COVID-19 Omicron variant – hopeful signs of peaking in the U.S. and Europe; supply disruptions continue from zero tolerance policy in China

In a recent post, I reviewed vaccine equity issues around the COVID-19 pandemic and recent developments including a new low-cost vaccine being produced in India and available to be produced in many countries with no licensing costs. See January 11, 2022:  WTO efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic — the January 10, 2022 General Council meeting and some current developments of interest,

The omicron variant has wreaked havoc in Europe and in the U.S., though there are signs of the huge surge in cases starting to ebb. See, e.g., European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 2, updated 20 January 2022 (data for last two weeks of 2021 not available; huge surge from omicron reflected in curve; dark blue is Europe, light blue is the Americas). The following chart shows new cases worldwide.

COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 2, updated 20 January 2022

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 2 2022
The ECDC data show the U.S. being the first country to record more than 10 million infections in a fourteen day period (10.586 million; weekly data from the ECDC actually show 12.52 million cases reported in the U.S. in the first two weeks of 2022). The huge surge in Europe in the last several months is spread across many countries. France has been particularly hard hit with new cases numbering in the hundreds of thousands per day for nearly every day in January (highest, 464,679 on January 19 with declines since then). See ECDC, Data on the daily number of new reported COVID-19 cases and deaths by EU/EEA country 20 January 2022,

In the United States, there is a note of optimism as the national number appears to be coming down. The decline is significant in some states where omicron was first identified but cases are still increasing in other parts of the country. See, e.g., NBC News, ‘An optimistic trend’: Covid cases are falling, but U.S. isn’t out of the woods yet, January 22, 2022, (“Cases are already falling in parts of the Northeast, Walensky said. ‘We are starting to see steep declines in areas that were first peaking, so areas of the Northeast — New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut — are really starting to come down.’ Shea said that cases in the rest of the country and deaths, which lag behind cases, are expected to trail shortly after. The big dropoff in cases in large states like New York can make the nationwide average look lower, even though cases are still rising in many states, but she expects all states to hit their peaks soon after Northeastern states.” 

Supply chain problems that have plagued the world for many months now and led to both shortages and large inflationary pressures may continue in part because of China’s zero-tolerance COVID policy has resulted in more shutdowns ahead of the approaching winter olympic games. See, e.g., New York Times, Supply Chain Woes Could Worsen as China Imposes New Covid Lockdowns, January 16, 2022, (“Companies are bracing for another round of potentially debilitating supply chain disruptions as China, home to about a third of global manufacturing, imposes sweeping lockdowns in an attempt to keep the Omicron variant at bay.”).

Many countries, including the U.S. and EU, are reviewing supply chain issues to improve resiliency and reduce risks. Both the U.S. and EU for example have been looking at legislation to bolster semiconductor chip manufacturing. See, e.g., World Economic Forum, ‘There’s no digital without chips’: New European Chips Act announced, 20 January 2022 (“European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced a new European Chips Act”),; Reuters, U.S. House bill on China competitiveness, chip investment, coming soon – Pelosi, January 21, 2022,

While discussions continue around trade and health issues at the WTO including what, if any, temporary waiver from TRIPS obligations or other actions to improve vaccine production may be needed, data available on vaccine production and shipments continue to suggest that the issue is not necessary for a resolution to the COVID-19 pandemic. See, e.g., WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker, Last updated: 17 January 2021, (showing total supply to the end of December at 11.5 billion doses; exports of 4.4 billion doses, with rapidly increasing shipments to low income and lower-middle income countries in the last few months of 2021). Several tables from the latest WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker are copied below.

“3. Imports

“Imports are defined as the number of doses received from producing economies, mirroring the information provided in the exports section. This definition does not take into account imports of vaccine substances in bulk form to be used in ‘fill and finish’ sites.”

