Travelers from mainland China are presented with welcome gifts from the Hong Kong Tourism Board after arriving at the West Kowloon Stationon Sunday. After three years of closure due to COVID-19 restrictions, Hong Kong's high-speed rail link to mainland China resumed services for the first time. Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE
Jan. 15 (UPI) -- COVID-19 is easing worldwide with a weekly 23% decrease in cases and 13% drop in deaths with one big qualifier: exclusion of mainland China where the virus emerged three years ago.
Since Dec. 25, the nation no longer is listing daily data for deaths, cases and hospitalizations with sparse data now infrequent. Worldometers.info last reported data seven days ago: 5,272 death and 403,302 cases. The world toll is 6,730,360 fatalities and 671,320,754 infections so far Sunday.
On Saturday, the National Health Commission reported 59,938 deaths between Dec. 8 and Thursday for an average of 1,712 a day. Of that number, 5,503 died of respiratory failure caused by COVID-19 and 54,435 died of underlying issues complicated by infection.
Only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting the virus are classified as COVID deaths.
China, which has the world's largest population at more than 1.4 billion, stopped reporting asymtomatic cases and has closed a network of PCR testing sites. People who are using rapid antigen tests to detect infections are under no obligation to report positive results.
This is a far cry from the "zero tolerance" policy.
The lack of transparency has caused worldwide concern. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan, India and Italy have imposed testing requirements and other restrictions on travelers from China.
And the World Health Organization has accused China of "under-representing" the severity of its current outbreak, which is caused by sub-variants of Omicron, including the most prevalent XBB.1.5, which is nicknamed the Kraken variant.
WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke to Chinese Health Minister Ma Xiaowei on Saturday.
Chinese officials shared latest numbers on outpatient clinics, hospitalizations, patients requiring emergency treatment and critical care, and hospital deaths, the WHO said in a statement. No case data was released.
"WHO is analyzing this information, which covers early December 2022 to January 12, 2023, and allows for a better understanding of the epidemiological situation and the impact of this wave in China," WHO said. "WHO requested that this type of detailed information continue to be shared with us and the public. WHO notes the efforts by Chinese authorities to scale up clinical care for its population at all levels, including in critical care."
The health organization also requested a more detailed breakdown of data by province over time.
Fever clinic visits have been declining since the peak when more than 2.86 million people visited them on Dec. 23, said Jiao Yahui, head of the NHC's medical affairs department,
On Thursday, the figure was 477,000, Jiao said.
Hospitalizations peaked on Jan. 5, with 1.63 million people and it was down to 1.27 million Covid patients Thursday
On January 12, 477,000 people visited fever clinics across China, Jiao said Saturday.
The NHC said hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients also peaked on January 5, 2023, when 1.63 million people was hospitalized, and 1.27 million Covid patients were still in hospital as of January 12, Jiao added.
Experts say these numbers are likely low.
"The sharp revision is an official response to international criticism of the lack of transparency and accuracy in China's reporting of Covid-related data," Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN.
"Given the still huge gap between the official count of Covid deaths and the international estimate, I don't think the revision will quell outside doubts on the government data."
In reality, around 14,700 people a day are dying, according to the British-based data firm Airfinity on Friday, compared with 9,000 estimate a week ago. The cases estimate is 2.7 million with a peak of 3.7 million on Jan. 13 but the model estimates a second peak will occur on March 3 where daily cases are likely to reach 4.2 million. Rural areas with be more impacted in this later wave, according to the model.
China also is releasign vaccination data.
Through Thursday, 31 provinces have reported 3.5 billion doses of COVID -19 vaccines, with a total of 1.3 billion inoculated people, and 1.28 billion the full course of vaccination and 826 million people booster immunization.
China also listed numbers for those 60 and older: 241.5 only one dose, 230 million two doses and 191.4 the first dose of booster immunization. In 2019, 254 million people in China were aged 60 years or older.
China is only allowing its domestic-produced vaccines, which are not as effective as other ones, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Mainland Chinese travelers are going to Hong Kong to receive mRNA COVID-19 vaccines after the nation reopened its borders without quarantine measures, including Hong Kong, seven days ago.
There is a 60,000 daily quota of Kong Kong travelers.
Hong Kong, like China, has adopted a "zero tolerance" for coronavirus with strong restrictions eased, including hotel quarantine for arrivals from other nations.
Hong Kong reported 66 deaths and 6,261 cases compared with 66 fatalities and 14,113 infections seven days ago with the record 79,876 on March 3.
