China Says 60,000 Have Died Since End of ‘Zero-Covid’ Policies, XBB Soars in U.S.Frequent Business Traveler

January 15, 2023
January 15, 2023

A patient at a doctor’s office in New York City

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 1,009th day of the pandemic.

In news we cover today, the CDC discovered a possible safety issue with the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine, the XBB 1.5 recombinant variant is accounting for close to 80% of cases in some parts of the United States, and Covid hospitalizations in New York State are at an 11-month high.


The new and highly contagious XBB 1.5 omicron sublineage is currently dominating cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the Northeast and the percentage is increasing nationally as well.  Over 80% of cases in the Northeast are due to the XBB 1.5 recombinant strain.

In the Big Apple, the city’s Department of Health said that, based on the latest sequencing data, XBB.1.5, which numerous health agencies have described as the most transmissible COVID variant yet, made up 73 percent of all sequenced cases in the city as of December 31.

Hospitalizations in New York State are now at their highest level in nearly a year, thanks to XBB 1.5.  In-state hospitalizations are just under 4,000, the highest figure since February 2022, according to data from the New York State Department of Health.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that there is a potential safety issue with the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent Covid-19 vaccine but also said that that it is unlikely to represent a true risk. The agency said it continues to recommend that people stay up-to-date with Covid-19 vaccines.

The agency said that one of its vaccine safety monitoring systems, what it termed a “near real-time surveillance system” called the Vaccine Safety Datalink, detected a possible increase in a certain kind of stroke in people 65 years of age and over who recently got the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine..

Finally, he White House coronavirus response team’s chief science officer, Dr. David Kessler, is retiring, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“For decades, Dr. Kessler has worked tirelessly to address our nation’s most challenging public health issues, and his work during the Covid-19 pandemic has been no different,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement on Friday.

Kessler began his government career when President George H.W. Bush appointed him as head of the Food and Drug Administration in 1990. After seven years at the FDA, he became dean of the Yale School of Medicine and then joined the University of California, San Francisco.  In 2021, President Joseph Biden appointed him to head the Covid-19 response team.


China reported on Friday that almost 60,000 people with SARS-CoV-2 had died in hospital since the government there suddenly ended its draconian “zero-Covid” policies in early December 2022.  The new figures represent a significant increase from figures previously reported by the government.  Many health officials in other countries criticized the Chinese government for underreporting case load figures and death tolls.


Now here are the daily statistics for Saturday, January 14.

As of Saturday morning, the world has recorded 671 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.4 million cases, and 6.73 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 642.1 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.5 million.

The reader should note that infrequent reporting from some sources may appear as spikes in new case figures or death tolls.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Saturday at press time is 22,181,029, a decrease of 90,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 22,135,130, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 45,889, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 30,115 new coronavirus infections on Saturday for the previous day, compared to 97,230  on Friday, 44,472 on Thursday, and 34,774 on Wednesday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 7-day incidence rate is now 54,696.  Figures for the weekend (reported the following day) are typically 30% to 60% of those posted on weekdays due to a lower number of tests being conducted.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 61,135, an increase of 4% averaged over the past 14 days, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 566, an increase of 79% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 44,806, an increase of 5%. In addition, the number of patients in ICUs was 5,449, an increase of 5% and the test positivity rate is now 14%, a 4% decrease.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Saturday, recorded 103.5 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 1.12 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, just under 44.7 million, and a reported death toll of 530,726.

The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States.  Rosstat reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.

Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with 39.4 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 37.6 million total cases.

Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 695,334, has recorded 36.6 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.

The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are Japan, with 31.3 million cases, South Korea, with 29.8 million cases, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with 25.4 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.2 million, and Russia, with 21.9 million.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Thursday, 268.6 million people in the United States – or 80.9% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 69.1%, or 229.4 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 666.5 million. Breaking this down further, 91.8% of the population over the age of 18 – or 237.1 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 78.8% of the same group – or 203.5 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 18.2% of the same population, or over 46.9 million people, has already received an updated or bivalent booster dose of vaccine.

Starting on June 13, 2022, the CDC began to update vaccine data on a weekly basis and publish the updated information on Thursdays by 8 p.m. EDT, a statement on the agency’s website said.

Some 69.1% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Saturday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 13.21 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 2.58 million doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 25.9% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.

In addition, with the start of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines.

Paul Riegler contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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