New coronavirus cases have fallen 14 percent in the United States in the past week, based on a seven-day average,although average daily cases, at more than 695,000, are still not far from the U.S. peak of about 762,000. Covid-19 hospitalizations are also close to their peak, straining short-staffed hospitals, but they are also starting to fall.Covid-19 deaths, which often lag days to weeks behind outbreaks, are still increasing nationally.
Tarawa atoll, Kiribati, is pictured in 2004. The Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Samoa have announced rare COVID-19 lockdowns after dozens of international travelers tested positive for the virus.
Tarawa atoll, Kiribati, is pictured in 2004. The Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Samoa have announced rare COVID-19 lockdowns after dozens of international travelers tested positive for the virus.
Kiribati and Samoa both implemented COVID-19 lockdowns on Saturday after international arrivals brought the virus with them, a rarity for the remote Pacific island nations.
This is the first pandemic lockdown in Kiribati, which had previously reported only two COVID-19 cases — both were people on a fishing ship in May 2021 who isolated on board. The country reopened its borders to international travel earlier this month for the first time in nearly two years.
Its government announced on Tuesday that 36 out of 54 passengers on a flight from Fiji had tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, despite being vaccinated and testing negative three times during the pre-departure quarantine period. They were escorted to a quarantine center for further monitoring and testing. One of the frontline workers stationed outside the quarantine center also tested positive.
On Friday, the government confirmed a new case, this time from someone uninvolved with the quarantine center.
Based on the newest case, “there is now an assumption that COVID-19 is now spreading in the community on South Tarawa and Betio,” the government wrote on Facebook.
A 24-hour curfew went into effect on Saturday and it’s not clear how long the lockdown will last.
Residents can only leave their homes to access emergency or essential services including hospitals, police departments, grocery stores and banks. Essential providers can only operate during certain hours, public transportation will not run, social gatherings are banned and travel between the outer islands is prohibited.
The government also urged residents to get vaccinated. Only about 53% of adults had received two doses as of late December, according to Radio Kiribati.
In Samoa, officials announced a 48-hour lockdown after 15 out of 73 passengers who arrived on a Wednesday flight from Brisbane, Australia, tested positive.
Between Saturday and Monday, all residents except for essential workers are required to stay at home and off the roads. Businesses, schools and restaurants will be closed, travel is prohibited and mass gatherings are banned.
Agafili Tomaimano Shem Leo, the chairman of the National Emergency Operation Center, said that the “day dreaded by authorities for COVID-19 to invade Samoa is here,” according to the government statement.
“Our country is in a national emergency and our security is under siege from COVID-19,” he said, urging members of the public not to be complacent.
The government said that failure to comply with lockdown restrictions could result in a $2,000 fine.
The World Health Organization on Wednesday said international travel bans “do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress” of countries.
In a statement issued after a WHO meeting, the UN health agency said travel restrictions that were introduced to curb the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of such measures over time.”
Countries should consider adjusting some measures, including testing and quarantine requirements, “when appropriate,” that put a financial burden on travelers, the WHO said.
Separately, the WHO said that coronavirus cases globally rose by 20% last week to more than 18 million.
Infections increased in every world region except for Africa, where cases fell by nearly a third, according to the WHO.
The number of deaths globally remained similar to the previous week, at about 45,000.
Here’s a roundup of the latest developments on COVID-19 from around the world:
South African-born biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong opened a plant in Cape Town, South Africa, that will be the first on the continent to produce COVID-19 vaccines from start to finish.
The NantSA facility aims to produce a billion doses annually by 2025.
The plant is South Africa’s third vaccine manufacturing facility, but it would make vaccines itself rather than producing them from semifinished batches.
Soon-Shiong, who is also a medical doctor, will transfer technology and materials from his California-based NantWorks to scientists in South Africa to produce second-generation vaccines “within the year.” They will also work on vaccines targeting cancer, TB and HIV.
“Africa should no longer be last in line to access vaccines against pandemics,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the opening of the plant.
