By Ciara Linnane
The official list of symptoms of COVID-19 has been expanded in the UK, where cases are currently running at the highest level since the start of the pandemic.
The National Health Service added nine new symptoms to the list of just three, including sore throat, fatigue and headache, as the Guardian reported.
The latest surge is driven by the more transmissible omicron variant BA.2, which is the dominant variant across the U.K. Hospitalizations and death rates are again rising, although the number of people dying with COVID-19 is still relatively low compared with earlier this year.
However, the latest estimates suggest that the steep climb in new infections since late February, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrapped all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England, has continued well into March.
The figures came on the same day the government ended free rapid COVID-19 tests for most people in England, under Johnson’s “living with COVID” plan. People who do not have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus now need to pay for tests to find out if they are infected.
James Naismith, a biology professor at the University of Oxford, said except for those who are completely shielded or not susceptible to the virus, most people in the country would likely be infected with the BA.2 variant by the summer.
“This is literally living with the virus by being infected with it,” he told the AP.
Already, airlines EasyJet PLC /zigman2/quotes/207786066/delayed ESYJY -3.08% /zigman2/quotes/202825892/delayed UK:EZJ -4.76% and British Airways have had to cancel thousands of flights, because staff are out with COVID, said the Guardian. A total of 62 flights scheduled for Monday have been pulled.
The news bodes badly for the U.S., where cases are still falling nationally, but are picking up in more than a dozen states thanks to BA.2. The U.S. has lagged cases in the UK and Europe by a few weeks since the start of the pandemic.
The U.S. is averaging 27,088 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 9% from two weeks ago. But cases are rising in states in the Northeast and South. The country is averaging 16,122 hospitalizations a day, down 27% from two weeks ago. The daily death toll has fallen below 700 to 649, but is still an undesirably high number.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• There are growing concerns about a more contagious hybrid omicron subvariant that combines genetic material from BA.2 and the original BA.1 strains. The recombinant variant has been dubbed XE and the World Health Organization said last week that it is estimated to be 10% more infectious than BA.2. It cautioned, however, that the finding “requires further confirmation. XE belongs to the Omicron variant until significant differences in transmission and disease characteristics, including severity, may be reported,” the agency said in a weekly update.
• Daniel Craig’s return to Broadway in a new version of “Macbeth” has been temporarily halted after the actor contracted COVID-19, the AP reported. Wednesday’s matinee and evening performances were canceled when the James Bond actor tested positive. In a tweet late Saturday night, the show said all performances were canceled through Thursday “due to the detection of a limited number of positive COVID test results within the company.” Craig stars in a revival of Williams Shakespeare’s tragedy, with Ruth Negga making her Broadway debut playing Lady Macbeth.
• A 60-year-old German man from the eastern city of Magdeburg allegedly had himself vaccinated against COVID-19 dozens of times in Germany in order to sell forged vaccination cards with real vaccine batch numbers to people not wanting to get vaccinated themselves, the AP reported separately. The man is said to have had up to 90 shots at vaccination centers for months until police caught him this month. It’s unclear how the many doses have affected his health.
•Western diplomats have expressed concern about separating children from their parents as part of Covid-19 curbs in Shanghai as the government tries to stamp out the spread of the virus, the South China Morning Post reported. The city has been separating COVID-positive children from their parents, citing epidemic prevention requirements, and diplomats from more than 30 countries have written to the Chinese foreign ministry urging them to stop.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 491.8 million on Monday, while the death toll rose above 6.15 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University .
The U.S. leads the world with 80.2 million cases and 982,629 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 217.8 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.6% of the population. But just 97.9 million are boosted, equal to 45% of the vaccinated population.