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Coronavirus Update: Fauci says uptick in COVID cases likely following rise in Europe, warns ‘this virus has fooled us before’

The BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will probably cause an uptick in U.S. cases similar to the one currently occurring in Europe, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.

Fauci told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that it is “no time at all to declare victory, because this virus has fooled us before and we really must be prepared for the possibility that we might get another variant, and we don’t want to be caught flat-footed on that.”

Fauci, who is also head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he does not expect a major surge in the U.S., noting that BA.2, while more contagious than the original omicron, seems to be causing less-severe illness.

Cases are currently rising in Europe again after most countries relaxed all restrictions and the U.S. has typically lagged Europe’s case numbers by a few weeks.

U.S. COVID numbers continue to decline and the nation is now averaging 29,905 new cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 33% from two weeks ago.

The average daily number of hospitalizations stands at 16,465, down 57% from two weeks ago. Deaths are averaging 1,103 a day, down 27% from two weeks ago, but still an undesirably high number.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that children younger than 5 were hospitalized with COVID at far higher rates during the recent omicron-fueled surge than in earlier periods of the pandemic.

Infants and children aged 0-4 years were hospitalized at about five times the rate of the previous peak during the delta-driven wave, the agency said in a report.

That means it’s important for children to be vaccinated, along with pregnant women, family members and caregivers, said the report.

Special report: Two years of COVID-19: How the pandemic changed the way we shop, work, invest and get medical care

As happened with adults, children of color younger than age 5 ended up in hospital at disproportionate rates than white children, who accounted for one third of those hospitalized, according to a New York Times analysis of the data.

Hispanic children accounted for 28% of hospitalizations, while Black children accounted for 23%. Hispanic people represent about 18% of the overall U.S. population, while Black people account for 13%.

What is an endemic and how will we know when Covid-19 becomes one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public-health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic stage. Photo: Michael Nagle/Zuma Press

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Disney’s Shanghai theme park closed Monday as Chinese authorities tried to control the city’s biggest coronavirus flare-up in two years, while the southern business center of Shenzhen allowed shops and offices to reopen after a weeklong closure, the Associated Press reported. Changchun and Jilin in the northeast began another round of citywide virus testing following a surge in infections. Jilin tightened anti-disease curbs, ordering its 2 million residents to stay home. China’s case numbers in its latest infection wave are low compared with other major countries, but authorities are enforcing a “zero tolerance” strategy that has suspended access to some major cities.

• Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam told reports the city would lift flight bans on countries including the UK and U.S., and reduce quarantine time for travelers, the AP reported separately. A ban on flights from nine countries — Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the U.S. — would be lifted from April 1. A flight ban on most these countries has been in place since January, as authorities sought to stem the outbreak of the highly transmissible omicron variant in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, which has faced a record surge in Covid-19 cases and the world’s highest death rate, has been under strict restrictions. WSJ’s Diana Chan reports on how everyday life has changed in the city, from panic buying to an exodus of residents. Photo: Emmanuel Serna/Zuma Press

• Austria is re-imposing an indoor face mask mandate as it works to protect its health care system against a wave of COVID cases, the New York Times reported. Health minister Johannes Rauch told reporters on Friday it was “simply necessary to take countermeasures now,” the paper said. Austria was planning a vaccine mandate earlier in March, but temporarily suspended it before it had been enforced as cases were falling. Rauch said experts are now concerned about the trajectory of the virus and whether they had sufficient staffing and beds in hospitals and nursing homes.

• The UK started to offer a second booster shot to high-risk people on Monday, starting with over-75s, care home residents and the immunocompromised, the Guardian reported. The move comes after a government committee recommended it last month because immunity from first boosters appears to be waning.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 470.9 million on Thursday, while the death toll rose above 6.07 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 79.7 million cases and 974,164 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 217 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.4% of the population. But just 96.6 million are boosted, equal to 44.5% of the vaccinated population.

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