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Italy, France COVID-19 cases surge amid new sub-variant

By Allen Cone
Italy, France COVID-19 cases surge amid new sub-variant
Italian Health MinisterRoberto Speranza attends news conference at the end of the Council of Ministers in Rome on Friday convened to discuss lifting coronavirus restriction measures. Photo by Roberto Monaldo/EPA-EFE pool

March 20 (UPI) -- COVID-19 cases increased only 4% worldwide in the past week but some nations in Europe, including Italy with a 43% rise and France at 36%, have experienced surges as a new sub-variant travels around the world and countries relax restrictions.

In all, a total of 470,788,980 cases have been reported worldwide, including 11,773,847 in the past week, in tracking by Worldometers.info on Sunday. And deaths rose 35,583 in a 19% weekly decline for a total of 6,100,558.

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Of those cases, 47.9% have occurred in three nations -- South Korea, Germany and Vietnam -- all adding at least 1 million. Those countries account for only 3.9% of the population.

South Korea led the world last week with an increase of 2,832,661 cases, representing a 42% gain, including a daily record 621,328 Thursday after only 630,748 through the end of last year. Sunday's increase was 334,708. And deaths rose 327 with the record 429 Thursday and fatalities under 100 late December.

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Starting Monday, the government will increase the limit on private gatherings to eight people from the current six. And starting April 1, fully vaccinated overseas travelers and travlers with a registered vaccination history with South Korea's Q-Code website will be able to enter the country without a seven-day quarantine period.

Coronavirus continues to surge elsewhere in Asia with the continent reporting an 8% weekly rise with Europe second at 5%. North America dropped 21%, South America 17%, Africa 34% but Oceania went up 15%.

Mainland China, where the outbreak was first announced in December 2019, reported 1,737 cases Sunday after 3,602 March 15, the most since mid-February 2020. And the nation on Saturday reported the first two deaths since a year ago January for a total of 4,638 in 88th, behind Sudan with 4,888.

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With a "zero tolerance" for cases, 37 million of the 1.5 billion population are under lockdown. State media says 95% of the cases are mild.

And Hong Kong reported 14,149 cases Sunday for a total of 1,047,690 with the record 56,827 on March 10, and 246 fatalities for a cumulative 5,896, including a record 294 March 11. 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.

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Sunday that the government would consider lifting strict social distancing measures amid the downward trend.

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And in another Asian nation, Vietnam with 98.8 million people, cases dropped 5% but were third in the world in the past week at 1,246,601, including a record 182,296 March 11. Sundays infection increase was 141,151.

Germany, with 83.2 million residents, added 1,565,547 cases at a 20% rise for total 18,683,287 in sixth, passing Russia in the past week. Germany set a daily record with 300,270 cases March 10. The nation reported 168,187 Saturday and 90,525 on Sunday. The nation first experienced a spike from Omicron in mid January and the fatality record was 1,249 on Dec. 29, 2020, but an average of 200 each day last week. It reported 24 deaths on Sunday.

COVID-19 had largely been contained in Europe until the past two weeks, with a 6% a week earlier.

Europe's total cases: 170,280,622 in first place among continents. Deaths dropped 17% to a total of 1,752,315, also in first place.

In Britain, cases roses 6% in a week but its total of 460,661 was sixth, including ahead of No. 4 France with 602,155 and Italy at 460,661.

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"Over the last year or so, what happens in the U.K. usually happens here a few weeks later," Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor said in an interview with NPR. "And right now, the U.K. is seeing somewhat of a rebound in cases."

Sources of the spike: the BA.2 omicron subvariant, removal of most COVID restrictions and waning immunity from vaccinations and infections.

"All three of those factors we have here in the United States," Fauci said. "So I would not be surprised if in the next few weeks we see either a plateauing ... of cases or even [the curve] rebounds and slightly goes up. That is entirely conceivable. And we're just going to have to follow it carefully."

The United States' cases dropped 24% and it leads the world with 81,410,101 cases and 997,933 deaths.

Britain 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.

"My main concern is for the vulnerable for whom this disease is serious," James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute and professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, told the BBC,

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"Every effort must be made to triple vaccinate as many people as possible, quadruple vaccinate the most vulnerable."

Britain's one-shot vaccination rate among the entire population is 78.6%.

Most nations in Europe are heavily vaccinated, according to tracking by Bloomberg. In the European Union, it's 75.8%, including 87.3% in Spain, 84% in France, 85% in Italy, 83.2% in Denmark, 77.3% in Netherlands, 76.5% in Germany, 76.5% in Austria.

Russia is lagging the world in vaccination with 54% 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 38% and Romania at 42.2%. Poland's rate is 59.6% and Czech Republic's is 65%.

In all, more than 11.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, an increase of 200 million in one week with the world's population of 7.9 billion.

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 77%, Europe at 68%, Middle East 55% and Africa at 19%, according to The New York Times tracking.

Germany reported 119 deaths Saturday and 24 Sunday and is in 14th overall at 127,432.

