"A virus that shows no signs of disappearing, variants that are adept at dodging the body’s defenses, and waves of infections two, maybe three times a year — this may be the future of Covid-19, some scientists now fear." (New York Times)

As the Covid-19 pendulum swings back and forth, we see new surges emerge and others recede, just like we have for the last 2+ years. Overall across the globe, cases are trending back down to where they were getting to last November (pre-Omicron), with deaths even lower. As we head into our third summer with Covid-19, let's look around as things continue to play out across the world. 

  1. European Union: The EU has dropped its mask mandate for passengers on flights and in airports as of May 16. While noting that a face mask is still one of the best protections against the transmission of Covid-19, EASA and ECDC still lifted the mandatory mask requirement in an attempt to normalize air travel. Many EU countries have also dropped Covid testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers and passenger locator forms as significant numbers of their populations are fully vaccinated and boosted. 
  2. Austria: Authorities in Austria announced that from May 16, all travelers will be permitted restriction-free as they lift all entry rules. They have announced from their official travel portal (SchengenVisaInfo.com), that proof of vaccination/recovery or a test is no longer needed. This means that all travelers, regardless of their country of origin, can now travel to Austria for all kinds of purposes without being required to present a valid vaccination, recovery, or test certificate upon their arrival. 
  3. Spain: The Spanish authorities have announced that the country has decided to prolong the existing COVID-19 entry rules for all travelers until June 15. The move means that all travelers will continue to be subject to COVID-19 entry rules when reaching Spain. 
  4. France: France has lifted COVID-19-related mask mandate on public transport as of May 16, however France is the only Schengen country that continues to keep in place border controls based on the context of COVID-19. The same were set to expire on April 30, but the French authorities have approved their extension for six more months (until October 31st), asserting that border controls contribute to the prevention of COVID-19 due to cross-border movement. 
  5. United States: At the end of last week, cases in the U.S. had increased 55.6% and deaths had risen 20.8% since the beginning of May. As the country creeps up on one million deaths, it is averaging 21,547 hospitalizations a day, up 24% from two weeks ago. 84% of states were trending red as of May 12. The hardest hit areas have been the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and the West Coast. In fact, the Northeast and Midwest are above delta peaks. Research is suggesting that BA.2.12.1 has been edging out BA.2, and has accounted for over 42% of all new cases in the U.S.  Add to that that many in the U.S. are choosing not to wear masks while traveling or moving through their neighborhoods and heading back into work and there is some concern that things could grow worse as Memorial Day weekend approaches, followed by the Fourth of July and other summer events. Earlier this week, the U.S. flew flags at half-mast to mark the one millionth death from Covid-19.
  6. North Korea: Mask wearing is now "in" as the country acknowledges an outbreak (maybe it's first) and goes into a national lockdown. Given that the country is largely unvaccinated, many fear this could turn into a huge emergency quickly.
  7. China: As of May 16, China has identified 18 high-risk areas (all in Beijing) and 59 medium-risk areas. I saw that not a single car was sold in Shanghai last month as the city was on lockdown, but it now looks like a gradual (staged) re-opening is beginning as of May 20. The city has set a target of reaching zero COVID-19 cases at the community level by the end of the week. A second batch of companies have been approved to resume production. Two weeks ago, Shanghai had issued a whitelist of 666 companies (key manufacturers) that could resume activity. As of Monday (May 16), supermarkets, malls and restaurants (takeout only) are allowed to open in limited capacity. Ultimately, Shanghai is set to end Covid lockdown and return to normal life in June, which should help improve the economic slowdown and supply-chain disturbances..
  8. South Africa: SA is now experiencing a new surge sponsored by two omicron sub-variants (BA.4 and BA.5), but while cases and hospitalizations have increased, deaths have not. Some believe the actual number of new cases is probably much higher because the symptoms are mild and many who get sick are not getting tested. 
  9. Australia: Australia and the U.S. have some interesting similarities, so it is interesting to compare the two on how they have fared with Covid-19. Per the NYTimes, both countries are English-speaking democracies with similar demographic profiles (Median age is 38, 86/83% of people live in urban areas). So why does Australia have 1/10th the number of deaths? This article associates the success to trust, in science and institutions, and especially in one another. At the same time, last week Australia led the world in infections per capita and the expectation is that with ongoing variants emerging, it will go up higher yet.

The CDC has revised its rating system for assessing Covid-19 risk for travelers creating three levels. Level 3 is now the "high risk" category and 4 countries were just pushed into this category, Antigua and Barbuda, Lesotho, South Africa, and Taiwan. There are a number of European countries that remain at this level too. As international travel picks up, especially on the U.S. outbound side, you might want to reacquaint yourself on what to do if you test positive for COVID-19 overseas