Ramaphosa said Africa had secured 500 million vaccine doses through the African Union’s vaccine acquisition task team, but the continent needs more.
“These doses represent only around half of what the continent needs to vaccinate 900 million people in order to achieve the 70% target set by the World Health Organization,” said Ramaphosa.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that people in England would no longer be required to wear face masks from next week.
He told Parliament on Wednesday that measures introduced to combat the omicron variant were no longer needed as scientists believe infections have peaked in the UK.
“Because of the extraordinary booster campaign, together with the way the public have responded to the Plan B measures, we can return to Plan A in England and allow Plan B regulations to expire as a result from the start of Thursday next week,” Johnson said.
He intended to drop self-isolation rules for people with coronavirus in March.
The prime minister also announced an end to the vaccine certificates mandate but added that businesses could continue asking for COVID-19 passes if they wanted to.
Museums and concert halls in the Netherlands opened as beauty salons and gyms to protest the Dutch government’s pandemic policies.
The cultural sector is protesting rules that they must remain closed while COVID-19 measures were lifted on shops and “contact professions” like barbers, nail salons and sex work.
During the protest, nail artists were giving manicures at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Barbers also gave haircuts on the stage of Amsterdam’s historical concert hall, Concertgebouw.
People got haircuts during a rehearsal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam
Authorities handed out enforcement notices to a number of the 70-odd venues that took part in the day-long protest.
Germany recorded more than 100,000 daily COVID-19 cases for the first time. The new single-day record of 112,323 comes as Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he believed there could be twice as many unreported cases as known ones.
Lauterbach told broadcaster RTL that Germany had not reached the peak and compulsory vaccination should be introduced by May.
In the east-central German state of Thuringia, some 1,200 demonstrators, protesting COVID measures, marched past the home of Gera’s Mayor Julian Vornab, police said.
Asked if he felt threatened, Vonarb said: “The police were there, but not in proportion to the number of demonstrators.”
Bodo Ramelow, the state leader of Thuringia, said marching up to politicians’ homes was nothing other than intimidation.
Also in the US, Starbucks said it would no longer require its workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The move to reverse the policy that Starbuck had announced earlier this month came after the US Supreme Court rejected a plan by the Biden administration to require vaccines or regular COVID testing at companies with more than 100 workers.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said coronavirus infections in the Americas are reaching new peaks, with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 COVID-related deaths in the last week.
“The virus is spreading more actively than ever before,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne told a press briefing.
According to the PAHO, the Caribbean has had the steepest increase in infections since the beginning of the pandemic.
The regional agency recommended that countries prioritize rapid antigen tests for people experiencing symptoms and who are at risk of spreading the virus amid a shortage of testing.
India reported 282,970 new infections on Wednesday, the highest in eight months.
Authorities said omicron was causing fewer hospitalizations and deaths than the delta variant, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in India last year.
While infection rates have recently fallen in India’s big cities, experts say cases nationally could peak by the middle of next month.
“We have to worry about hospitalization and deaths and that will come later,” Tarun Bhatnagar, from the ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology, told the Reuters news agency.
Japan widened COVID-19 curbs to several towns and cities, including Tokyo, as it battles a record wave of omicron infections.
The country has resisted complete shutdowns, instead focusing on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol.
It also urged the public to wear masks and practice social distancing.
A sharp rise in infections has begun to paralyze hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.
New Zealand called off the national cricket team’s tour of Australia before the scheduled first match because of strict COVID-19 quarantine requirements.
The Black Caps, as they are commonly known, would not have had to isolate on their return home when the tour was first announced.
The spread of the omicron variant in Australia has caused New Zealand’s government to defer a plan to introduce quarantine-free travel between the countries.
Canada’s health regulator has approved a pill by Pfizer that treats the effects of COVID-19 amid soaring numbers of infections across the country.
Meanwhile, the health minister of Poland said the country is experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases.
Several Chinese cities are on high alert as hundreds of millions of people travel around China before the Lunar New Year celebration on February 1.
