End of Restrictions, yet Record Number of Infections and Deaths: Global COVID-19 Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

January 27, 2022

In the UK, last week’s announcement that the Government was ending the restrictions in Plan B comes into effect today (Jan 27), which means that mask wearing will no longer be compulsory and that there will be no more restrictions on going out and socialising or working in an office. While the numbers show that Omicron is reducing, there are still a large number of infections per day at 94,326 and 16,047,716 total positive cases in the UK, as of Jan 25. While this is down 3.2% from last week, it’s clear that Omicron is not over and that there’s still a danger of infection. What’s unclear is how removing mandatory requirements for mask wearing will affect the infection numbers. On the positive side, hospital admittance is down 14.5% from the previous week, as of January 21, but staffing is still an issue across the UK.

For the UK as of January 24, 90.9% of the population aged 12 and older have received one dose of the COVID vaccine, 83.9% have received two doses, while 64.3% have also had a booster dose. The daily number of infections is 94,326, with a 7-day total of 652,573, which is down 3.2% from last week. Daily, there are 1613 patients admitted to hospital, as of January 21, with a 7-day total of 13,071 - down 14.5% from last week. There are 439 daily deaths reported within 28 days of a positive test, as of January 25, with a 7-day total of 1844, down 3.2% from the previous week. Also, there were 1,335,199 daily virus tests conducted, as of January 24, with a 7-day total of 9,046,355 - down 3.6% from the previous week.

In France, while experts thought the epidemic's peak had been reached, its ascent continues. On Tuesday, more than 500,000 new cases were reported, 30,189 people were hospitalised and 467 died with COVID-19, a record since the start of the pandemic. It is suspected that Omicron now accounts for 97.6% of positive cases (mainly the BA.1 sub-variant and only few BA.2: 6/1000). Reunion is the most affected Department with 5480 positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In this tense context, the Haute Autorité de Santé has published five cases to re-specify the management of first aid in patients with COVID-19 or suspected of COVID-19.

As of January 26, 4% of schools were closed due to COVID-19, even though the new policy no longer requires the closure from three positive cases. In response, the Government and the Academy of Medicine encourage parents to vaccinate their children. Teenagers aged 12-17 are also encouraged to receive their booster dose (6 months after the last injection).

In Germany, on Wednesday the German parliament debated the introduction of a general vaccination requirement in Germany in detail for the first time. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), this would affect about 15% of the 69.4 million adults in the country. Currently, at least 42.2 million people, or 50.8% of all residents, have already received a booster dose.

Meanwhile, for the first time, health authorities reported more than 150,000 new infections to the Robert Koch Institute within one day. According to RKI data on January 26, the 7-day incidence exceeded the threshold of 900 - with a strong upward trend. The total number of officially registered infections exceeded the 9-million mark, with RKI reporting 9,035,795 proven infections with SARS-CoV-2 since the beginning of the pandemic. The actual total number is likely to be significantly higher, as many infections are not reported. Experts believe the number of cases not recorded in the RKI data is high and rising, partly because testing capacity and health departments are at their limits in many places.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 has, thus far, continued to decline. According to RKI data, 166 deaths were recorded in Germany within 24 hours. A week ago, there were 239 deaths. In total, the RKI has so far recorded 117,126 COVID-19 deaths.

In Austria, after more than 2 months, lockdown for people who are unvaccinated will formally end next Monday (January 31), announced by Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) on Wednesday. A panel of experts set up by the Government considered this measure no longer useful. Despite the high numbers of infections in the current wave, there was no threat of intensive care capacities in hospitals being overloaded, it said.

Meanwhile, the number of new infections within 24 hours has risen to a record high of more than 30,000 cases, according to Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens). This amounts to 270,000 cases in Germany, considering the number of inhabitants. The 7-day incidence in Austria is more than 2000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

In Switzerland, the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) reported 36,658 cases and 12 deaths on January 25. Since Monday, 121 people have been hospitalised. The current reported figures are always delayed in the country. The BAG did not give reasons for this.

BAG experts continue to delay easing measures currently in place. According to Patrick Mathys of the BAG, hospitalisations are stable but it's too soon to announce the end of the pandemic. At present, he expects 100,000 cases per day due to the high positive test rate. Urs Karrer, vice president of the Corona Scientific Task Force, is optimistic about the hospitalisation rate. Since November, the risk of hospitalisation has decreased from about 2% to 0.3%. He cited basic immunisation in the Swiss population as the reason for the decrease.

As the Omicron variant continues to sweep through the population, around three-quarters of businesses in Belgium are feeling the pressure of staff shortages. A recent report from the KU Leuven showed that working people have become infected with the coronavirus almost twice as often as the rest of the population in Belgium. As the peak is not yet in sight, the government plans to take new measures to increase flexibility in order to limit the impact on Belgian businesses.

In Portugal, almost a million people were isolated at home on Sunday due to infection with SARS-CoV-2 or because they had contact with a person with COVID-19. The number represents more than 9% of the country's population and equates to a 60% increase from the previous week.

On the same day, the country recorded 45,569 new cases of COVID-19. It is the first time in 4 days that new infections has dropped below 50,000.

According to the monitor Our World in Data, Portugal is currently the 4th country in the European Union with the most new cases of contagion and the fifth in the world.

New standards for isolation were published by the Directorate-General for Health (DGS) on January 5. Among several changes, healthcare workers who provide direct care to people with confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection are now considered high-risk contacts. But, according to DGS, these professionals will not be considered high-risk if they have had a booster dose at least 14 days earlier or a history of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the 180 days prior to contact with the confirmed case.