Income Group ImportsNumber of doses (million)Doses per 100 peoplePopulation (million)
Low income234.034.5678.4
Lower middle income1,482.149.52,994.7
Upper middle income1,748.559.72,930.4
High income935.675.41,241.6
Note: as of 31 December 2021

ContinentNumber of doses (million)Doses per 100 peoplePopulation (million)
South America682.7157.3434.0
North America460.577.7592.8
Note: as of 31 December 2021

With more vaccines being reviewed by the WHO and individual countries, production of vaccines in 2022 will exceed volumes produced in 2021. Exports will also increase as trends in the second half of 2021 show have been happening.

While different sources look at vaccinations for individual countries and territories, attached is an excel spreadsheet of data from the World Health Organization for data available as of January 20, 2022. There are countries not covered by the WHO data (e.g., Taiwan) and others for which there is no World Bank 2022 income designation. I have added the categories of the World Bank GNI per capita income (low income, lower-middle income, upper-middle income, high income) to the WHO table. At the end of the WHO listing I have broken the data out by income group. For those countries/territories with no World Bank designation, they are listed “na”. For countries or territories in the World Bank list but not shown on the WHO list, I have included the name of the country/territory at the end of the income grouping.

As reviewed in prior posts, for groups and organizations focuses on vaccine equity, it is important to understand the causes of the very large differences in vaccines/100 people shown within at least the low income, lower-middle income and upper-middle income categories. For example, Rwanda (97.195 vaccinations/100 people), Mozambique (54.492 vaccinations/100 people) are low income countries. But their experience in vaccine access is much different than many other low income countries (most under 30 vaccine doses/100 people, many under 20 or 10/100 people, one less than 1/100 people). Medical infrastructure and many other factors are certainly important components in improving vaccine access to many low income countries. See GAVI, World leaders launch call for renewed support for vaccination in 2022 as part of the global fight against COVID-19, (” Specifically, COVAX leaders called for at least US$ 5.2bn in new funding: US$ 3.7 billion to fund a 600 million dose Pandemic Vaccine Pool to address uncertainties and related uncovered risks, such as boosters, additional coverage, new variant vaccines if required, and to make sure there is reliable supply for the poorest countries. In addition, catalytic delivery funding of US$ 1 billion is requested to support getting doses into arms rapidly and safely without undermining routine immunization activities. A further US$ 545 million is needed to cover ancillary costs such as syringes, transport and insurance for donations.”).

The same is true for lower-middle income countries with Cambodia and Mongolia recording 189.643 and 164.686 vaccine doses/100 people respectively while Nigeria, Cameroon and and Zambia report just 9.007, 3.859, and 5.665 vaccine doses/100 people respectively. Seventeen countries have reported more than 100 vaccine doses/100 people while 9 have reported 20 vaccine doses/100 people or fewer.

The same is true for upper-middle income countries where the range of vaccine doses/100 people range from 32.258 for Equitorial Guinea to 283.945 for Cuba.


COVID-19 Pandemic continues to spin out of control globally; U.S. becomes first country to record more than one million new cases in a week

Ten and a half months into the global pandemic, the world remains on a sharply upward trajectory in terms of new cases. As of November 15, the global total of new cases in the last fourteen days is just under 8 million (7,925,568) with total recorded cases since the end of December 2019 topping 54 million (54,110,061). See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 15 November 2020.

The United States accounts for 1,778,530 of the cases in the last fourteen days and became the first country to record more than one million new cases in a week — 1,043,933 for the seven days ending November 15. The 184,813 new cases recorded on November 14 is more in one day than the vast majority of countries in the world have recorded since the end of December 2019. For example 53 of 55 countries in Africa have recorded fewer cases than the U.S. did on November 14 and the other two (Morocco and South Africa) have recorded fewer cases than the U.S. recorded in the last week. Similarly 32 of 43 countries in Asia (including China) have had fewer cases over the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. had on November 14 and of the other 11, 10 have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has had in the last week. In the Americas, 40 of 46 countries or territories (other than the U.S.) have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. recorded on November 14 and three of the other six countries have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has recorded in the last seven days. In Europe, the other area very hard hit in the last several months, 39 of 53 countries have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. had on November 14 and of the remaining fourteen countries, 10 have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has had in the last week. All countries and territories in Oceania (12 of 12) have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. recorded on November 14. Indeed, the total cases of all of Oceania (combined) for the last 10 1/2 months are lower than the U.S. figures for just November 14.