Governments around the world are also enforcing stricter measures to contain the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
In the Philippines, unvaccinated commuters have been banned from accessing public transport, despite opposition.
Here are Monday’s updates:
Hospitalisations in France see biggest jump since Nov 2020
The number of people with coronavirus in French hospitals rose by 888 to 25,775, the health ministry said on Monday, the biggest one-day increase since early November 2020 – before the start of the country’s vaccination campaign.
The last time the number of COVID patients was over 25,000 was on December 17, 2020.
Health ministry data also showed that the number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care units rose by 61 to 3,913, after being flat to stable for four days.
Poland has entered a fifth wave: Minister
Poland is experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, the health minister said, warning that the spread of the Omicron variant could send daily case numbers soaring to levels not yet seen in the country.
While daily case numbers have fallen since early December, the European Union’s largest eastern member by population has had little respite since the fourth wave, regularly reporting over 10,000 new infections per day amid low vaccine take-up and public reluctance to follow regulations.
“We predict that the peak of infections will be in mid-February and that peak is about 60,000 cases a day,” Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.
Canada approves Pfizer COVID-19 drug
Canada’s health regulator has approved a pill by Pfizer that treats the effects of the coronavirus.
Health Canada authorised Paxlovid for adult patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are also at high risk of becoming more seriously ill. Health Canada did not authorise it for use on teenagers or on patients who are already hospitalised because of COVID-19.
The agency’s announcement comes amid soaring numbers of infections because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain: PM
World men’s tennis number-one player Novak Djokovic will have to comply with Spanish health rules to be able to travel to Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
Answering a question on whether Djokovic would be allowed to enter Spain to compete after Australia deported him for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, Sanchez said: “Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain.”
INSIDE STORY: Can China maintain its ‘zero-COVID’ strategy?
Small outbreaks continue to trigger lockdowns and travel restrictions for 1.4 billion Chinese people.
Many countries have abandoned the aim of stopping all COVID-19 infections, avoiding lockdowns and travel bans as the Omicron and Delta variants spread worldwide.
But not in China, where the coronavirus was first detected in 2019.
French hospitalisations see largest jump since Nov 2020
The number of people with COVID-19 in French hospitals rose by 888 to 25,775, the health ministry said on Monday, the biggest one-day increase since early November 2020 – before the start of the country’s vaccination campaign.
The last time the number of COVID-19 patients was over 25,000 was on December 17, 2020.
Health ministry data on Monday also showed that the number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care units rose by 61 to 3,913, after being flat to stable for four days.
Mexico’s president says he’s beaten virus for second time
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he had recovered from a second round of infection from the coronavirus, as he resumed his public activities.
Lopez Obrador said that he was no longer infected and his symptoms had been milder, and his recovery quicker, than with his first coronavirus infection last year.
“It is demonstrable that this variant does not have the same severity as the previous one, the Delta variant,” he told reporters, nearly a week after announcing he had caught COVID-19 again.
“What also helps a lot is the vaccine, getting vaccinated and not missing the booster shot,” he added.
New French school strike called over COVID ‘chaos’
French teachers’ unions called for a second major strike this week to protest the government’s COVID-19 testing and isolation protocols, which they say are severely disrupting classes.
The move follows a one-day walkout last week that saw half of the country’s primary schools close, according to unions, who accuse authorities of failing to establish clear rules that would keep as many students in school as possible.
Bulgaria tightens arrival conditions as infections rise
Bulgaria announced it would require travellers from neighbouring North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey as well as Israel to have a negative PCR coronavirus test prior to entry along with a valid COVID-19 certificate, starting Thursday.
The measures announced by the Health Ministry, aimed at limiting the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant, already apply to all European Union member states except for Bulgaria’s northern neighbour Romania.
The Balkan country, which is bracing for a surge in new infections, recorded its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic last week.
Moderna CEO says data for Omicron-specific shot likely available in March
Moderna Inc’s vaccine candidate against the Omicron coronavirus variant will enter clinical development in the next few weeks and the company expects to be able to share data with regulators around March, CEO Stephane Bancel said.