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Germany is in phase two of a reduction in restrictions with a Freedom Day scheduled Sunday to end all rules.

But all 16 federal states have gone to a transition period, with rules that include required indoor mask wearing to end at the beginning of April. The period does not allow for caps on the number of people entering events.

In Bundestag, testing and vaccine entry requirements will be restricted to facilities for vulnerable groups, including nursing homes and hospitals.

"We are seeing record infections and the situation may worsen again in the autumn," Reiner Hoffmann, chairman of the German Federation of Trade Unions, told the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper. "I plead for the disease control law to be quickly tightened up. We must not risk the workplace becoming a hotbed of infection again."

On Sunday, Russia reported 434 deaths one day after 495, the first time under 500 since mid June, with the record 1,254 on Nov. 19, for a total of 364,492 in fourth place and an 18% drop in the past week. In cases, Russia reported 31,035, down from the record 203,949 in February, for 17,582,692 in fourth place and a decrease of 39%.

France is 10th overall in deaths at 140,933, including 30 Sunday.

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France has the worst infection rate among large nations: 367,151 per million with the world at 60,325. The United States is at 243,591. Denmark's rate is 490,969, Netherlands at 434,692, Israel at 403,062 and Austria at 381,142.

France's 24,137,160 total cases are fourth in the world, including 98,104 Saturday and 81,283 Sunday. The nation's daily record is 501,635 on Feb. 1.

France is 10th overall in deaths at 140,933, including 62 Saturday and 30 Sunday.

On Monday, people in France were allowed to not wear masks indoors and they won't have to show a vaccine pass to enter public places.

"We are free for the first time in two years," NPR's Eleanor Beardsley said on Morning Edition. "The only place they'll have to wear their mask is public transport, hospitals and retirement homes. France has had some of Europe's toughest restrictions. You had to show complete vaccination to enter restaurants, cafes, cinemas or planes and trains. Since last November, a negative test was not sufficient."

Italy reported 60,415 infections Sunday with the record 228,179 in mid-January and is ninth overall at 13,861,743. And the nation is eighth in deaths with 157,785, including 93 Sunday.

Italy's state of emergency is scheduled to end March 31.

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"We are taking fundamental steps toward reopening," Prime Minister Mario Draghi said during a news conference Thursday in Rome. "We are closely watching how the pandemic develops, and we are ready to adapt these measures to its evolution."

Britain's deaths decreased 2% with the record 1,824 in January one year ago. The cases mark is 218,724, also a year ago January. Britain is no longer releasing data on weekends with 125 deaths reported Friday for a total of 163,511 in fifth, and 90,349 more cases for a cumulative 20,093,762 in fifth.

In the top 20 for deaths Poland 15th with 114,218, rising by 12 Sunday; Ukraine 16th with 107,477, with the last day for data Friday with 65, and Spain 17th with 101,703 and no data on weekends.

Netherlands is 39th in deaths at 21,793 but 14th in cases at 7,511,397, including 34,823 Sunday. Netherlands had the seventh-most cases last week, 360,717, but a 24% drop. The record was 189,377 early last month.

In Asia over the past week, there were 5,449,187 cases, the most of the continents, for a total of 132,486,947, and deaths down 8% at 11,627 for a cumulative 1,384,258.

But India's cases and deaths daily levels are the lowest since the start of the pandemic.

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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 40% with 1,761 Sunday, the fewest since 1,735 April 28, 2020, to 43,007,841 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 16%, with 127 Sunday and 27 Monday, the least since 20 on April 8, 2020. The total is 516,479 in third behind the United States and Brazil.

Amid the sharp decline, Indians are celebrating Holi, which is the festival of colors in the last full-moon day of the lunar month. Without restrictions, people have gathered in open streets to celebrate.

But Thursday, the health ministry directed states to maintain "heightened surveillance" as cases rise elsewhere in the world.

Indonesia's weekly deaths declined 19% for a total of 153,738 in ninth place, including 139 Sunday. The deaths record is 2,069 in late July 2021.

Indonesia's cases dropped 50% for a total of 5,962,483 in 18th, including 5,922 Sunday. The record is 64,718 Feb. 16.

Japan is two spots up from Indonesia in cases in 16th at 6,109,637 including 39,659 Sunday. One month ago the record wad 100,959. Until the surge, the record was 26,184 less than two weeks after the Olympics ended.

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Japan also added 66 deaths Sunday for a total of 27,138. The record was 322 on Feb. 22.

Japan has a relatively low 4,8,182 infections per million and deaths at 215 per million.

Iran is 11th in deaths, rising past Colombia in the past week, at 139,610 including 60 Sunday.

Turkey is eighth in cases, adding 13,081 Sunday for a total of 14,693,917, and 19th in deaths at 97,267 including 85 new ones.

Israel has a death toll of 10,431 with 12 reported Sunday and 13,803 cases for a total of 3,772,758.

Guam, a territory of the United States with only 169,000 people, reported 251.7 cases per 100,000 in the past week, only second behind the Northern Mariana Islands at 597.9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Idaho is the top state at 224.2. Guam has 46,723 cases and 341 deaths.

