People wait for COVID-19 vaccination at Soweto's Baragwanath hospital in South Africa on Dec 13, 2021. (JEROME DELAY / AP)
SAO PAULO / NICOSIA / ADDIS ABABA / WASHINGTON / JOHANNESBURG – Deaths on the African continent from COVID-19 are expected to fall by nearly 94 percent in 2022 compared to last year, modelling by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed on Thursday.
Last year was the pandemic's deadliest year in Africa, with COVID-19 the seventh major cause of death, just below malaria.
"Our latest analysis suggests that estimated deaths in the African region will shrink to around 60 a day in 2022. … Last year, we lost an average of 970 people every day," WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti told a virtual news conference.
COVID deaths in Africa have been uneven. Richer countries and southern African nations have had around double the mortality rates of poorer ones in other parts of Africa, partly due to co-morbidities that increase the risk of death, the WHO analysis found
The gulf in the numbers is due to increased vaccination, improved pandemic response and natural immunity from prior infections, the WHO said.
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COVID deaths in Africa have been uneven. Richer countries and southern African nations have had around double the mortality rates of poorer ones in other parts of Africa, partly due to co-morbidities that increase the risk of death, the WHO analysis found.
Around 23,000 deaths are expected by the end of the year, provided current variants and transmission patterns remain the same, according to the analysis.
The findings infer that only one in 71 COVID-19 cases are recorded in Africa and that about one in three deaths have been missed.
Although African countries struggled early in the pandemic to secure COVID vaccines as rich countries hoarded available doses, many are now well-supplied with shots but are having trouble getting them into arms. The reasons include hesitancy and logistics.
As of Wednesday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 11,648,334, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 253,277.
"The job is not yet done. Every time we sit back and relax, COVID-19 flares up again. The threat of new variants remains real, and we need to be ready to cope with this ever-present danger," Moeti told the briefing.
Nurses wait for people to come to get AstraZeneca or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines at a vaccination center in Guadalajara, Jalisco state, Mexico on April 6, 2022. (ULISES RUIZ / AFP)
COVID-19 cases in the Americas increased 10.4 percent last week from the previous one, but countries must also pay attention to a rise in other respiratory viruses in the region, the Pan American Health Organization said on Wednesday.
The Americas saw 1,087,390 new COVID cases and 4,155 deaths last week.
Cases in South America rose 43.1 percent, the biggest jump in the region, while the highest increase in COVID-19-related deaths was in Central America at 21.3 percent, PAHO said in a news conference, adding that cases in the region have been growing for the past six weeks.
Other respiratory viruses, such as influenza, monkeypox and viral hepatitis, are also surging, and nations need to pay close attention to these diseases too, PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne said.
"The flu virus is circulating again and not just during traditional flu season," she said. "Countries should expand surveillance to monitor other respiratory viruses, not just COVID."
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Mexico and Peru have seen higher numbers of influenza cases than expected, and Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have reported more hospitalizations than usual due to the virus.
PAHO warned that many places could face the double threat of an influenza surge alongside a rise in COVID-19 cases, "which will put healthcare workers, the elderly and pregnant women at additional risk."
The rise of extreme weather events, like hurricanes, heavy rains and floods in many parts of the Americas is another pressure for health services in the region, Etienne said.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Central America Integration System expect to see more storms than average this year, PAHO said, especially in the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
"This is concerning as it only takes one massive storm to destroy people’s livelihoods, cripple our health systems and lead to countless lives lost," Etienne said.
"We must prepare early so we aren’t caught off guard."
In this Feb 2, 2021 photo, a health worker holds a vial with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine against the novel coronavirus at the vaccination center in Freising, southern Germany, on Feb 2, 2021. (Christof STACHE / AFP)
Canada on Wednesday authorized a single booster shot of Pfizer and partner BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Regulator Health Canada had cleared an extra dose of the vaccine for people 18 and older in November last year. The booster is meant to be administered six months after the primary two-dose series.
The decision was based on data from two studies of the booster shot among individuals 16 and older. The agency said potential risks of inflammatory heart conditions, myocarditis or pericarditis, have been included in the shot's label.
The cases have been reported after administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's COVID-19 shot, especially among young men. Health Canada had authorized a primary series of Pfizer's shot for those 16 and older in December 2020.
In the United States, a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, branded Comirnaty, is cleared for use among children as young as five years.
A health worker collects a swab sample from a woman at a COVID-19 testing center outside a municipal administration building in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, July 29, 2020. (PETROS KARADJIAS / AP)
Cyprus on Wednesday removed all remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including the indoor face mask mandate and all entry requirements at airports and ports, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
The government made the decision last week citing the improved epidemiological situation in the country and the COVID-19 advisory group's recommendations.
According to the Health Ministry's latest weekly pandemic update, the official daily count of new coronavirus cases has dropped to below 250 from close to 1,000 a month ago in a population of less than a million.
The ministry said that the wearing of face masks will no longer be mandatory indoors, except in high-risk areas, such as hospitals, clinics and care homes.
The ministry still recommends the use of face masks in crowded places by people belonging to vulnerable groups and by those who come in contact with high-risk individuals.
In a separate statement, the Transport Ministry said that all COVID-19 measures at the country's airports and ports were lifted on Wednesday morning.
Travelers will no longer be required to present a COVID-19 vaccination or recovery certificate on arrival. Coronavirus testing upon arrival has also been scrapped.
The government has also deactivated its action plan for the smooth operation of the country's airports and ports, which according to Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos was a sign of return to normal.
He said that the removal of restrictions should encourage travel and contribute to an increase in the number of tourists, as Cyprus is making an all-out effort to return to pre-coronavirus levels of tourism.
US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland arrives for the White House Correspondents' Association gala at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington DC on April 30, 2022. (STEFANI REYNOLDS / AFP)
US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
"I feel fine and am grateful to be fully vaccinated and twice boosted," Haaland tweeted.
"I hope everyone stays current on their vaccinations so that, if they are exposed, they too will have milder symptoms," she added.
Haaland, 61, has served as head of the US Department of the Interior since March 2021.
The United States has reported more than 84 million COVID-19 cases and over 1 million related deaths since the breakout of the pandemic in the nation more than two years ago, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.