“The vaccine is being finished … it should be in the clinic in coming weeks. We are hoping in the March timeframe to be able to have data to share with regulators to figure out next steps,” Bancel said at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda conference.
Israel cuts isolation after testing positive to five days
Israel’s Health Ministry said that it would shorten the mandatory isolation period for those who tested positive for COVID-19 to five days from seven days, following an initial cut last week, provided the infected are asymptomatic.
Until last week, the isolation period was 10 days.
The latest decision, which takes effect on Wednesday, brings Israel in line with recommendations in the United States.
A negative home antigen test is also required before ending isolation, the ministry said.
US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman tests positive: spokesman
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, a spokesman said.
He is experiencing very minor symptoms and can perform all duties remotely, the spokesman added.
EU chief cancels meetings as driver tests positive
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that she has scrapped her in-person appointments at the European Parliament this week after her driver tested positive for COVID-19.
Von der Leyen said she was already in Strasbourg, France for the plenary when she was told of the news and immediately headed back to European Union headquarters in Brussels.
Netherlands reports record 42,000 daily cases
The Netherlands registered a record 42,000 coronavirus cases in the space of 24 hours, according to data released by health officials.
On Friday, the government ordered the reopening of most stores after a month-long lockdown intended to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of the virus in the Netherlands.
Indian firm developing Omicron-specific vaccine
India’s Gennova Biopharmaceuticals is working on an Omicron-specific mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate, it told Reuters news agency, after a person with direct knowledge of the matter said the product could be ready in a month or two.
“The Omicron-specific variant of the vaccine is under development and will be ready for human clinical trials, subject to regulatory approvals,” a company spokesperson said in a text message. “We will keep you posted.”
The source, who did not want to be named as the information was private, said the product might need a small trial in India before it could be rolled out.
Thailand considering quarantine waiver for foreign visitors
Thailand is considering bringing back a quarantine waiver for vaccinated visitors, the health minister said.
Thailand reopened to vaccinated foreign visitors in November to help a tourism industry that collapsed during nearly 18 months of strict entry policies. It saw about 200,000 arrivals last year, compared to nearly 40 million in 2019.
The ‘Test & Go’ policy, which allows visitors to skip the mandatory quarantine if they test negative on arrival, was suspended late in December over concerns about the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
In Greece, unvaccinated people 60 and up face monthly fines
Greece imposed a vaccination mandate for people 60 and older, as the country’s vaccination rate remains below the European Union average and a spike in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals.
Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro ($57) fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) after that.
About two-thirds of Greece’s 10.7 million people are fully vaccinated, while the EU average is just over 70 percent. But COVID-19 deaths and daily hospitalisations have increased following the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant, though pressure on ICU capacity has eased slightly.
Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be collected through the tax office with the money going to help fund state hospitals.
Beijing Olympics tickets will not be sold to the public
Tickets for the Winter Olympics set to begin on February 4 will be distributed to “targeted” groups of people and will not be sold to the general public, the organising committee has said, in the latest setback to the Games inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Local spectators who receive tickets must observe strict COVID prevention measures before, during and after attending Olympic events, the committee said. It did not specify how tickets would be distributed.
Organisers had said in September that there would not be any international spectators at the Games.
Fiji’s Nayacalevu to get vaccinated after France’s vaccine passport requirement
Fijian rugby player Waisea Nayacaleuv “will get vaccinated,” Stade Francais President Thomas Lombard said, hours after French authorities passed a law requiring a jab against COVID to enter sporting venues.
France’s parliament voted in favour of requiring a vaccine passport to enter an establishment which has a public attendance, in a move that will has implications on this weekend’s European Champions Cup games and the Six Nations, which starts on February 6.
Earlier this month, 31-year-old Nayacalevu had said getting a vaccine would be “the worst-case scenario”.
New French school strike called over COVID ‘chaos’
The French teachers’ union has called for a second major strike to protest the government’s COVID testing and isolation protocols, which they say are severely disrupting classes.