Nearly every one of the fifty U.S. states is experiencing significant increases and a number of states are already struggling with health care facilities, personnel and supplies. U.S. hospitalizations are at a record high for patients with COVID-19 ( 69,455 on November 14; and are expected to go above 100,000 by the end of the year. The U.S. recorded 8,487 deaths from COVID-19 in the last week and is projected to have more than 2,000 deaths/day from COVID-19 by January. A large number of U.S. states are imposing new restrictions in an effort to halt the dramatic increase in the U.S. number of new cases. See, e.g., New York Times, November 15, 2020, Doctors Call for More Restrictions and Caution as Virus Surges,; CNBC, November 14, 2020, U.S. reports record Covid hospitalizations as states roll out restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving,; Bloomberg, November 13-14, 2020, World Clamps Down as Covid-19 Refuses to Cede: Virus Update,

As the last of the articles referenced above shows, many European countries have also been imposing significant restrictions in an effort to bring the pandemic back under control. Some European countries are seeing some significant retrenchment from the extraordinary numbers recorded within recent weeks in the last week. Others are seeing a slowing of the rate of growth or a plateauing of new cases. For example, the ECDC data for France shows new cases in the week ending November 15 at 205,894 down significantly from the 384,080 new cases of the prior week. Italy’s rate of increase slowed with new cases in the last week at 242,962 compared to 223,060 the prior week. Spain saw a small decline from 143,154 new cases the week ending November 8 to 129,759 new cases during the week ending November 15.

While there has been very encouraging news on the vaccine front from Pfizer/BioNTech and with likely similar good news expected from Moderna, broad distribution in the U.S. and Europe and other developed countries is still likely months away even if started in the next month or two. The requirement for extreme cold storage and transfer of the product will make global distribution even more challenging because of extra infrastructure/equipment needs. Thus, every country has an ongoing need to take the steps necessary to bring the pandemic under control without a vaccine.

In the United States where the current Administration has focused its efforts on expediting development of new vaccines and therapeutics, the failure to provide national leadership on controlling the pandemic and the continual issuance of misinformation has unfortunately politicized much of the health care preventive efforts needed by individuals and communities. The Administration’s current refusal to recognize the results of the recent elections and failure to accord the President-elect’s team access to agencies will complicate the process of the incoming Administration being able to implement a more comprehensive and consistent response to the pandemic to assist the states. Thus, the current crisis will certainly just get worse in the coming months. Projections now are that the U.S. will suffer an additional 200,000 deaths in the next four-five months. Many of those deaths are preventable but will happen because of our inability to focus on and accept the scientific facts and known action steps to control the spread. Remarkably a recent poll suggested that a large percent of the U.S. population believes the U.S. response to COVID-19 has been well handled. Thus, a wealthy developed country with 4.3% of the global population is apparently doing well by having roughly 20% of cases and 20% of deaths.

The rebound economically of European and U.S. economies during the third quarter after the steep decline in the second quarter following largescale closures will be negatively affected by the fourth quarter surge in cases and needed renewed restrictions in both areas. Such restrictions will negatively affect not only domestic economies but global trade as well in both goods and services. Even for areas of the world where the COVID-19 pandemic has not had tremendous direct effects, there have been negative effects because of the contraction of trade in goods and services as reviewed in a recent WTO Secretariat paper. See WTO, Trade and Development, November 11, 2020, Least developed countries hit hard by trade downturn triggered by COVID-19 pandemic,; Sub-Committee on Least Developed Countries, MARKET ACCESS FOR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES OF EXPORT INTEREST TO LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

The likely approach of more tailored restrictions being imposed by countries or states/provinces hopefully will mean a smaller negative economic effect from the current surge in cases. However, in the U.S., Congress and the Administration have been unable to agree to renewed stimulus measures and past stimulus packages have come to an end. There are more than 20 million Americans who have been receiving some form of unemployment assistance where assistance has or is ending. Millions of renters and home owners face potential evictions or foreclosures on homes because of non payment of rent or mortgages. The continued failure of the federal government to address these ongoing needs will depress the U.S. economy going forward and will cause major problems for millions of families — making the future months different than the U.S. economic response to the earlier surges.

