States with only 169,000 people, reported 742.5 cases per 100,000 in the past week, only second behind the Northern Mariana Islands at 1,128.2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Idaho is the top state at 495. Guam has 45,489 cases and 331 deaths.

Guam has vaccinated 95% of its adults with at least one vaccine dose. The CDC caps its percentage at that level.

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Most nations in Europe are heavily vaccinated. In the European Union, it's 75.7%, including 87.2% in Spain, 84.0% in France, 84.9% in Italy, 83.2% in Denmark, 77.3% in Netherlands, 76.4% in Germany, 76.4% in Austria. Britain, which has left the EU, has a 78.5% rate.

Russia is lagging the world in vaccination with 53.9% of its population with at least one dose of a domestic-produced vaccine, including Sputnik 5.

Two other Eastern European nations have low vaccination rates: Ukraine at 37.9% and Romania at 42.1%. Poland's rate is 59.5% and Czech Republic's is 64.9%.

In Europe, cases declined 16% with a world-high 4,324,170, slightly behind Asia, for 160,017,079 in first place among continents. Deaths dropped 18% to a total of 1,722,986, also in first place.

In Germany, cases surged early during the Omicron variant and have remained high. They declined 4% last week, 1,090,396, which is No. 1 in the world, and have risen to seventh in the world at 15,804,035. On Sunday, 80,128 infections were reported with the record 247,128 in mid-February.

Until Nov. 4, the record at the time was 32,546 last mid-April.

Deaths declined 5% in one week in Germany. Sunday, Germany reported 29 deaths for 124,699 in 14th. The record was 1,249 on Dec. 29.

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On Friday, Germany entered phase two of a reduction in restrictions with a "freedom day" on March 20 to end all rules.

The changes most recently included opening restaurants and nightclubs to unvaccinated with large events, including soccer games and concerts allowed but there are capacity limits of up to 6,000 indoors at 60% and 25,000 outdoors at 75%.

On Sunday, Russia reported 744 deaths, with the record 1,254 on Nov. 19, for a total of 356,281 in fourth place and no change in the past week. In cases, Russia reported 79,863, down from the record 203,949 in February, for 16,941,656 in fourth place and a decrease of 30% with 686,770 in fourth in the world.

France reported the sixth-most cases in the world in the past week, 365,266, but decreased 5%. France's 23,057,326 total cases are fourth in the world, including 45,328 Sunday. The nation's daily record is 501,635 on Feb. 1.

France moved past Colombia in deaths in the past week to 10th at 139,275, including 32 Sunday.

France has the worst infection rate among large nations: 341,248 per million with the world at 55,847. Britain is at 279,185 and United States at 242,074. Demark's rate is 466,390 and Israel's is 393,429.

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Starting last Monday in France, people no longer are required to wear masks indoors, including in public areas, but they will be required on public transportation. And on March 14, vaccination passports won't be allowed in businesses and venues.

In deaths elsewhere, Italy is eighth with 155,887, including 105 Sunday, and Britain seventh at 162,008, including 110 most recently Friday. In the top 20: Poland 15th with 112,545, rising by 10 Sunday; Ukraine 16th with 10,505, with no data since an invasion by Russia; and Spain 17th with 100,431 and no data on weekends.

Italy reported 35,0567 infections Sunday with the record 228,179 in mid-January.

Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi last week announced the state of emergency will end March 31 with the plan to "reopen everything as quickly as possible" he told Italian media in Florence.

"We will gradually put an end to the enhanced green certificate obligation, starting with outdoor activities including fairs, sports, parties and shows," he told reporters.

England celebrated its Freedom Day on Feb. 24 with the end to restrictions. People aren't legally required to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus.

Britain's deaths declined 28% with the record 1,824 in January one year ago. The cases mark is 218,724, also a year ago January.

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In North America, the deaths are 1,414,696 with an 27% weekly decrease, and cases are 95,312, declining 36%.

The United States' cases dropped 39% and deaths went down 27%. On Sunday, the United States reported 183 deaths and 4,903 cases though two-thirds didn't report data. Totals are 984,020 fatalities and 80,917,522 infections. The U.S. holds the world record for daily cases at 901,765 on Jan. 7.

Mexico is fifth in the world in deaths at 319,824 with a weekly decrease of 27% and 220 recorded Saturday and the record 1,417 in late January a year ago. The nation's cases decreased 36% with 8,688 most recently for 17th at 5,563,080.

Canada's cases dropped 12% in one week with 2,688 Sunday for 31st with 3,323,488. The record was 55,359 in mid-January. Until the Omicron variant, the record was 11,383 one year ago Jan. 3.