The move follows a one-day walkout last week that saw half of the country’s primary schools close, according to unions, who accuse authorities of failing to establish clear rules that would keep as many students in school as possible.
The unions said the new strike on Thursday would be a prelude to a “massive” nationwide walkout on January 27.
China’s Xi rejects ‘Cold War mentality’ in dealing with pandemic
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for greater world cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic and pledged to send an additional one billion doses of vaccine to other countries.
Speaking at the opening speech of a virtual gathering hosted by the World Economic Forum, Xi urged other powers to discard a “Cold War mentality” at a time of rising geopolitical tensions.
The comments come as tensions between the United States and China have simmered on dossiers as diverse as Taiwan, intellectual property, trade, human rights and the South China Sea.
Pfizer to boost pill production with French deal
Pfizer will add a production facility for its antiviral COVID pill in France as part of a plan to invest 520 million euros ($594m) in the country during the next five years, the US drugmaker has said.
The decision is part of Pfizer’s strategy to boost global production of the pill, Paxlovid, which was found to be nearly 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to clinical trial data.
The investment will initially involve the production of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) at a plant run by French pharmaceutical group Novasep, Pfizer said, noting that additional Novasep facilities will be added next year.
Indonesian officials make rare visit to Israel to discuss pandemic
A delegation of Indonesian officials recently made a rare visit to Israel to discuss coronavirus strategies, despite the countries not having diplomatic relations, Israel’s Army Radio has reported.
Indonesian health officials aimed “to learn how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic”, the report said. It did not specify when the visit took place.
Israel’s foreign ministry has not confirmed the report.
Uzbekistan reports record daily cases as Omicron spreads
Uzbekistan has reported 1,037 new COVID cases during the previous 24 hours, the highest number on record, after confirming the presence of Omicron this month.
Its Central Asian neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have also reported jumps in cases after detecting the new variant.
Paris attacks trial halted after suspect gets COVID
The trial over the deadly November 2015 terror attacks in Paris has been suspended after a second suspect tested positive for COVID, sources told AFP.
Ali El Haddad Asufi, accused of helping prepare the massacres that killed 130 people the Bataclan concert hall and several bars and restaurants in the French capital, began showing symptoms at hearings last Friday, presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries wrote to lawyers.
The key testimony of Salah Abdeslam, the only survivor among the 10 assailants, was also postponed after being scheduled to begin on Thursday.
France to require vaccine pass for tennis tournament
Novak Djokovic could be barred from playing in the French Open starting in May after the Ministry for Sport said there would be no exemption from France’s new vaccine pass law.
“The rule is simple. The vaccine pass will be imposed, as soon as the law is promulgated, in establishments that were already subject to the health pass,” the ministry said.
“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice.”
Djokovic, who has not been vaccinated against COVID, was deported from Australia on Sunday before the Grand Slam tournament after losing a court case to have the cancellation of his visa overturned.
Australian Open kicks off without men’s world number one
The Grand Slam season at the Australian Open kicked off without the men’s world number one and defending champion, Novak Djokovic, following the cancellation of his visa by Australian authorities on the basis of COVID vaccination requirements.
Approximately 50 people gathered for a peaceful rally outside the Melbourne Park complex in the shadows of Rod Laver Arena, protesting Djokovic’s deportation.
An Emirates plane carrying the tennis star from Australia landed in Dubai early on Monday. Djokovic was later seen on board a plane due to land in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, at 12:10 local time (11:10 GMT).
Malaysian Hindus mark festival under strict COVID curbs
Malaysian Hindus have begun marking the annual Thaipusam festival, which officially falls on Tuesday, with scaled-back celebrations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The sizeable minority celebrated its devotion to the deity Lord Murugan by heading to the Batu Caves temple complex, outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, and walking barefoot up 272 multicoloured steps carrying offerings such as milk pots.
Celebrations were muted compared with the years prior to the pandemic, with officials limiting the number of attendees to a few thousand to reduce the health risk.
India’s main cities record sharp fall in infections
India’s capital New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai have reported a big fall in COVID infections in the past two days, authorities have said.