The bottom line — the global challenges from the pandemic are growing and not receding.

U.S. becomes first country to exceed 100,000 new COVID-19 cases/day for a fourteen day period

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage out of control in the United States and other parts of the world, the U.S. added another “first” to its sad handling of the pandemic. According to data from the European Centre for
Disease Prevention and Control, for the fourteen day period ending November 10, 2020, the United States had recorded 1,406,028 new cases in the last fourteen days — more than 100,000/day. No other country has ever recorded this level of new cases in a fourteen day period. So a brief summary of “firsts” for the United States follows — the U.S. has recorded the most deaths since the beginning of the pandemic of any country; the U.S. has recorded the most new cases since the beginning of the pandemic; the U.S. has recorded the most new cases in any given day; and now, the U.S. has recorded the most cases in a fourteen day period.

In addition, hospitalizations in the U.S. are back where they were at the initial peak in the spring (around 60,000 but still increasing) and deaths are mounting again, topping 1,000 for a number of days in a row.

In an environment in which the Trump Administration appears to be simply waiting for vaccines and therapeutics to become available but not pushing other measures, President-elect Biden announced a coronavirus task force yesterday and outlined his plan for addressing the pandemic in the U.S. after he takes office on January 20. He also asked U.S. citizens to follow the science by wearing masks, social distancing, limiting gatherings and more. The governor of Utah, faced with challenges in Utah’s hospitals issued a statewide mask mandate. With the problems facing most states continuing to escalate, it is likely that more state-level actions will occur in the coming days.

Pfizer’s announcement that preliminary results from its third round testing of its vaccine showed greater than 90% effectiveness is obviously encouraging. It is understood that Moderna’s vaccine in trial is based on a similar approach to Pfizer’s. And there are many other vaccines in stage three trials. So we are likely very close to approval of one or more vaccines with significant availability increasing as 2021 proceeds. However, the U.S., Europe and certain other parts of the world are in for a deadly fall and winter.

Update on the collapse of travel and tourism in response to COVID-19

In a post from April 30, I provided information on the importance of travel and tourism to the global economy and the sharp contraction flowing from national efforts to stem the growth in COVID-19 infections. Travel restrictions, stay at home orders and other actions have seriously limited travel and tourism in recent months and will likely continue to do so for at least several more months going forward.

A series of documents from the World Travel & Tourism Council provide an overview of the importance of the sector to various geographic areas of the world in 2019, what had been growth projections to 2030 and the projected job losses in the sector for 2020 because of the pandemic.

In 2019, some 330 million jobs were in the travel and tourism sector globally or one in ten jobs. Travel and tourism in 2019 accounted for 10.3% of the global economy with higher growth rate versus the total global economy (3.5% vs. 2.5%). The COVID-19 pandemic is projected to cost the world 100.8 million jobs in 2020, a loss of 31% from 2019. The loss in global GDP is projected at $2.7 trillion. Truly staggering projected losses from the pandemic are hitting countries and territories around the world.


The percent of total GDP and total employment in a region was highest in 2019 for the Caribbean at 13.9% and 15.2% respectively, followed by South East Asia at 12.1% and 13.3%, Oceania at 11.7% and 12.6%, North East Asia at 9.8% and 10.0%, the European Union at 9.5% and 11.2%, North America at 8.8% and 11.1%, North Africa at 8.5% and 9.3%, the Middle East at 8.6% and 8.8%, with other areas somewhat lower. International travel and tourism in 2019 was 28.7% of the total with domestic being 71.3%; 21.4% of expenditures were by business travelers with the remaining 78.6% being leisure travel and tourism. 179.7 million jobs in travel and tourism were in Asia in 2019, 37.1 million in Europe, 45.4 million in the Americas, 24.6 million in Africa and 6.7 million in the Middle East.

