The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic may be tougher than the first given how the coronavirus is spreading, especially in the northern hemisphere as more infectious variants circulate, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.
“We are going into a second year of this, it could even be tougher given the transmission dynamics and some of the issues that we are seeing,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency official, said during an event on social media.
The worldwide death toll is approaching two million people since the pandemic began, with 91.5 million people infected.
The WHO, in its latest epidemiological update issued overnight, said after two weeks of fewer cases being reported, some five million new cases were reported last week, the likely result of a letdown of defences during the holiday season in which people — and the virus — came together.
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“Certainly in the northern hemisphere, particularly in Europe and North America, we have seen that sort of perfect storm of the season — coldness, people going inside, increased social mixing and a combination of factors that have driven increased transmission in many, many countries,” Ryan said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, warned: “After the holidays, in some countries the situation will get a lot worse before it gets better.”
Amid growing fears of the more contagious coronavirus variant first detected in Britain but now entrenched worldwide, governments across Europe on Wednesday announced tighter, longer coronavirus restrictions.
That includes home office requirements and store closures in Switzerland, an extended Italian COVID-19 state of emergency, and German efforts to further reduce contacts between people, which have been blamed for failed efforts, so far, to get the coronavirus under control.
“So far 350,000 sequences of SARS-CoV-2 have been publicly shared, but most come from just a handful of countries. Improving the geographic coverage of sequencing is critical for the world to have eyes and ears on changes to the virus.”<br>-<a href=”https://twitter.com/mvankerkhove?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@mvankerkhove</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> <a href=”https://t.co/MphC6W1ErP”>pic.twitter.com/MphC6W1ErP</a>
“I worry that we will remain in this pattern of peak and trough and peak and trough, and we can do better,” Van Kerkhove said.
She called for maintaining physical distancing. “The further, the better … make sure that you keep that distance from people outside your immediate household.”
What’s happening across Canada
As of 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 681,328 cases of COVID-19, with 79,293 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 17,383.
British Columbia announced 519 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Health Minister Adrian Dix says an investigation is underway after it was revealed some doctors in Vancouver jumped the queue to get a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Alberta reported 875 new cases and another 23 deaths. Meanwhile, an eighth United Conservative Party MLA has confirmed to CBC News that she left the province during the holidays despite her own government’s warnings against non-essential travel.
Saskatchewan recorded 247 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths on Wednesday.
Manitoba announced 158 new cases and five deaths.
Ontario, which registered 2,961 new cases and 74 additional deaths on Wednesday, announced plans to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in all nursing homes and high-risk retirement homes by Feb. 15. Members of the province’s vaccine distribution task force said residents, workers and essential caregivers at those facilities will get their first doses by that date.
Quebec reported 2,071 new cases and 35 more deaths. The province also said more than 1,500 residents are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19.
New Brunswick added 19 more cases. Meanwhile, a third death has been recorded at the Shannex Parkland care home in Saint John. The home is now reporting 25 active cases, involving 14 residents and 11 employees
Newfoundland and Labrador saw no new cases for the third day in a row and, with one new recovery, the province’s active caseload has now dropped to three — its lowest level since Nov. 4.
Nova Scotia reported eight new cases, including three university students.
The Yukon government says the territory could achieve herd immunity within three months “as long as our vaccine supplies come in as scheduled.”
Northwest Territories health officials have released more details about when residents in the territory can start receiving doses;
In Nunavut, the hard-hit community of Arviat is offering cash incentives for people who get vaccinated, with anyone receiving a dose being entered into a draw to win one of five prizes of $2,000 each.
What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday, more than 91.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 50.7 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 case tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.9 million.
In Asia, Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency for seven more prefectures Wednesday, affecting more than half the population amid a surge in infections across the country.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also said Japan will suspend fast-track entry exceptions for business visitors or others with residency permits, fully banning foreign visitors while the state of emergency is in place.
In the Americas, coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have hit another one-day high at 4,327 deaths. The nation’s overall death toll from COVID-19 has eclipsed 380,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Deaths have been rising sharply in the past 2½ months, and the country is in the most lethal phase of the outbreak yet, even as the vaccine is rolled out.
In Europe, Swiss authorities are stepping up restrictions to fight the coronavirus, ordering all shops that sell non-essential goods closed and stricter rules on private gatherings.
The Federal Council decided Wednesday that a previous expansion of measures announced last month has not coincided with a significant drop in case numbers. The new measures take effect Monday.
In Africa, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says a COVID-19 task force under the African Union (AU) has secured 270 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the continent, the largest such deal so far for the region. The vaccines will come from Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca through the Serum Institute of India, and Johnson & Johnson.
Ramaphosa, the current AU chair, says at least 50 million of the doses will be available “for the crucial period of April to June” as coronavirus infections surge for a second time in parts of Africa, and all doses will be made available this year.