New Delhi is expected to record fewer than 15,000 cases on Monday, for the first time since early January. In Mumbai, daily new infections fell below 10,000 on Sunday for the first time since early this month.
Both cities recorded low hospitalisation rates, with more than 80 percent of COVID hospital beds remaining unoccupied since the fast-transmitting Omicron variant led to a massive surge in cases at the start of the year.
Nepal starts giving boosters
Nepal has begun giving COVID vaccine booster shots as daily cases jumped by 4,961 on Sunday, the biggest 24-hour increase in more than six months.
“The booster shots will be given to those people who have completed six months after getting a second vaccine dose,” the government said in a statement.
Nepal has double-vaccinated 39.9 percent of its 30 million people, in a campaign that began early last year.
The government has also banned large public gatherings and closed schools and colleges until the end of January to curb the rate of infection.
Vaccine mandate for Manila commuters
People who are not fully vaccinated against COVID have been banned from riding public transport in the Philippine capital – a move that sparked protests from labour and human rights groups.
The Department of Transportation’s “no vax, no ride” policy, which will last at least to the end of January, is an offshoot of President Rodrigo Duterte’s warning that unvaccinated Filipinos who defy orders to stay at home to ease community infections could face arrest.
The Philippines’ vaccination campaign has been dogged by public hesitancy and delays, while the Omicron variant has fuelled a recent spike in infections.
France will no longer require proof of an essential reason for travellers from Britain and will lift a requirement to self-isolate upon arrival. Meanwhile, teachers launched a strike over the government’s “chaotic” virus strategy for schools and the Senate approved a controversial vaccine pass to access public places.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it will consider whether to extend a global public health emergency it declared over the coronavirus, which has been in place for nearly two years.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control is seeking to work with Pfizer to bring its treatment pill for COVID-19 to the continent, where less than 15 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Here are the latest updates:
Africa has passed 10 million COVID-19 cases: WHO
The African continent has exceeded 10 million confirmed COVID-19 cases as the world enters third year of the pandemic, according to UN health agency WHO.
Speaking at a virtual panel, WHO’s Regional Emergency Director Abdou Salam Gueye said “more than 230,000 people have sadly died” in Africa so far.
Death rates have risen by 64 percent during the past week “mainly due to infection among people at high risk” but fatalities and hospitalisations remain low compared to previous virus waves in the continent.
The continent has received more than 660 million doses of vaccines, with only about 340 million doses administered so far.
Tokyo’s new cases jump to 4-month high, forecast to triple
Tokyo has recorded a new four-month high in COVID-19 infections, and experts forecast the spread of the Omicron variant will cause the daily count to triple by month’s end.
Omicron now accounts for more than 80 percent of new infections in Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.
Japan’s capital had 3,124 new coronavirus cases, the most since September 1. The daily tally will likely exceed 10,000 by the end of January, according to projections announced at a municipal government meeting.
Hungary to offer fourth shot as Omicron cases spike
Hungary is to make a fourth shot available to people who ask for it, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a news conference.
“Anyone can get a fourth COVID-19 shot based on a consultation with a doctor, the (government) decree about this will be published this week,” Gulyas said.
The European Union’s drug regulator has expressed doubts about the need for a fourth dose and said there was no data to support this approach as it seeks more information on the fast-spreading variant. Chile and Israel have already begun a rollout.
More than 100 million vaccines rejected by poorer nations: UNICEF
Poorer nations last month rejected more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the global programme COVAX, mainly due to their rapid expiry date, a UNICEF official said.
“More than a 100 million have been rejected just in December alone,” Etleva Kadilli, director of Supply Division at UN agency UNICEF told lawmakers at the European Parliament.
Supplies have also because of insufficient storage facilities, Kadilli said, including a lack of fridges for vaccines.
Tunisia’s Ennahdha urges Friday protests despite COVID ban
Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahdha party has reiterated calls for demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the country’s revolution on Friday, defying tightened coronavirus restrictions which it says are politically motivated.
