Growing Pressure on Hospitals and Vaccination of Children Aged 5-11: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

December 16, 2021

These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.

 

In the UK, Omicron claimed its first victim this week, as the Prime Minister confirmed the first death from the COVID variant. Meanwhile, the number of Omicron cases has soared in the UK to a total of 5346 cases, with 5006 cases reported in England and 296 cases in Scotland- more than six times the amount compared to the previous week.

In a pre-recorded address on December 12, Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched an urgent national appeal, calling for all adults to get jabbed before Christmas. He announced a new target to offer all adults a COVID booster dose by the end of December, bringing the rollout forward by one month. However, concerns about the likely disruption to the NHS remain, particularly in the light of recent performance figures from NHS England that reveal a crisis in emergency care and growing pressure on NHS winter services.

The number of COVID-19 cases continue to rapidly rise at a rate of 514.1 per 100,000 people. Currently, 85,452 new cases are reported daily and patient hospital admissions have risen by 10%. As of December 13, 89.2% of the population aged 12 and over have received their first dose, 81.4% have received two doses of vaccine, while 41.9% of the population have received a third dose. 

In France, the number of COVID-19 contaminations reached 63,405 on December 14, the highest figure since April according to data from Public Health France. In addition, 1662 new patients were hospitalised (1505 on December 13), including 362 critical care admissions, for a total of 2792 patients in intensive care.

To cope with a possible peak of the 5th wave of COVID-19 at the end of the year, Martin Hirsch, general manager of the AP-HP (Public Hospitals of Paris) asked volunteer healthcare professionals to postpone their holiday days and buy back up to "10 days of holiday for 2000 euros". The proposal that led to an outcry from many caregivers.

In a list of recommendations published on December 8 for the end of the year celebrations, the Scientific Council advised against attending major events before Christmas and suggested the use of self-tests the day before or on the day of the event.

Concerning the Omicron variant, 170 cases were recorded on December 14 but this figure is probably underestimated. France is sequencing five times less than the United Kingdom. As of December 13, 90% of the adult population had a complete vaccination schedule and nearly 16 million people had received a booster dose. Since Wednesday, some children aged 5 to 11 can access vaccination against COVID-19.

The final results for Sanofi's vaccine against recombinant protein COVID-19 will be published in the first quarter of 2022, after a further delay.

In Germany, the 7-day incidence has dropped again. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported the number of new COVID-19 infections as 353 per 100,000 inhabitants on December 15. For comparison, on the previous day the nationwide incidence had been 375, a week ago 427 (previous month: 319.5). In addition, 51,301 new COVID-19 infections were reported within one day, and 453 deaths were recorded within 24 hours (previous week: 527 deaths). In total, there have been 6,613,730 infections with SARS-CoV-2 reported since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals per 100.000 inhabitants within 7 days was 5.21 on December 14 and 5.17 on December 13.

On Tuesday, 985,000 vaccine doses were administered in Germany, which means that at least 58 million people (69.8% of the total population) are now fully vaccinated. At least 21.5 million people (25.9%) have also received a booster vaccination.

This week, COVID vaccination began for 5- to 11-year-olds in Germany. The Federal Ministry of Health had announced the start of delivery of the BioNTech/Pfizer children's vaccine. Last week, the Standing Committee on Vaccination (Stiko) had recommended vaccination of children aged 5-11 who have risk factors for severe COVID-19 or have relatives at high risk. In addition, parents can also have their healthy children vaccinated.

In Berlin, the Police State Protection of the State Criminal Police Office is investigating about a dozen threatening letters sent to politicians in the capital, as well as media and local authorities. According to media reports, the letters threaten "bloody resistance" against the planned compulsory vaccinations.

The 3-week lockdown in Austria ended on December 13 - but only for vaccinated and recovered people. The number of new infections in Austria is currently at 2859. Over the last 7 days, 3961 new infections per day were reported on average. Within the last week, 306 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants were reported in Austria (7-day incidence). A reported 6,483,905 first vaccinations were given as of December 13, which amounts to 71.70% of the population, while 68.59% have received two doses. The introduction of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination is planned for February 1. 

Following the approval of the COVID-19- vaccine for children aged over 5 years, vaccinations with the BioNTech/Pfizer children's vaccine will start in Vienna on December 16. 

