No sooner had state and local governments in the United States begun to disburse pandemic-related benefits such as unemployment in early 2020 than cybercriminals began to go to work. Until recently, the only documented instances of such crimes, however, were by domestic fraudsters and most of the cases were small potatoes. Until today, that is.
The U.S. Secret Service said that hackers linked to the Chinese government stole at least $20 million in coronavirus pandemic relief benefits. This included loans from the Small Business Administration and unemployment benefits in at least 12 states.
The theft was linked to the Chengdu-based hacking group known as APT41. It is the first instance of pandemic-related fraud tied to foreign, state-sponsored cybercriminals, at least the first publicly acknowledged by the U.S. government.
U.S. law enforcement officials said this may just be the tip of the iceberg, however. At the present time, there are over 1,000 investigations into pandemic-related fraud involving both transnational and domestic bad actors and that number is only likely to increase as time goes on.
In other news we cover today, a Brooklyn woman made $400,000 by renting out rooms intended for Covid patients and healthcare workers, Australia’s prime minster tested positive for Covid, and senior citizens are being hit hard by Covid in California.
Pfizer-BioNTech are seeking authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its bivalent coronavirus vaccine booster dose for children under the age of 5. The shot would be used as the third dose in the three-dose primary vaccine series for children ages 6 months through 4 years.
A woman in New York City sold almost 2,000 nights of hotel stays after fraudulently obtaining the rooms under the Hotel Room Isolation Program, which offered rooms to be used by individuals who tested positive and require isolation or by healthcare workers who wished to isolate themselves from family members.
Chanette Lewis of Brooklyn reportedly netted $400,000 in the period from April to July of 2020. In addition, she fraudulently obtained public housing benefits for herself and others by submitting fake orders of protection, forged letters from the district attorney, and dubious notes from doctors attesting to medical issues in the period July 2020 through October 2021.
Last week, Lewis pled guilty to two felony counts of wire fraud before United States Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron.
“Chanette Lewis took advantage of multiple lifelines offered to New York City residents in need during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a statement. “Each of her schemes misappropriated identifying information of hardworking individuals, including medical professionals whose services were vital during the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, a woman in Fairfield, Connecticut, was arrested and charged with stealing over $15,000 in unemployment benefits during the pandemic, the state’s Division of Criminal Justice said.
Cami DeMace, 42, was charged with two counts of first-degree larceny by defrauding a public community, three counts of unemployment compensation fraud, two counts of third-degree identity theft, attempt to commit second-degree larceny, conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny, conspiracy to commit unemployment fraud, and conspiracy to commit third-degree identity theft, officials said in a statement.
In California, hospitalizations for all age groups have at least tripled and the rate among senior citizens has surpassed the summer omicron peak. Meanwhile, new Covid cases for all age groups are up at least 50%. Only 35% of the state’s vaccinated seniors age 65 and older have received the updated booster since it became available in September, a figure that falls to 21% for those in the 50-to-64 bracket.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He said he would work from home while recovering.
“I encourage anyone who is unwell to test and to take any extra precautions to keep their families and neighbours well,” Albanese said in a statement.
Meanwhile, New Zealand is planning an inquiry to its own pandemic response, largely considered one of the most successful in the world. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the results of the inquiry would help the country prepare for the next pandemic.
The royal commission of inquiry will be chaired by Australian-based epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely, former cabinet minister Hekia Parata, and former treasury secretary John Whitehead.
Lockdowns in China are impacting Foxconn, the company that manufactures Apple’s iPhones. The manufacturing concern said that its revenue in November was down 11% compared to the same period in 2021.
Now here are the daily statistics for Monday, December 5.
As of Monday morning, the world has recorded 650.1 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.3 million cases, and 6.65 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 627.2 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.2 million.
Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Monday at press time is 16,322,562, an increase of 163,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 16,285,494, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 37,068, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past 24 hours.
The United States reported 4,606 new coronavirus infections on Monday for the previous day, compared to 4,861 on Sunday, 73,,431 on Saturday, 98,558 on Friday, and 111,515 on Thursday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 7-day incidence rate is now 57,024. Figures for the weekend (reported the following day) are typically 30% to 60% of those posted on weekdays due to a lower number of tests being conducted.
The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 51,995, an increase of 28% averaged over the past 14 days, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources. The average daily death toll over the same period is 250, a decrease of 12% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 35,614, an increase of 28%. In addition, the number of patients in ICUs was 4,107, an increase of 22%.
In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Monday, recorded over 100.8 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of just over 1.1 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, almost 44.7 million, and a reported death toll of 530,630.
The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States. Rosstat reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.
Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with 38.1 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 36.6 million total cases.
Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 690,231, has recorded 35.4 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.
The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are South Korea, with 27.3 million cases, Japan, with over 25.2 million, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with 24.5 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24 million, and Russia, with over 21.6 million.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of last Thursday, 267.3 million people in the United States – or 80.5% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 68.8%, or 228.4 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 653.3 million. Breaking this down further, 91.2% of the population over the age of 18 – or 236.2 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 78.5% of the same group – or 202.8 million people – is fully vaccinated. In addition, 14.7% of the same population, or 37.9 million people, has already received an updated or bivalent booster dose of vaccine.
Starting on June 13, 2022, the CDC began to update vaccine data on a weekly basis and publish the updated information on Thursdays by 8 p.m. EDT, a statement on the agency’s website said.
Some 68.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Monday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information. So far, 13.01 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 2.25 million doses are now administered each day.
Meanwhile, only 24.6% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.
In addition, with the start of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines.
Anna Breuer contributed reporting to this story.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)