President Kais Saied, who suspended parliament in July 2021, announced new measures against mounting coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including a ban on public gatherings starting Thursday evening.
Ennahdha accused the government of “utilising the coronavirus crisis for political ends, targeting what remains of the margin of freedom” in Tunisia.
Final of 2022 Asian Champions League set to move to 2023
The 2022 Asian Champions League is set to be decided in 2023 with a big split in match schedules for the east and west regions, the Asian Football Confederation said.
The two reasons cited for the new plan, which would see the 2022 final played in February 2023, were travel challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and the unusual scheduling of the World Cup in Qatar during November and December.
Surge in Middle East cases likely driven by Omicron: WHO
A “shocking” surge in COVID-19 cases across the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean region is probably due to the Omicron variant, a WHO official said, warning that some countries in the group still have very low vaccination rates.
Reported cases in the region rose 89 percent in the first week of January from a week earlier but deaths fell by 13 percent, WHO regional director Ahmed Al-Mandhari said.
Out of 22 mostly Middle Eastern countries in the region, 15 have officially reported cases of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Mandhari said six countries in the region – Afghanistan, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – have vaccinated less than 10 percent of their populations despite having enough vaccines available to protect up to 40 percent.
S Africa still seeing serious COVID in unvaccinated
A South African pulmonologist said unvaccinated patients are still contracting severe COVID-19 disease, despite evidence suggesting the Omicron coronavirus causes milder symptoms.
“We are still seeing very serious infections and admissions in patients who are unvaccinated and also in patients who have comorbidities and this includes the elderly population,” pulmonologist Anita Graham told a news conference organised by the World Health Organization’s Africa office.
Finland cuts quarantine length to five days
Finland has cut the length of its COVID quarantine from 10 days to five for most cases, its public health authority said.
With the Omicron variant, “the progress of infection development has speeded up and therefore the quarantine length of ten days is no longer justifiable the way it was before,” public health authority THL’s chief physician Otto Helve told reporters.
Finland reported 53,600 new COVID cases over a week, up by more than 27 percent from the week before, but authorities said the numbers were no longer reliable due to lack of testing capacity.
Africa CDC talking to Pfizer about importing COVID pill
Africa’s top public health body is in talks with Pfizer about bringing its treatment pill for COVID-19 to the continent, its director said.
“We are in really close discussions with Pfizer to see what can be done to make the drugs available on the continent and accessible on the continent,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control.
UK’s Johnson cancels trip after lockdown apology
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cancelled a trip to northern England after a relative came down with COVID, officials said, a day after he apologised over a lockdown-breaking party.
“The prime minister will no longer be visiting Lancashire today due to a family member testing positive for coronavirus,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
“He will follow the guidance for vaccinated close contacts, including daily testing and limiting contact with others.”
In Britain, fully vaccinated people no longer have to self-isolate after coming into contact with an infected person. But they are advised to “limit close contact with other people outside your household”.
UAE’s Ajman warns of pay cuts for exposure to COVID twice
The emirate of Ajman has warned government employees that they will be penalised for coming into contact for a second time with anyone who has contracted COVID-19, UAE media have reported.
Federal employees in Ajman will not receive paid sick leave for quarantine if they come into close contact with infected people outside the workplace or home for a second time.
Ajman’s human resources department has issued a circular with a list of infractions that would lead to salary deductions, ranging from a one-day pay cut to a 10-day pay cut for repeat offenders.
The list includes failure to wear masks, being in crowded areas, shaking hands with others and going to the office after being in contact with someone who has contracted the coronavirus.
India’s big cities could see COVID cases peak next week
Indian cities could see new COVID-19 infections peak next week, experts said, as the country reported the highest number of daily cases since late May.
Total infections have reached 36.32 million, behind only the United States.
“Our modelling, and those of others, suggests that the big Indian cities should see their peaks in cases close to January 20, while the overall peak in India may be shifted a bit later, to early February,” said Gautam Menon, professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University.
