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Data: Rapid Spread, Increased Cases, and Lower deaths seems to be the story of the Omicron Wave around the World

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Like in the case of India, the Omicron variant is driving the current wave of infection across the world. In most countries, there is a rapid spread of the infection with a record number of cases. However, the deaths have been much lower compared to the earlier waves. 

The emergence of the Omicron variant has resulted in an exponential increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases across the world. The latest data shows an average of 37 lakh new cases a day. While there is a rapid spread of Omicron resulting in lakhs of new cases every day, the fatality rate across countries is lower than in earlier waves. 

In an earlier story, we analysed the trends of the COVID-19 third wave in India, driven primarily by the Omicron variant. The trends indicate that despite a rapid increase in the number of new cases during the ongoing third wave, the number of deaths is much lower than the second wave. 

In this story, we look at the trends across some of the important countries. In each of these countries, the Omicron variant is believed to be driving the current wave.  Unlike in the case of India, which is going through a distinct third wave, many of the countries have had multiple waves earlier before the current wave. 

The data for this story is collated from Ourworldindata.org, which has compiled the information provided by authoritative sources of the respective countries. We have considered a 7-day moving average for the number of daily cases and deaths to even out any outliers in the reporting. 

United States of America (USA)

Since taking over as the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases during the initial months of COVID-19 spread, the USA has continued to be the most impacted country in each of the subsequent waves. This trend continued even during the current wave. The current wave in the USA is attributed to Omicron variant with more than 90% of the cases in the last few weeks because of this variant. 

Even the high global numbers of daily cases are largely contributed by the numbers in the USA. The country is currently reporting an average of 5 lakh COVID-19 positive cases a day. However, the wave seems to have crossed the peak as close to 9 lakh daily cases were reported at the peak of this wave. This is multiple times higher than the earlier peak, when the number of daily cases was only around 3 lakh cases during February 2021. The subsequent wave during September 2021 recorded around 2 lakh cases a day at the peak. 

The Case Fatality Rate (CFR) is less during the current wave compared to the earlier waves. The number of deaths is on par with the numbers reported in the earlier wave during September 2021. It must be noted that the number of cases during the current wave is almost 4 times the number of cases during the previous wave while the number of deaths has remained more or less the same. 

The number of deaths might increase slightly in the days to come as deaths lag the cases by about two weeks. Despite the possibility of an increase in deaths, it would be much lower than during the earlier waves. 

United Kingdom (UK) 

The current wave in the UK is past its peak with daily cases on the decline over the past few days. At the peak of the current wave, around 1.8 lakh cases were reported in a day. For the past one week, the number of daily cases has reduced and currently around 90 thousand cases are being reported. 

The number of daily deaths has also stabilized with the fall in the number of cases. The peak in the number of deaths was around 250 a day. While this is slightly higher than the numbers during the preceding wave, the fatality rate (number of deaths per 100 cases) is much lower as the number of cases is many times more than during the earlier wave.  

Around this time in 2021, the UK experienced a high fatality rate of around 1200 plus deaths a day. However, the peak number of cases was only around 60,000 a day compared to the peak of 1,80,000 during the current wave. In other words, while the current wave has spread rapidly and infected a greater number of people, it is definitely less fatal. 

In view of the reducing number of cases, the UK government is taking steps to ease travel and other COVID-19 related restrictions which were imposed earlier. 

Brazil

Brazil has the highest number of COVID-19 cases among the Latin American countries and is third in the world. The latest data indicates that with around 2 lakh daily cases, the new wave of COVID-19 infection is in the ascendency and could further increase in the coming days. The earlier peak was around 1.1 lakh cases (singe day reported peak, not average) i.e., the number of cases at the current peak is already twice the earlier peak.  

However, the number of deaths reported is much lower than the earlier peak. Currently, around 300 daily deaths are being reported and this number is increasing whereas, around 4 thousand deaths were reported during the peak in 2021. During March/April 2021, the average daily deaths were around 3,000 which is much higher than the current numbers 

The trend is like India where despite a higher number of cases compared to the earlier waves, the number of deaths is much lower. However, the current wave has not yet peaked in Brazil, and we could see an increased number of cases in the days to come. 

Australia

Australia is among the countries which have followed strict COVID-19 restrictions and was successful in controlling the COVID-19 spread in the country till recently. However, the country is going through its severest COVID-19 wave so far, though numbers are lower than in other countries. 

The wave is currently subsiding from a peak of more than 1 lakh cases a day. The earlier highest peak in Australia was only around 2 thousand cases around November 2021. Like in other countries, the Omicron variant is detected in the current wave of infection. As per the health chief of New South Wales, one of the largely populated states in Australia, nearly 90% of the cases being reported are of Omicron variant. 

Unlike in the other countries, where the number of deaths is lower than during the earlier waves, the number of deaths in Australia is higher during the current wave.  More than 100 deaths a day were reported at the peak of the current wave while the previous highest was only around 

50 deaths during September 2020. In the earlier wave during November 2021, the peak of daily deaths was around 25.  

While the trend in Australia looks different compared to other countries, it is actually not. The higher number of deaths is due to the exponential increase in cases and not an increase in the fatality rate. The CFR is still lower than in earlier waves. Australia is among the highly vaccinated countries with around 78% of the population fully vaccinated. 

Philippines

The Philippines is in the middle of its distinct fourth wave of COVID-19 infection. In terms of the number of cases being recorded, the current wave is the worst.  In the earlier wave, around September 2021, the highest number of daily cases was around 21 thousand, while the current peak is around 35 thousand. 

At the same time, there is a marked reduction in the number of daily deaths. At the peak during September 2021, the number of daily deaths (7-day average) was more than 260 with a single-day peak of more than 400 deaths. The 7-day average daily deaths of the current wave are around 130.

The reporting of COVID-19 deaths has followed a very different trajectory in the Philippines compared to most other countries. A higher number of deaths due to COVID-19 related complications continued to be reported late into November 2021, even though the number of daily cases was very low during that period. 

As is the case with India, the actual number of COVID-19 related deaths may be higher than what is currently being reported in the Philippines. Only about 50% of the population is fully vaccinated in the Philippines. 

Deaths are low during the current Omicron related wave in most countries

While UK seems to have tided over the current COVID-19 wave, other Western European countries like Italy, France & Spain are still reporting higher number of COVID-19 cases. 

The trend in these countries is like UK and is marked by exponentially higher number of COVID-19 cases than during the earlier waves but significantly lower number of daily deaths. 

The trend in the USA and other countries in terms of deaths is also the same. Even in the case of Australia which is reporting a higher number of deaths than earlier, the fatality rate is still lower than in the earlier waves. Hence, it can be concluded that as is the case with India, the Omicron-related wave is resulting in a rapid spread of infection but is less fatal. 

Featured Image: Story of the Omicron Wave

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