According to the classification of the risk matrix used to monitor the epidemiological situation in the country, the incidence rates continue to rise. The current transmissibility rate is 1.15 (national and continental). The national incidence rate on January 24 reached 5322.6 cases of infection by SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants and 5262.8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on the mainland.

In Spain the 6th wave seems to continue its downward trend. On Tuesday, the incidence at 14 days dropped 114 points to 3267 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the largest drop in one day in the epidemic. On Wednesday, the Government and the regional authorities discussed COVID-19 measures, such as capacity at sporting events, the possibility of reducing the period of isolation and quarantine, and the usefulness and obligation of the COVID passport to access certain places. 

A reported 13,059 doctors will take the MIR exam this Saturday to choose a specialty, without the need to present the vaccination passport. The Ministry of Health did not offer any alternative to those applicants who tested positive for COVID-19 and, therefore, cannot attend this year's exam.

The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, reported this week that there were 8 million new cases of COVID-19 in the Americas region (an increase of 32% compared to the previous week), 18,000 new deaths (a relative increase of 37% over the previous week), and that 12 countries and territories have already reached the WHO target of 70% of the population vaccinated. She also confirmed that Omicron is the predominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the region.

In North America, the United States continues to have the highest number of new infections, even with one million fewer cases reported than the previous week.

In Mexico, a cumulative total of 4,730,669 cases and 303,776 deaths have been reported. In this 4th week of the year, a decrease in new cases of COVID-19 was reported. In a press conference, the Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion, Dr Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, assured the public that, following the high infection rates from the Omicron variant, the pandemic would come to an end. On January 14, the Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (COFEPRIS) issued a warning about the illegal commercialisation of the drug molnupiravir, approved on January 7, 2022 for emergency use as treatment for patients with COVID-19, and also authorised paxlovid as treatment for emergency use.

In Central America, the weekly number of deaths increased 107% compared to the previous week. In South America, Argentina reported more than 797,000 cases, in Paraguay the number of COVID-19 cases is doubling almost every 2 days, and the number of infections is high in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. In the Caribbean, Haiti, and Martinique continue to report significant increases in the number of cases.

Brazil recorded a new record in the number of COVID-19 cases. On Monday, there were 90,509 new infections reported. As a result, the 7-day average was 150,236, an increase of +241% compared to 2 weeks ago. The 7-day average of COVID-19 deaths has exceeded 300. On Monday, there were 307 deaths, an increase of 152% compared to 2 weeks ago. The last time this average was this high was on October 31 of last year (311). The data is from a consortium of press that monitors the pandemic.

On Saturday, a group of professors and researchers from the renowned Faculty of Medicine of the University of São Paulo (FMUSP) launched a petition on social media in repudiation of a technical note from the Ministry of Health, with therapeutic guidelines for pharmacological treatment of COVID-19. The document, released on January 21 by the Department of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Strategic Health Inputs of the Ministry of Health, rejects treatment norms supported by researchers and doctors in favour of non-validated treatments. In one passage, the guideline points to "conclusive evidence of the positive effects of hydroxychloroquine", which has been proven ineffective against COVID-19, and denies the certainty of the benefits of vaccines. The secretary responsible for the technical note, Hélio Angotti Neto, should be called to provide clarifications to the Federal Senate. More than 68,600 people signed the manifesto. The Brazilian Medical Association will ask for the document to be annulled.

As of January 25, more than 75.96% of the Brazilian population (163,187,941 people) have received one dose of the vaccine; 69.09% received two doses (148,417,635 people). More than 456,101 had received a booster dose. For children aged 5-11 years, 2.22% have had a first dose.

According to the World Health Organisation in Africa, the weekly number of of COVID-19 cases have dropped, as have deaths. Newly reported cases fell by 20% last week, while deaths dropped by 8%. Only North Africa reported an increase in cases with a 55% spike. This 4th wave, mainly driven by Omicron, has resulted in the lowest cumulative average case fatality ratio in Africa, standing at 0.68% compared with the three previous waves during which the case fatality ratio was above 2.4%. 

Regarding vaccination , only 15.45% of the population has at least one dose of the vaccine, 10,41% the complete schedule, and 0.50% has received the booster dose. Parsyl, a provider of smart vaccine monitoring solutions in emerging markets, announced on Monday that it will partner with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) to make 10,000 vaccine monitoring devices available to African Union member states in support of COVID-19 vaccine distribution on the continent.

On January 24, Australia reported yet another record of 82 COVID-19 deaths in a day. However, new cases in the country are on a decline and hospitalisations have steadied. 

On Jan 26, an Australian ship docked in the volcano-hit island nation Tonga to deliver humanitarian aid. Tonga has been virus-free so far. Despite a COVID-19 outbreak aboard the ship, the delivery is expected to be completed in a contactless manner to protect the islanders.

Starting January 23, New Zealand has imposed new restrictions to curb the spread of Omicron, including stricter mask rules and limited gatherings in public places. 

On January 26, South Korea reported 13,012 COVID-19 cases, the highest ever daily number. Officials expect the new daily cases to reach 20,000 to 30,000 in the coming weeks. 

In China, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee reported 13 new cases among the games-related personnel on January 25. Although none of them were athletes or team officials, four cases were already within the restricted bubble. The rest were new airport arrivals. On January 24, the month-long lockdown in the northern city of Xi'an was lifted.

An expert panel in Israel has advised the government to offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all individuals aged 18 and older. Those over 60 and high-risk individuals are already being offered a second booster.

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


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.