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

Following is the rank order of some nations' vaccination rates in Asia: Mainland China 90.3%, Singapore 87.9%, South Korea 86.8%, Hong Kong 86.3%, Malaysia 83.2%, Vietnam 81.8%, Japan 81.1%, Israel 76.5%, Iran 75.8%, Indonesia 72.0%, India 70.4%, Turkey 69.1% and Philippines 63.9%.

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In North America, the deaths are 1,431,655 with a 29% weekly decrease, and cases are 96,047,378, declining 21%.

The United States' cases dropped 24% and deaths went down 33%. On Saturday, the United States reported 327 deaths and 12,362 cases though two-thirds didn't report data. On Sunday, it posted 88 deaths and 5,966 cases. Totals are 997,933 fatalities and 81,410,101 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 322,072 with a weekly decrease of 13% and 141 recorded Saturday and the record 1,417 in late January a year ago. The nation's cases decreased 32% with 4,114 most recently for 20th at 5,633,928.

Canada's cases dropped 5% in one week with 1,680 on Sunday for 32nd with 3,398,106. The record was 55,359 in mid-January. Canada's deaths are down 14% and the nation ranks 26th worldwide with 37,169 including three Sunday with the record 257 on Dec. 29, 2020.

Canada has around one-third the rates per million than the United States with deaths 970 and cases 88,661.

Canada has the best one-shot vaccination rate of the three largest countries in North America at 85.3%. The United States is at 76% for one shot. Mexico's percentage is 66.9%.

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Starting April 1, fully vaccinated travelers won't be required to show a negative pre-departure coronavirus test to enter Canada.

"We are in a much better position today than in 2020," Canada's Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos announced Thursday. "High vaccination rates and strong adherence to public health measures have pushed us through the peak of the omicron wave."

Ontario plans to lift its mask mandate Monday.

In Mexico, every area is "green" in the traffic light system of risk.

In South America, cases decreased 17% in one week with a total of 55,669,938 and deaths were down 27% to 1,271,817.

Brazil reported 290 deaths Saturday and 104 Sunday with the record 4,211 early last April for a total of 657,261 in second. Brazil's deaths declined 28% with cases down 16% with 13,218 most recently, for a total of 29,630,484 in third. The record is 286,050 in early February.

Also in the top 10 for deaths, Peru is sixth at 211,865. In the top 20, Colombia is 12th at 139,452, Argentina is 13th with 127,494 and Chile 23rd with 44,518.

On Sunday, Chile added 78 deaths, Colombia 18, Peru 51 and Argentina 11.

Peru has the world's highest death rate at 6,275 per million people.

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Some South American nations have high vaccination rates. Chile has the best vaccination rate on the continent at 91.7% with Argentina 89.8%, Brazil at 85.2%, Peru 84.0% and Colombia at 82.8%.

Like South America, it's summer in Oceania.

Cases increased 15% in one week for a total of 4,645,340 and deaths were up 9% for a total of 8,459.

In New Zealand, cases rose 12% with the nation of 5 million people reporting only a few hundred cases a day before the Omicron variant, including a record 216 on Nov. 24. On Sunday, New Zealand reported 11,997 for a total of 483,222.

The nation added seven deaths for a total of 151 with 68 at the start of the month.

New Zealand has an 84.2% vaccination rate.

The nation 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.

But the Cabinet will review traffic light settings this week.

By May, fully vaccinated U.S. travelers will be able to visit New Zealand.

"Closing our border was one of the first actions we took to stop COVID-19 two years ago. It did the job we needed. But now that we're highly vaccinated and predicted to be off our Omicron peak, it's now safe to open up," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement last week.

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Australia reported 40,001 cases with the record of 150,702 in mid January. Until the Omicron surge, the record was 2,688 on Oct. 14.

Overall, the nation has climbed to 23rd in cases with 3,903,113. Deaths are 5,728 including seven more Sunday. On Jan. 28, it set a daily record with 134.

Australia, which no longer is in lockdown, has vaccinated 86.3% of its population with at least one dose.

Though the variant emerged in Africa -- Nov. 24 in South Africa -- the continent's situation has stabilized with a 4% week gain one week after a 25% drop with a total of 11,657,835. Deaths went down 19% for a total toll of 252,039.

South Africa's deaths decreased 1% and cases dropped 5%.

Overall, South Africa has reported 3,704,218 cases, in 27th worldwide, with 889 Sunday. Fourteen weeks ago there was a record 37,875

The nation is 18th in deaths at 99,881, including two Sunday.

South Africa's vaccination rate is only 35.4%.

"We really need to continue to safeguard our population by taking the vaccine by not relaxing totally. The situation might change," Dr. Thierno Balde, who is the World Health Organization's Africa regional COVID-19 incident manager, said in a report by Voice of America. So we really need to continue adapting some of these social measures and also to get vaccinated."

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Tunisia has the second-most deaths with 28,065 ahead of Egypt with 24,277 but no data since March 11.

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