JANUARY 26, 2022
More signs emerged that the Omicron wave is taking a less serious human toll in Europe than earlier phases of the pandemic as U.S. data showed daily average deaths from the disease exceeding the peak reached during the surge driven by the previously dominant Delta variant.
In the U.S., the seven-day average for newly reported Covid-19 deaths reached 2,258 a day on Tuesday, up about 1,000 from daily death counts two months ago, data from Johns Hopkins University show. That is the highest since February 2021 as the country was emerging from the worst of last winter’s wave.
While there is a large body of evidence suggesting that Omicron is less likely to kill the people it infects, it spreads much more quickly and therefore infects many more people than earlier variants, epidemiologists say. Case counts in the U.S. have dwarfed previous records.
In a positive sign, Covid-19 related hospitalizations are heading lower shortly after reaching the highest-recorded levels. Federal data also indicate Covid-19 deaths in hospitals have started to decline from a recent Omicron peak. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says roughly seven of every 10 Covid-19 deaths occur in hospitals or other inpatient settings.
Some parts of the country, including major coastal states like New York and California, are also recovering. A Wall Street Journal analysis shows 20 states representing 55% of the population have case averages down at least 20% from recent peaks.
At the same time, as Omicron fades in populous, coastal areas, it hasn’t yet peaked in less-vaccinated regions that could see a higher death rate, epidemiologists said, meaning deaths may climb yet further as they continue tracking the recent rise in cases.
In Western Europe, where vaccination rates are generally higher than the U.S., a record surge in cases hasn’t generated the proportionate increase in hospitalizations and deaths that were seen earlier in the pandemic.
Even as Covid-19 cases hit record highs, the Netherlands eased restrictions imposed last month in the face of Omicron—as Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths remained subdued. Bars, restaurants, cinemas and theaters can reopen from Wednesday, with some continuing restrictions including that they close by 11 p.m.
The government, which has been the target of protests over its lockdown decisions, said the decision wasn’t without risk. It is following others in Europe such as the U.K., Ireland and France that have lifted or eased Covid restrictions.
Germany recorded a record 164,000 new cases in 24 hours on Wednesday, an increase of 46% compared with last week and bringing the seven-day daily average to more than 120,000 cases. Coronavirus-related mortality is however declining: on Wednesday, 166 deaths were reported in connection with Covid-19, a drop of 31% compared with last week and the lowest since November.
Record numbers of cases are being recorded elsewhere. Portugal is recording about 50,000 new cases a day on average, four times more than a year ago. But deaths have remained relatively low, a sign that mass vaccinations are working. Portugal is recording around 40 deaths a day, compared with the pandemic high of 290 a year ago, according to Our World In Data. Portugal has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, with over 90% of the population fully immunized.
Confirmed new Covid-19 infections in Italy, Spain and Greece are declining from the pandemic records hit earlier this month. The pressure on healthcare systems is also easing, with hospital admissions beginning to decrease in all three countries, a sign that the worst of the current wave of infections may be over.
Deaths, a lagging indicator, are still high, with 468 deaths recorded on Tuesday in Italy alone, the highest since April 2021.