January 25, 2021
Here again is the weekly SARS-CoV-2 update. Today, we probably reach 100 million officially infected since the outbreak began , and we’re at 2,131,000 officially dead. As of yesterday, about 63 million doses of vaccine have been administered worldwide.
Globally, the situation is not much better than last week, although the number of daily cases is decreasing. The number of daily deaths worldwide continues to rise, with over 17,000 deaths in one day this week.
Stable, But High Case Numbers in Europe
In Europe, it actually looks quite similar to last week. Basically, a lot of countries come down from peaks and then end up at quite a high level, which is problematic. A few are still at or a little below peak but have very high case numbers that don’t go down any further. But in two countries, Portugal and Spain, case numbers are going up dramatically. In Germany, case numbers are going down a little bit, but they are still at a very high level. Currently, the most severely affected area seems to be the east of Germany. Austria continues to bring cases down – albeit very slowly (although the 7-day incidence in Austria is still slightly above that of Germany, just to be clear).
A Muddled Picture in the Americas
In Canada, the case numbers are slowly but clearly going down. In the USA, it is not yet so clear. It looks like the U.S. is over the peak, but whether the downward trend holds cannot be said yet. New York also seems to be over the peak. In Latin America, case numbers are going up almost everywhere or have settled at a very high level (in Brazil, for example). Mexico is currently a big problem, they report almost daily numbers between 1,000 and 1,400 dead and case numbers are also trending upwards.
Stable Asia, Falling Cases in the Middle East & Africa
Asia looks quite stable. Cases in Indonesia and Malaysia are going up, Japan seems to be over the peak, in China there are again more cases, but not many. India’s cases are going down, Bangladesh and Pakistan do not seem to have big problems. South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia are still showing the world how pandemic control is done (yes, these are islands/secluded areas, but the same can be said of the UK).
South Africa is still coming down from a wave, Egypt apparently is too, cases are going up in Nigeria. In the Middle East, the situation is largely unchanged. Israel has many cases right now, but is coming down from a peak (and reporting initial success with vaccination).
Global Vaccination Drive Continues
Vaccination campaigns are underway in different countries with varying degrees of success. Israel is ahead and has vaccinated almost 40% of the population (with at least one jab). The United Arab Emirates is also doing well with about 20%, followed by the Seychelles, Bahrain, the UK (about 8%) and the US (about 6%). Of course, these countries vary in size, so the number vaccinated per day varies widely.
The U.S. has vaccinated more than 1 million people per day in each of the last few days, and the trend is upward. We will now see how well this goes along with vaccine production and how much can be delivered (there have been problems recently). In Israel, there are already some successes, I will write about it in detail next time. In Austria, the progress is quite slow, nevertheless a big fat congratulation to Styria and Carinthia, where as of today, all people in nursing homes have been vaccinated!
About the Mutations
So, finally, a few words about the variants. The British variant is, as already often mentioned, somewhat more infectious (the last estimate is 35% more infectious). It is very well neutralized by sera from vaccinated people, so there is probably no problem with vaccine protection. Last Friday, Boris Johnson speculated that it might be less deadly than the normal variant. The numbers on which this was based are small and do not allow any scientific statement – after much criticism from the scientific community, he backed down on Saturday.
The British variant is missing a part of a protein (ORF8), which could even weaken the variant a bit. But well, there is no data yet and an effect in any direction is minimal, otherwise we would see it clearly by now. Any increase in mortality in the UK is more likely to be caused by hospital overcrowding and the resulting suboptimal care.
I am more concerned about the South African variant (and the almost identical Brazilian variant) and that is because it appears to be partially (and really, important here is the word partially) neutralized less by SARS-CoV-2 positive sera. It is still unclear to what extent this affects the efficiency of the vaccines. In the best case, not at all or a little, in the worst case there could be a reduction in efficiency.
However, based on the available data, I would definitely not assume a total loss of efficiency. So, no need to panic, but we have to be vigilant. By the way, the variant has been detected in a small number of cases in Tyrol (in the district of Schwaz). I hope the Austrian government is doing everything to eradicate it there.
So, that’s it for this week.