The Code COVID-19 International Update – 16 December 2021

close up photo of the coronavirus
Dr Priscilla Robinson

The Code COVID19 International Update is a weekly snapshot of the COVID-19 pandemic, assessing efforts by nations around the world to test, track and fight the virus. It’s compiled by Dr Priscilla Robinson, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Health at LaTrobe University, and an editor for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

Hi everyone

The dramatic international response to the Omicron has quietened now that scientific reason has prevailed somewhat – with nearly 50,000 deaths worldwide due to COVID (per week), ascribing just one in the UK to Omicron did at last provide a bit of perspective; presumably there are more than that, including a chunk of those in South Africa, but people do seem to have taken a proverbial cold shower. This does seem to be a strain capable of spreading fast – although whether or not this is due to factors such as a lack of preventive measures (mask wearing etc) compared with everyone’s behaviour when previous strains emerged, plus Christmas parties, restrictions easing etc is rather hard to establish. However, in general research shows that boosters provide good immunity to this variant, and definitely are needed as the vaccines are not as effective as they are against previously circulating strains; there are a few ‘we don’t know enough yet’ papers, as is to be expected, but cautiously is a good way to proceed. Perhaps, if it circulates widely, it will manage to crowd out the previously circulating strains, which is what usually happens with evolving microbes. Some data from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) group in the UK suggests that Delta and Omicron should be regarded as separate epidemics, although it seems that some people can get both at the same time, and doing so is a bad idea as it will cause more serious disease.
The largest surges this week have been in South Korea (total reported cases have doubled in a week); Northern Mariana Islands (about 40% increase); Zimbabwe (about 25%); Laos (about a 20% jump); New Zealand (around 10%); Mauritius, Eswantini, Reunion and Namibia (about 10%). South Africa has only increased its cases by about 3% this week, although that is still over 140,000. The USA has had well over 800,000 cases, and with a population 5.5-or-so times as large as South Africa points to a fairly similar surge. South East Asia has been relatively quiet.
The chart below shows the pattern of infections worldwide for the two years since the start of it all. It shows the waves of infection well, including the Delta wave which so exercised people earlier this year. The Tale of Five Outbreaks spreadsheet shows the recent outbreaks in Australia, particularly in Victoria and NSW, and shows the current marked rise in NSW – it will be interesting to watch what happens with most restrictions lifted today, including QR code check-ins, so contact tracing will probably become harder. I am predicting large surges, because of the reasons above and removed restrictions etc. Let’s hope all of our health care systems can cope, and that not too much Christmas leave has to be cancelled.
Graph titled: 'New cases and deaths'. From Our World in Data. Last updated: 13 December 2021. The graph shows the rises and falls of COVID-19 global infection numbers since the pandemic began in 2020. It starts at 0 prior to April 2020, then increases to a first peak of about 800,000 new cases daily in January 2021, then drops to approx 400,000 cases per day in mid February 2021. Then cases peak again at approx 800,000 daily cases in approx April 2021. Then drops to a low of approx 400,000 daily cases in approx June/July 2021. Then another rise to approx 650,000 daily cases in September 2021, then another drop to approx 450,000 daily cases in Oct/Nov 2021. Cases seem to be rising again with 635,641 new daily cases as at 13 December 2021.
The vaccination story remains as miserable as it was for the last few weeks. Increasingly urgent calls are now being made for wealthy countries to manufacture, provide access, donate, and in various other ways to provide vaccines for low-income countries. Also, as most people on this list have been given their vaccines for free, If you are interested in ‘paying it forward’ for vaccines for less fortunate people, please consider donating to the UNICEF-COVAX initiative (for information about this programme see here), especially as vaccines for children over 5 have been approved in just about all high and middle income countries.
See you next week. Happy Christmas preparations!


About Dr Priscilla Robinson and The CODE COVID 19 International Update

Dr Robinson is a public health epidemiologist with particular interests in international health and communicable diseases, and public health competencies. She has worked in health departments in England and Australia, has managed public health teaching programmes, and taught and researched many aspects of public health epidemiology and policy in many countries. She is an adjunct Associate Professor at LaTrobe University, and to stop herself being bored is an editor of PHAA’s journal ANZJPH, and holds board positions (almost all unpaid) on various NGOs, journals, and at her local hospital. Otherwise, 10 acres of untamed bushland on a hill in South Gippsland, VIC, makes weight-bearing gym exercise and strength training a bit redundant.

The CODE Update is a regular Intouch feature to keep readers informed of COVID-19 developments around the world.

The CODE Update originally began at the start of the SARS CoV-2 pandemic as Priscilla’s way of explaining to her friends and family around the world what was happening, and counter their experiences of information overload and misinformation. The update provides links to practical materials and papers written for people who are not versed in the language of outbreaks and epidemic curves. Published weekly, it includes a short commentary to provide context to the numbers included in the spreadsheets.

Note: While every attempt is made to transcribe all data faithfully, every now and again mistakes are made and not noticed until the next Update. Also, on occasion, numbers are revised after posting at the source databases.

We hope you will find these updates to be a helpful tool, and the links to current information useful.

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