Airline bookings to the United States have increased since the White House lifted international travel restrictions that were imposed due to the coronavirus disease.
British Airways CEO Sean Doyle was on the company’s first flight to the United States when the travel ban ended on November 8. “It’s a day that we wished would come sooner but after 604 days of not being able to travel to the U.S., we’re delighted to be back,” Doyle said in an interview.
Fully vaccinated travelers from 33 countries, including parts of Europe, China, Brazil, and South Africa, are now allowed to enter the United States. There are exemptions for travelers under age 18 and passengers from countries with low vaccination availability.
More than 250 million coronavirus disease cases have been reported worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. With nearly 46.5 million total COVID-19 cases reported, the United States alone accounts for about 1 out of every 5 COVID-19 cases.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Germany rose by a record 15,000 within 24 hours—bringing the incidence rate to 201.1, German health officials announced on November 8. The incidence rate indicates the number of new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people over the last seven days.
But on Monday, November 29th, new U.S. travel restrictions are set to take effect as the World Health Organization says the new Omicron COVID variant poses a ‘very high’ global risk, based on the early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”
The White House said in a statement Friday that the travel restriction means “no travel” to or from the designated countries except for returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents who test negative.
The affected countries are South Africa, and seven neighboring countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
Emergency Room Overflow
Emergency rooms are overflowing with people with serious illnesses, such as respiratory problems, blood clots, heart attack,s and strokes. In many cases, patients delayed seeking treatment last year for fear of being admitted to a hospital and contracting the coronavirus.
The admissions rate of patients going from the ER to being admitted to a hospital was 20 percent higher this past summer than it was prior to the pandemic, according to an analysis by the Epic Health Research Network.
Patients’ fears of contracting COVID-19 in a hospital were not without merit. More than 10,000 patients were diagnosed with COVID-19 in a U.S. hospital in 2020 after they were admitted for something else, according to an analysis conducted for Kaiser Health News.
The number of patients is definitely undercounted since the analysis includes mostly patients 65 and older, and patients of all ages in California and Florida.
More Americans are lining up for a COVID-19 booster shot than those who have only received one shot. As of November 9, an average of 553,500 people a day received booster shots over the past seven days compared to 233,700 people a day who started their first dose, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In late October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave approval for eligible teens and adults to receive a booster dose of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. People who received the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines can get a booster shot at least six months after they were fully vaccinated. People who received Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine should receive a shot at least two months after receiving their initial dose.
In a study of more than 3,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 between March and August, researchers found that Moderna’s vaccine was 93 percent effective at keeping people out of the hospital. Pfizer vaccine’s protection fell from 91 percent effective to 77 percent, while Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine was 71 percent effective.
The CDC continues to urge Americans to get fully vaccinated because all three vaccines still provide strong protection against people getting so sick from the coronavirus disease that they have to be hospitalized.
U.S. officials are not alone in urging citizens to get vaccinated. In Singapore, for instance, people who are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination but choose not to, as of December 8, will have to pay a portion of their medical bills if they are hospitalized with or treated for the coronavirus disease, a multi-ministry task force (MTF) on COVID-19 has decided.
Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s Health Minister and co-chairman of the MTF said that hospitals would prefer not to bill patients. However, Kung said having patients pay part of their medical bills sends an “important signal to urge everyone to get vaccinated if you are eligible.”
House Pets Infected With COVID-19 Variant
Dogs and cats in the United Kingdom (UK) have been infected with the COVID-19 Alpha variant, which was first detected in southeast England, according to a study published in the journal Veterinary Record.
Researchers found two cats and one dog had tested positive for the Alpha variant while two additional cats and one dog displayed antibodies two to six weeks after they developed signs of cardiac disease. The pets’ owners had COVID-19 and developed respiratory symptoms several weeks before their pets fell ill. In addition, all of the pets had an acute onset of cardiac disease, including severe myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), according to the study.
Nonetheless, COVID-19 infection in pets remains relatively rare and appears to be transmitted from humans to pets rather than from pets to humans, said Dr. Luca Ferasin, the study’s lead author and head of cardiology at The Ralph Veterinary Referral Centre in the UK.
COVID-19 Variants Still A Concern, including the new Omicron variant
The latest variant, Omicron has surfaced in the world and is drawing concern, but has not yet been detected in the United States. “I would not be surprised if it is (already here),” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. “We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases that they’ve noted in Israel and Belgium and other places…it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over.”
Covid symptoms linked to the new omicron variant have been described as “extremely mild” by the South African doctor who first raised the alarm over the new strain. Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC on Sunday that she started to see patients around Nov.18 presenting with “unusual symptoms” that differed slightly from those associated with the delta variant, which is the most virulent strain of the virus to date and globally dominant.
The patient didn’t have a sore throat, she said, but more of a “scratchy throat” but no cough or loss of taste or smell — symptoms that have been associated with previous strains of the coronavirus. The patient, a male around the age of 33 is said to be extremely tired for the past few days and has body aches and pains with a bit of a headache, she told the BBC. Coetzee said she tested the male patient for Covid, and he was positive, as was his family, and said other patients that day presenting with the same kinds of symptoms that differed from the delta variant.
The WHO has said it will take weeks to understand how the variant may affect diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. Coetzee’s initial observations are only based on a very small number of cases and experts are worried about omicron’s large number of mutations. Preliminary evidence suggests the strain has an increased risk of reinfection, according to the WHO.
Delta Plus Variant:
Although the highly contagious Delta variant remains the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, the CDC is keeping its eye on the AY42 variant, also referred to as “Delta Plus.” While Delta Plus has been identified in eight states, the CDC says it does not pose a greater threat than the original Delta strain. What’s more, the CDC says that vaccines remain highly effective against the Delta variant.
Meanwhile, scientists in Germany have identified a variant that appears to be highly resistant to vaccines and could lead to major trouble if it were to ever resurface. The A.30 variant has only been found in five cases throughout the world and can evade the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, the scientists said. The variant was last seen in May and June.
Professor Cyrille Cohen, the head of the immunology lab at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, says that there is no need to be overly concerned about the variant. According to Cohen, the A.30 variant is more than likely extinct since no new cases have been reported in the past five months.