In Switzerland, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reported 8163 new COVID-19 cases for the last 3 days on December 14 (7-day average +/- 0 % for the previous week). A reported 1758 people are in hospital, and 24 people have died. A reported 66.5 % of the Swiss population are fully vaccinated. The Federal Council will decide this week whether to tighten the COVID-19 measures in Switzerland a second time.

Following the example of his UK colleague Boris Johnson, Belgian Prime Minister De Croo wants to speed up the booster vaccination campaign. This week alone, 360,000 shots will be administered in centres across the country. Currently, 93% of those eligible for booster shots have had their invitation or a third shot. Until last weekend, only doctors, dentists, nurses, and midwives could administer vaccines. Now pharmacists have been added to the list and 4000 have received the necessary training.

In Italy, the Government introduced a new rule for travellers coming from abroad. In order to cross the Italian borders, and in violation of the European agreement, all travellers, even if vaccinated, need a negative test. Non-vaccinated travellers will be quarantined for 5 days, despite a negative result. According to Prime Minister Mario Draghi, this measure is necessary because Italy is 20 days behind the other countries in terms of Omicron prevalence, due to the high rate of vaccination among the population. The aim of the new rule is to slow down the pace of the Omicron wave, hoping to push the peak to February instead of January - when half of the population will be protected by the booster dose. 

On Tuesday, health authorities in Portugal announced that the booster dose will be given to all people aged 50 and over. According to the Directorate-General for Health (DGS), from December 15, people aged 60 and over can self-schedule their vaccination. This will be extended to those aged 50 and over. At this time, guardians of children aged 10-11 years can schedule vaccination on December 18 and 19, as well as those over 50 who received the Janssen single-dose vaccine at least 90 days previously.

The DGS also updated the rules for free flu vaccinations, extending it to those aged between 60 to 64 years. So far, 2.2 million people have been vaccinated against the flu, of which 1.7 million are aged over 65.

Based on real-time monitoring data gathered by several laboratories for the period from November 25 to December 12, the National Institute of Health's Dr Ricardo Jorge (INSA) reported on Tuesday that Portugal registered 69 cases of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus. In the researcher's assessment, there is "a trend that strongly indicates the existence of community circulation".

On December 14, the incidence rate was 485.3 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection per 100,000 inhabitants. In mainland Portugal, the rate reached 490.3 cases of infection per 100,000 inhabitants. The national and mainland transmission rate was 1.09. Since March 2020, the country has reported 18,687 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,200,193 cases of infection, according to data from the DGS.

On December 15 in Spain, the Ministry of Health reported 26,136 new COVID-19 cases and 58 deaths since December 13. There are currently 6373 patients hospitalised throughout Spain and 1215 in ICU. The incidence has grown 31 points since the last report, to 412.26 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, which places Spain at the 'high risk' level, according to the Health Traffic Light. It is the highest rate since August 16, when the fifth wave was still kicking. Some regions have an incidence above 900. The authorities have asked the population to reduce the social contacts during the Christmas Holidays. Some regions are already asking for the COVID-19 Pass to enter bars and restaurants. 

Vaccination for children aged 5-11 years started on December 15, after the arrival of new doses on Monday. A reported 62% of those over 60 have received the booster dose. However, in the general population, vaccination progress moves slowly: 79.5 % have received two doses, and 81.2% at least one dose.

PAHO Director Dr Carissa F. Etienne said that, as of last week, more than 926,056 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Region of the Americas, an increase of 18.4% over the previous weeks. During 2021, the number of cases and deaths tripled compared to 2020.

The US has reached the tragic milestone of 800,000 reported deaths from COVID-19, with more of those deaths happening in 2021 - since the approval of effective vaccines - than were recorded in 2020. This comes as the CDC warns that Omicron has gained substantial ground in the last week and may account for 15% of reported COVID cases in some areas, like New York. On a recent press call, Biden Administration officials urged Americans - especially seniors - to get boosters. They said US travellers should still be wearing masks in most indoor situations in counties with high rates of COVID-19 transmission, a recommendation which should apply to 90% of the US, though surveys suggest mask wearing has dropped substantially. Hospitals across the US are once again sending out distress signals, saying their staff are burned out and they don't have the capacity to care for the current onslaught.

