Coronavirus: Cases surge in Germany, US and South Korea

Germany records 910 Covid-19 fatalities in past 24 hours, most since pandemic began

Rachel Marrs gives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to Michelle Gaano, a Nurse at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California on December 15th. Photograph: Ariana Drehsler/AFP/Getty Images.

Rachel Marrs gives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to Michelle Gaano, a Nurse at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California on December 15th. Photograph: Ariana Drehsler/AFP/Getty Images.

 

Germany recorded 910 coronavirus fatalities in the past 24 hours, the most since the pandemic began, as Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted that a hard shutdown that takes effect Wednesday will remain in force beyond January.

Cases are surging across the US. New York City’s mayor told residents to prepare for a shutdown of all but essential businesses soon after Christmas. California is stockpiling body bags, recruiting medical workers and considering whether to request a US Navy hospital ship.

Cases in Tokyo rose to an all-time high and South Korea is mulling tightening restrictions after also reporting record infections. Hong Kong is also mulling extending restrictions on dining beyond Christmas.

Global cases have now reached almost 73.5 million, while deaths have surpassed 1.63 million.

Germany

Germany recorded 910 coronavirus fatalities in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, the most since the pandemic began, as a strict shutdown designed to stem a surge in infections comes into force.

The daily increase in deaths was far higher than the previous record of 604 on Friday, and took the total to 23,544, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The number of new cases rose by 21,456 to 1.38 million.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the country faces a new peak of Covid-19 infections next month, suggesting that the tougher restrictions will remain in place beyond January.

The seven-day incidence rate has risen sharply in the past few weeks and currently is at a record of 180 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the RKI public health institute. Officials have said the rate needs to come down to 50 per 100,000 and stay there to allow effective contact tracing.

US

Hospitalisations for the coronavirus in the US increased by more than 1,200 patients a day in the six days through Tuesday, data from the US department of health and human services show.

There were 112,483 Covid-19 patients in US hospitals as of December 15th, a 7.1 per cent increase since December 9th. California and New York accounted for almost three-quarters of the increase.

New Mexico recorded 102 per cent occupancy in its intensive-care units, while Covid-19 cases accounted for more than a quarter of hospital in-patients in Arizona, Nevada and Rhode Island. The number of cases in California hospitals increased 70 per cent to 13,920 from December 1st-15th.

As cases surge in California, governor Gavin Newsom is looking overseas to hire temporarily medical personnel. He said the state may ask the US Navy to send back the hospital ship Mercy and has sent 5,000 more body bags to hard-hit counties.

Newsom warned in a press conference on Tuesday, a day after vaccinations arrived in the state, that the current wave of infections is still rising, and California could run out of intensive-care beds within weeks. Infections have soared since Thanksgiving, with an average of 163 Californians now dying of Covid-19 per day.

The state asked the US department of defence to send 200 temporary medical personnel and may request another visit from the USNS Mercy, which docked off Los Angeles during the first wave of infections last spring. The ship’s highly trained personnel, Newsom said, were more important than its beds. He said the state has also stationed 60 refrigerated storage units at hospitals and morgues.

Meanwhile New Yorkers can expect a shutdown of all but essential businesses soon after Christmas, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

If the city’s businesses close “right after Christmas, with good luck and hard work we could be out of that in a matter of weeks,” the mayor said.

Although New York governor Andrew Cuomo will make the final decisions, closures will be similar to what the city experienced last spring, with the exception that schools will remain open, Mr de Blasio said.

It will take weeks to reduce the number of people hospitalised- at 2.89 per 100,000 in the population as of December 13th - to the city’s established safety level of 2 per 100,000. The percentage of people testing positive for the virus stood at 5.51 per cent, also above the city’s threshold, which is 5 per cent. People admitted to hospitals on December 13th for Covid-19 symptoms stood at 160 - below the threshold of 200.

Vaccine

Pfizer rebutted comments by Florida governor Ron DeSantis that the company has had a “production issue” that’s delaying deliveries of its vaccine to the state.

“Pfizer hasn’t had any production issues with our Covid-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed,” company spokeswoman Amy Rose said. “We’re continuing to dispatch our orders to the locations specified by the US government.”

Florida received 179,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week. Two additional shipments totaling more than 450,000 doses are on hold, Mr DeSantis said at a press conference Tuesday. He said Florida expects to receive 370,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, then 162,000 more by the end of the month.

A Chinese drugmaker has secured 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, as the country seeks overseas shots in addition to home-made ones to ensure immunisation for the world’s most populous nation.

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, which in March made an agreement with BioNTech to develop and market the mRNA shot in China, will make an advance payment of €250 million for an initial 50 million doses. The German vaccine maker will supply no fewer than 100 million doses for China by the end of 2021, Fosun said in a statement filed with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the US is discussing helping Pfizer secure raw materials required to produce tens of millions additional doses of its Covid-19 vaccine for domestic market between April and the end-June, the New York Times reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the situation.

The Trump administration is negotiating a deal to use its power to free up supplies of raw materials. The move follows Pfizer’s indication that it can make more doses if the government orders suppliers to prioritise its purchase requests.

US states and territories will get $140 million to prepare for Covid-19 vaccination campaigns and $87 million for tracking and testing, the US department of health and human Services said.

The first Covid-19 shots are rolling out but the latest funding for distribution has been stalled with Congress unable to agree on a new stimulus package since the summer. State health officials have sought more than $8 billion to distribute hundreds of millions of doses of Covid-19 shots in the months ahead.

Asia

Nearly half of the 323,000 migrant workers living in Singapore dormitories were infected with Covid-19, far higher than the official tally and indicating the virus spreads widely among people who may not have any symptoms.

The city-state has reported more than 54,500 infections in dormitories since the pandemic began, making up more than 93 per cent of all confirmed cases. Another 98,289 workers were found positive through serology testing - which identifies past infections - contributing to an overall prevalence rate of 47 per cent, according to the ministry of manpower.

South Korean authorities are reviewing the possibility of raising the social distancing to level 3 and are exchanging opinions with experts, health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said in a briefing.

The Asia nation reported a record 1,078 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, up from 880 a day earlier, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website.

Hong Kong is leaning toward extending current social-distancing measures, such as cutting off dining at restaurants from 6 pm local time and closing gyms and beauty salons until January 1st, Hong Kong Economic Times reports.

Tokyo reported 678 new cases, surpassing an earlier record of 621, an all-time high according to an announcement from the city’s government.

-Bloom