Canada's deaths are down 14% and the nation ranks 26th worldwide with 36,986 including 30 Sunday with the record 257 on Dec. 29, 2020.

Canada has around one-third the rates per million than the United States with deaths 941 and cases 84,594.

Canada has the best one-shot vaccination rate of the three largest countries in North America at 85.2%. The United States is at 75.8% for one shot. Mexico's percentage is 66.8%, though it was the first Latin American nation to begin vaccinating people.

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Dr. Theresa Tam, who is Canada's chief public health officer, said Friday the risk of another massive wave of infections is low, because of the good vaccination rate. And even with an outbreak, she said better treatments and more availability of rapid tests mean closures, including schools, can be avoided.

In Mexico, there are no "red" maximum risk states or "orange" in the traffic light system. Cancun, a popular tourist designation, is "yellow" as part of Quintana Roo's state with adjacent Yucatan also that color. All states bordering the United States are yellow except Baja California "green."

In South America, cases decreased 43% in one week with a total of 54,739,009 and deaths were down 35% to 1,263,076.

Brazil reported 219 deaths Sunday after 645 deaths a day prior with the record 4,211 early last April for a total of 652,207 in second. Brazil's deaths declined 41% with cases down 43%, with 15,961 most recently, for a total of 29,049,013 in third.

Also in the top 10 for deaths, Peru is sixth at 211,1085. In the top 20, Colombia is 10th at 139,091, Argentina is 13th with 126,768 and Chile 23rd with 43,077.

On Sunday, Chile added 122 deaths with 272 Thursday, the most since late July 2020. Colombia added 54, Peru 113 Friday and Argentina 60.

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Peru has the world's highest death rate at 6,254 per million people.

Some South American nations have high vaccination rates. Chile has the best vaccination rate on the continent at 91.5% with Argentina 89.4%, Brazil at 84.2%, Peru 82.3% and Colombia at 81.9%.

On Saturday, cruising resumed in Brazil with all passengers and crew fully vaccinated. Four cruise ships homeported in Brazil.

Like South America, it's summer in Oceania.

Cases increased 45% for a total of 3,834,042 and deaths were up 0.7% for a total of 8,038.

In New Zealand, cases rose 222% after the nation of 5 million people, had only a few hundred cases a day before the Omicron variant, including a record 216 on Nov. 24. On Sunday, New Zealand reported 15,205 for a total of 222,767.

The nation added two deaths for a total of 65 and seven in the past week.

New Zealand, which has an 83.7% vaccination rate, is on a traffic light system. The entire country is in Red, meaning everyone will be required to wear masks in public venues and on public transportation. Customers are limited and events have been called off because of participation curbs.

"For the vast majority of the pandemic, most New Zealanders didn't know anyone who had COVID-19. That's changing massively now," Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist at the University of Auckland, told The New York Times. "This is the first time most New Zealanders are dealing with COVID-19 in their own homes."

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Australia also had largely avoided mass infections until the Omicron surge, with only 2,688 on Oct. 14. The nation reported 19,561 more cases Sunday, about 12% of the record recently.

Overall, the nation has climbed to 29th with 3,364,178. Deaths are 5,416 including 13 more Sunday. On Jan. 28, it set a daily record with 134, with the previous mark before Omicron 59 in early September 2020.

Australia has vaccinated 86% of its population with at least one dose.

Australia no longer is in lockdown.

Though the variant emerged in Africa -- Nov. 24 in South Africa -- the continent's situation has stabilized with a 32% weekly case drop with a total of 11,572,153. Deaths went down 42% for a total toll of 250,106.

South Africa's deaths went down 39% and cases dropped 25%.

Overall, South Africa has reported 3,684,319 cases, in 22nd worldwide, with 1,735 Saturday. Twelve weeks ago there was a record 37,875

The nation is 18th in deaths at 99,543, including 26 Saturday.

South Africa's vaccination rate is only 35%.

The pandemic curtailed women's health services, including reproduction care.

Last year between June and September, contraceptive use fell in 48% of countries, according to a rapid World Health Organization survey in 21 African countries. In some nations, teenage pregnancies also rose.

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"Two years on, the COVID-19 burden still weighs heavily on women," Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a news release Thursday. "Africa's mothers and daughters are struggling to access the health care they need. The pandemic's disruptive force will be felt by women for many years to come.

"Countries must look beyond short-term measures to restore services to pre-pandemic levels and make major investments for stronger systems capable of withstanding health emergencies while ensuring continuity of key services."

Tunisia has the second-most deaths with 27,922 ahead of Egypt with 24,197.

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