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Coronavirus Update: Biden mourns one million American lives lost to pandemic, orders flags to fly at half-mast to honor the dead

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President Joe Biden mourned the one million American lives lost to the pandemic on Thursday, and said flags will be flown at half-staff at the White House and all public buildings, grounds, military posts and naval vessels until sunset on May 16 to honor the dead.

“As a Nation, we must not grow numb to such sorrow,” Biden said in a proclamation. “To heal, we must remember. We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible. “

The death toll compiled by Johns Hopkins University has not quite reached one million yet, but is expected to do so later Thursday or Friday and experts, including the World Health Organization, have said numbers across the globe are likely undercounted.

Just last week, the WHO new estimates show that the full death toll associated either directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 pandemic between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, is about 15 million, or more than double the 6.24 million count aggregated by Johns Hopkins at the time.

Separately, Biden urged Congress to deliver the funds needed for the next phase of the pandemic, including for testing, vaccines and therapies, in a statement made ahead of the second COVID-19 summit, which has kicked off.

“We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible, as we have with more testing, vaccines, and treatments than ever before. It’s critical that Congress sustain these resources in the coming months,” he said.

COVID cases are rising across the U.S. again driven by the BA.2 variant of omicron, and two other subvariants that appear to be even more infectious. The two, named BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, were highlighted by health officials in New York State recently.

The U.S. is averaging 84,329 cases a day, up 58% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. Cases are climbing in all but seven states and territories and have doubled in more than 10 vs. two weeks ago. Hawaii, Maine and Puerto Rico are seeing case counts that are at or ahead of the numbers seen during the delta wave last year. The true case count is expected to be still higher as many people are now testing at home and the data is not being collected.

The country is averaging 19,694 hospitalizations a day, up 20% from two weeks ago, driven by cases on the East Coast. The daily death toll has fallen below 400 to 327 on average. 

The WHO said that COVID-19 fatalities in Europe passed the two million mark on Thursday, AFP reported.

“A devastating milestone has passed as reported confirmed COVID-19 deaths from countries in the WHO European Region have exceeded more than two million people,” the U.N. health agency said in a statement.

In its weekly epidemiological update, the WHO said cases and deaths declined overall in the week through May 8, but were higher in the Americas and in Africa. It again warned that the trend may be obscured by the fact that many countries have changed their testing strategies, meaning lower numbers of infections are being detected.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown Thursday to control its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak after holding for more than two years to a widely doubted claim of a perfect record keeping out the virus that has spread to nearly every place in the world, the Associated Press reported. The size of the outbreak wasn’t immediately known, but it could have serious consequences because the country has a poor health care system and its 26 million people are believed to be mostly unvaccinated. Some experts say the North, by its rare admission of an outbreak, may be seeking outside aid.

• The European Union is dropping the recommendation for mandatory wearing of medical masks in airports and on board a flight, while noting that a face mask is still one of the best protections against the transmission of COVID-19. The news was announced in a joint statement from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The update “takes account of the latest developments in the pandemic, in particular the levels of vaccination and naturally acquired immunity, and the accompanying lifting of restrictions in a growing number of European countries,” said the statement. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared wearing a mask on state TV as Pyongyang reported its first local case of Covid-19. The country, which had so far claimed to be Covid-free, has poor health infrastructure to fight outbreaks. Photo: Associated Press

• Lucira Health
LHDX,
+0.40%

has filed for Food and Drug Administration authorization for its first-of-its-kind COVID-19 & flu at-home molecular test. The medical tech company, which went public in February of 2021, specializes in single-use test kits for respiratory diseases. “The request is for prescription at-home use of the PCR-quality test for those with suspected COVID-19 or Influenza,” the company said in a statement. The company is hoping to get authorized ahead of the fall and winter, when COVID and flu viruses are expected to circulate at the same time. The company was first to win FDA authorization for an at-home COVID test in November of 2020. The new test uses the same platform and palm-sized device design and can independently test for COVID-19, Flu A, and Flu B from a single nasal swab with results within 30 minutes.

• American Laura Hudson finally managed to leave the city of Changchun in China after 65 days trapped in a citywide lockdown, the South China Morning Post reported. The city locked down on March 11 after a spike in COVID cases, leaving little visibility for residents as to how long it would last. After multiple plane ticket cancellations, Hudson finally flew out of Changchun on May 11, 2022.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 519.5 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.25 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 82.2 million cases and 999,009 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 220.3 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66.3% of the total population. But just 101.4 million are boosted, equal to 46.1% of the vaccinated population.

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