In North America, the number of cases is increasing in the US and Canada, and decreasing in Mexico .

So far, 56% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In Central and South America, cases have increased in Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In Bolivia, the number of COVID-19 cases has decreased for the first time since September.

In the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago recorded its highest weekly number of COVID-19 cases, cases increased by 66% in St. Lucia, and the Cayman Islands reported the highest weekly incidence rate of COVID-19 in the entire Region of the Americas.

Brazilians and foreigners who leave the country as of this Thursday will need to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 on their return to Brazil, as determined by the Supreme Court (STF). Those who left before the announcement of the measure are exempt from presenting proof at the time of return. In addition, on Wednesday, the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) published a rule that exempts residents of cities bordering neighboring countries from the need to present a vaccination passport. Residents in Brazil must present a document and proof of address when returning to the country.

The President of Brazil and the Office of the Attorney General of the Union, which represents the government, have taken a stand against the requirement of a health passport, defended by ANVISA and by an injunction granted on December 11 by Minister Luiz Roberto Barroso, of the STF. On Monday, the Ministry of Health reported that pages on its website were inaccessible because of preventive maintenance. However, the Health Minister later admitted that the site had suffered a new cyberattack attempt. In the early hours of December 10, the Ministry of Health website and the application ConecteSUS, a platform that shows proof of vaccination against COVID-19, suffered a ransomware attack by hackers. In addition to the lack of access to proof of vaccination, some users detected failures in the registration of their personal data in the application. The problem affected the system for reporting cases of the disease.

Furthermore, researchers from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of São Paulo (ICB-USP) isolated for the first time in Brazil the strain of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. Samples of the variant are being grown in cells and, within 2 weeks, will begin to be distributed to laboratories with biosafety level 3 (NB-3) and researchers from all regions of the country in order to help detect the spread of the variant in the national territory. Isolating the new strain will also allow evaluation of the effectiveness of vaccines against the new strain currently in the population.

By day 14, more than 139,989,809 people have been fully vaccinated. This equates to 65.63% of the population. Another 160,204,836 people took at least the first dose of vaccines, representing 75.10% of the population. The booster dose was given to 21,301,596 people, representing 9.99% of the population.

Africa is reporting 5 of every 100 new infections in the world. The region is currently reporting a million new infections about every 95 days and has reported more than 9,078,000 since the pandemic began.

In Mozambique the average number of new infections reported each day has risen by more than 330 over the last 3 weeks, 15% of its previous peak.

South Africa has reached a new peak, now reporting more than 22,000 daily.

The average number of new infections reported in Nigeria has been increasing for 10 days. 

Regarding vaccination, according to the African CDC, the continent has administered 56.77% of supply. This means 10.95% of the population has received at least one dose, and 7.35% the full schedule. 

On December 14 , the African Union (AU) and the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) inaugurated the First International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2021), with more than 10,000 participants expected from 140 countries around the world. Over 3 days, from December 14 to 16, 2021, the conference featured presentations from African heads of state and government, dignitaries and prominent health experts, who discussed their visions for accelerating innovations against COVID-19 and chart a new course for public health in the continent.

On December 15, Australia reopened its borders to vaccinated skilled migrants and foreign students after a period of nearly two years. The state of Queensland has opened its domestic borders to visitors from other parts of the country for the first time in nearly 5 months. On December 12, The Australian Health Ministry announced that it will reduce the window between the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine and the booster dose from 6 months to 5 months.

An unnamed man in New Zealand is being investigated for receiving 10 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in one day at multiple vaccination centers after being allegedly paid to impersonate other individuals.

South Korea reported a new daily record of 7850 COVID-19 cases on December 15. In response to the current situation, the country has decided to limit social gatherings and reduce the business hours for restaurants. Over 90% of intensive care units in Seoul and the nearby metropolitan region are currently occupied.

India's Health Ministry has clarified that there are no immediate plans to authorise COVID-19 vaccine boosters in the country. With vaccination coverage still suboptimal in the country, the priority remains vaccinating every adult with two primary doses. Nearly 87% of the adult population had received at least one dose, while 54% had received both doses.

A new study by researchers in Hong Kong suggests that two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech are unable to produce adequate antibodies to neutralise the Omicron variant, and that a booster dose is essential.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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