The lunar new year public holiday begins Jan. 21 though the first day of chun yun, the 40-day period of lunar new year travel, began Jan. 7.
On Sunday, Taiwan reported 31 fatalities and 21,270 infections, one week after 36 deaths and 23,411 cases.
Seven days ago, nearly 28% of the 524 passenger arrivals from mainland China at Taiwan's top international airport tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center.
Starting Jan. 1, Taiwan is requiring travelers from the mainland to take a saliva-based test when arriving.
The seven-day average of 1,799 deaths are among the lowest since 1,232 March 22, 2020, 11 days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. It was 1,440 Nov. 20, 2022.
On Saturday, 944 deaths and 243,915 cases were reported.
Some nations do not report data on weekends. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has gone to weekly updates.
The records were 3,851,193 cases on Jan. 21, during the height of the Omicron subvariant, and 16,681 deaths on Jan. 21, 2021, when the Delta subvariant was at its peak. Worldometers sometimes updates totals from as far back as the start of the pandemic.
In the past week, Asia reported 64.8% of the world's confirmed cases, up from 30.9% four weeks ago, and it decreased 15% for a cumulative 210,793,742, according to Worldometers.info. The continent has 59% percent of the world's population.
Africa was the only continent to increase: 15% for a cumulative 12,754,371.
Other decreases were Oceania 54% for 13,795,716. Europe 35% for a world-high 243,994,958, North America 34% for 122,582,401, South America 28% for 67,398,845.
Three continents reports a rise in deaths: Asia 20% for 1,520,920, Africa 11% for 258,401, Oceania 6% for 24,168.
Decreasing were South America 41% for 1,344,427, Europe 23% for a world-high 1,994,716, North America 22% for 1,587,713.
Only Mexico reported increases in both deaths and cases in the past week. Mexico's cases were 38,144, a 4% rise, in 10th.
The top 10 nations for most cases all reported declined.
Japan again posted the most weekly cases, 1,025,321 in a 4% drop and was first again in deaths at 2,849, a 33% rise.
South Korea again was second in infections with 300,487, a 28% decrease with deaths 356, an 11% gain drop in ninth.
The U.S. was third again in infections with 259,098 but a 38% decrease and second again in deaths again at 2,382, a 21% drop.
Russia was the only other nation to report an increase in cases with at least 25,000: 10% in 12th at 27,969.
Decreases in descending order were Taiwan 15% in fourth with 156,424, Brazil 8% in fifth with 133,793, Germany 32% in sixth with 95,596, Hong Kong 47% in seventh with 69,629, Italy 42% in eighth with 62,599, France 45% in ninth at 46,435, Australia 50% in 11th at 35,907.
Among nations reporting more than 100 deaths with increases in the past week: Hong Kong 2 more details in sixth at 471, Australia 19% in 10th with 350, Taiwan 17% in 13th with 296, Mexico 51% in 14th with 247, Chile 5% in 15th with 166, Peru 22% in 16th with 152.
Decreases were Germany 11% in third with 1,087, Britain 25% in fourth with 805, Brazil 51% in seventh with 469, Italy 25% in eighth with 461, South Korea 11% in ninth with 356, Russia 1% in 11th with 320, Spain 5% in 12th with 301.
The United States leads with 1,125,539 fatalities and 103,573,042 infections. The nation also holds the world record for daily cases at 906,991 on Jan. 7. Brazil is second in deaths at 695,369, including 35 Saturday, and fifth in cases at 36,634,134 including 10,917 most recently.
India is second in cases at 44,681,040, including 104 Sunday, the lowest since the start of the outbreak, and third in deaths at 530,726 including zero most recently.
India has the daily deaths record at 4,529 on May 18, 2021, with no adjustments from regions.
In the top 10 for deaths, Russia is fourth with 394,398 including 43 Sunday, Mexico is fifth with 331,519including 58 Saturday, Peru sixth with 218,509 including 19 Saturday, Britain seventh with 202,157, Italy eighth with 185,993, Germany ninth with 163,775, France 19th with 163,347.
In the top 10 for cases, France is third with 39,447,605 including 5,428 Saturday, Germany fourth with 37,605,135, Japan sixth with 31,416,633 including 1078,281 Sunday, South Korea seventh with 29,806,891 including 32,570 Sunday, Italy eighth with 25,363,742, Britain ninth with 24,243,393, Russia 10th with 21,856,613 including 4,789 Sunday.
On Jan. 6, Japan reported 245,542 cases, the most since a record255,810 Aug. 20, but the figure has dropped in the past week with the most 198,873 Wednesday.