Projections for 2030 (before the pandemic) were for travel and tourism to capture 11.3% of global GDP and increase employment to 425 million jobs. Depending on the damage from the pandemic and the recovery time , presumably the effects through 2030 will show much smaller employment numbers and a smaller percent of GDP going to travel and tourism.


While travel and tourism expenditures reflect the size of the overall economy in terms of total dollars, the fastest growth is often in smaller countries, including island countries and territories.


As seen in these data from the World Travel and Tourism Council, the growth of travel and tourism as a sector in 2019 exceeded growth rates in healthcare, retail and wholesale, agriculture, construction and manufacturing while lagging just information and communications and financial services. Moreover, travel and tourism effect other sectors of the economy when expanding or when contracting. The challenges facing companies like Boeing and Airbus at a time when most commercial fleets are largely not operating would be one obvious example.

For there to be a rapid return to economic growth in many parts of the world as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, all countries will need a return to the use of restaurants, hotels, transportation services, entertainment venues and other elements of the travel and tourism sector.

With the enormous losses being suffered by the sector and the large part of the sector populated by small- and medium-size businesses, many countries are likely to find far fewer travel and tourism businesses operating in the coming months than was true in 2019 even after reopening. Governments in various countries are working to provide financial support to workers and businesses, but it unclear how many businesses will nonetheless go out of business and how many jobs will be lost even after reopening. This is complicated by the social distancing requirements that are either recommended or required by countries who are starting to open up (or in the United States, in the states that are starting to reopen). For example, restaurants typically operate on small margins. Requirements to limit seating to half of capacity (or worse depending on density of current seating arrangements) to be able to implement social distancing recommendations in restaurants could make operating many restaurants uneconomic going forward.

Moreover, for many consumers and businesses, travel and tourism activities will likely be greatly curtailed pending development and distribution to the world’s population of an effective vaccine. This is regardless of government actions to reopen economies and flows from the understandable concern for many people about enjoying normal life when the invisible enemy has no cure. While there are substantial efforts by pharmaceutical companies and government researchers to achieve an unusually quick breakthrough, 2021 is a very optimistic timeline. Whatever the timeline actually is will determine when the travel and tourism sector is able to fully help in rebuilding economic momentum around the world.

From a trade policy perspective, governments can reduce the costs to the state and local governments and to businesses and consumers by keeping markets open, lowering duties, expediting customs clearance and working to expand production of medical goods to eliminate the gap in global supply during periods of peak demand. The latter is the only realistic answer to temporary export restraints by countries who find themselves in a situation of surging infection rates and inadequate supplies where they are significant domestic producers. Moreover, with a second wave of the pandemic possible in the fall/winter, a global ramp up of capacity and production of needed supplies and creation of regional inventories is a need if the world is to avoid further trade disruptions from the pandemic coming back later this year.

Other actions by governments such as stimulus programs and safety net projects, reinforcing healthcare infrastructure, ramping up testing, tracing and quarantining, and addressing the financial needs of developing and least developed countries are all being pursued to some extent by international organizations and by individual countries, though the stress on the global economy complicates the extent of some of these efforts going forward.


The pandemic is projected to result in the loss of more than 100 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector in 2020 – a staggering situation and certainly among the most difficult of the global challenges to economies from COVID-19. The reality will be that travel and tourism will trail other parts of the global economy in rebounding as economies are reopened absent an effective vaccine which in all likelihood is a year or more (at a minimum) away. Governments and international organizations need to focus on steps which can reduce the challenges for the sector in the coming months. The UN World Tourism Organization has prepared a series of recommendation that were reviewed in my earlier post. They are a good starting point.