Japan's seven-day moving case average is 146,474 compared with 26,235 Oct. 12 and under 20,000 in early July with the daily record 255,316 Aug. 18.
And deaths Sunday were 407, one day after a record 503. Before August, the mark was 257 on Feb. 24. The seven-day average is 407, a record.
Expetds believe many people have stopped reporting their cases to health authorities since around the peak of the seventh wave,
"The 'hidden' infection cases are definitely there," Masataka Inokuchi, vice president of the Tokyo Medical Association, told reporters Tuesday. "Since the decision to register cases is left up to individuals, the current number of people newly testing positive could be at the level seen in the seventh wave."
Despite high numbers, Japanese officials are considering downgranding restrictions, including lifting the requirement of masks indoors.
"With the emergence of the less pathogenic omicron variant and vaccinations, we are seeing a gradual decline in the rate of the infected getting severely ill and dying," saida paper, authored by 15 experts, including advisory board chair man Takaji Wakita and Shigeru Omi, Japan's top coronavirus adviser. "But the transmissibility of the virus has increased since the arrival of the Omicron variant, and we are witnessing extremely high numbers of deaths as a result of rises in infections.
"Currently, waves of infections are repeated throughout the year, and its infection cycle is hard to predict. It will take more time for the disease to be treated like other epidemic diseases such as seasonal influenza."
Throughout the pandemic Japan has had a low deaths rate though it is rising significantly.
Japan has 499 deaths per million, which is 136th in the nation, with the world at 83.4 and Peru No. 1 at 6,487. In cases, Japan's rate is 250,163 per million in 80th place with the world 86,125 and Austria the highest among large countries at 63,149 with France 601,477, South Korea 580,693, Portugal 548,090 and Denmark 543,538. Japan's population is 125 million.
South Korea's seven-day cases average is 42,927 but it reached 404,666 on March 19, when the daily record was 621,328 on March 17. The nation reported 36,552 cases Saturday, second most in world.
South Korea's fatalities Sunday were 37.
Last week, South Korea has paused the visas to mainland China until the end of this month and is requiring a polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 test on travelers arriving from China.
In retaliation, China stopped issuing short-term entry visas to South Korean nationals.
In the United States through Jan. 6, the CDC has classified 19.5% of counties, districts and territories with a "high" category transmission level, compared with 41.9% "medium" and 38.5% "low." In "high" locations, scattered mainly in the Southeast, Plains and Texas, masks are urged indoors.
The CDC didn't provide a weekly update yet.
Three weeks earlier, it was 9.2% "high" with no reports published for two weeks.
The CDC reported 414,721 cases in the past week, one week after 477,230 and three weeks after 496,316, the most since 526,228 Sept. 7. On Oct. 19, it was 260,471, the lowest since 229,301 April 13. The record was 5,629,879 Jan. 19. And the deaths average was 3,907, the most since 3,947 Aug. 31, one week after 2,705, six weeks after 1,769, the lowest since July 7, 2021 of 1,690. The record was 23,387 Jan. 13, 2021.
The predominant Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 represented 43.0% of the total cases in the week ending Saturday, moving to the top for the first time, with BQ.1.1 at 28.8%, BQ.1 at 15.9%. BA.5, which had dominated since the early summer, dropped to 2.6%. Omicron overall totals 100%.
XBB.1.5 is the only Omicron subvariant showing growth in the United States.
In its weekly report Thursday, the CDC said the U.S. adult one-shot vaccination rate was 91.8% with completed primary service at 78.8% and updated booster doses 18.2%. The full population rates are 80.9% for one shot, 69.1% for completed primary and 15.9% updated booster 5 and older.
The CDC and Food & Drug Administriton on Friday said a vaccine database uncovered "a safety concern for ischemic stroke in people ages 65 and older who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, Bivalent. ... were more likely to have an ischemic stroke in the 21 days following vaccination compared with days 22-44 following vaccination.
An ischemic stroke is caused by blockages in arteries that carry blood to the brain.
"Although the totality of the data currently suggests that it is very unlikely that the signal in VSD [Vaccine Safety Datalink] represents a true clinical risk, we believe it is important to share this information with the public," the CDC said.
Agency officials plans to discuss this issue at an Food and Drug Administration advisory meeting on Jan. 26.
The FDA said a large study of the vaccine using the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services database revealed no increased risk of ischemic stroke.
In its weekly update, the CDC said: "Seasonal influenza activity continues but is declining in most areas."
The CDC estimates so far this season, there have been at least 24 million illnesses, 260,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths from flu. The deaths include at least 79 children, including 5 in the past week.