South Korea to become first Asian country to use Pfizer pills
South Korea will become the first Asian country to treat coronavirus patients with Pfizer’s antiviral pills starting on Friday.
Some 630,000 Paxlovid pills, enough for 21,000 people, have arrived and will be distributed to 280 pharmacies and 90 residential treatment centres, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
“In light of Omicron’s much higher infectiousness, the medication should play a meaningful role in restraining the number of patients who would develop critical symptoms even if the strain is relatively less severe,” Kim Ki-nam, a KDCA official, told a briefing.
France slightly eases travel protocols for trips from UK
France has announced it was slightly easing COVID-19 protocols for travellers from Britain, saying that the proof of an essential reason for the trip and a requirement to self-isolate upon arrival would no longer be required.
The requirement for a negative COVID-19 test, conducted 24 hours before a trip, remains in place.
Preliminary data suggests booster generates higher antibodies
AstraZeneca said data from a trial it conducted on its COVID-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, showed it generated a higher antibody response against Omicron and other strains when given as a third booster dose.
The increased response was seen in people who were previously vaccinated with either Vaxzevria or an mRNA vaccine, the drugmaker said, adding that it would submit this data to regulators worldwide given the urgent need for boosters.
‘50,000 deaths a week is not something we can accept’: WHO
WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told Al Jazeera that attention on the spread of the new coronavirus variant must remain high, dismissing recent calls to debate the possibility of treating COVID-19 as an endemic illness akin to the flu.
“50,000 deaths a week is not something we can just accept,” Jasarevic said, adding that while the quarantine period can be reduced provided adequate testing, measures including wearing masks in public places must be upheld.
Jasarevic said more efforts must be made to reach the unvaccinated, especially in the 36 countries that have vaccinated less than 10 percent of their total population.
“We really need to close the gap in vaccination,” Jasarevic said.
French Senate approves COVID vaccine pass
France has approved new measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, including the requirement for residents to prove their vaccination status to access restaurants and bars, cultural venues, or interregional public transport.
The Senate backed the legislation for a COVID vaccine pass by 249 in favour, versus 63 against. The legislation had already been approved earlier this month by France’s lower house of parliament.
The proposal encountered some opposition among the public after President Emmanuel Macron told Le Parisien paper that he wanted to “p*** off” unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would get the COVID vaccine.
Djokovic included in Australian Open draw
Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one male tennis player, was included in the Australian Open official draw, despite ongoing uncertainty over whether he will be allowed to remain in the country.
He was drawn to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the tournament.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government had yet to decide on cancelling Djokovic’s visa.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s earlier statement that he is pondering whether to tear up the visa “has not changed”, Morrison told a news conference in Canberra.
A new laboratory study says cannabis compounds show the ability to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from entering human cells.
Researchers from the Oregon State University in the US said they found that a pair of cannabinoid acids – called cannabigerolic acid or CBGA and cannabidiolic acid or CBDA – can bind to the spike proteins on the SARS-CoV-2, blocking a critical step in the process the virus uses to infect people.
The study was published in the Journal of Natural Products.
US to increase support for COVID testing in schools
The White House says it will increase federal support for COVID-19 testing in schools in order to keep them open amid the Omicron surge.
Jeff Zientis, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests will be made available to schools starting this month.
The initiative comes after Chicago public schools closed for days amid an impasse between teachers and officials over reopening policies.
Australian Open draw delayed amid uncertainty over Djokovic
The Australian Open tennis draw has been postponed until further notice, organisers say, amid uncertainty about whether the government will cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time.
The draw was scheduled to start at 3pm local time (04:00 GMT) in Melbourne, but a tournament official told waiting media that the ceremony had been delayed indefinitely.
That’s because the Australian immigration minister was still considering whether to deport the nine-time and defending Australian Open champion, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, on public interest grounds.
Unvaccinated father in Canada temporarily loses visitation rights
A Canadian father, unvaccinated against COVID-19 and “opposed to health measures”, lost the right to visit his 12-year-old after a Quebec judge ruled his visits would not be in the child’s “best interest”.
The decision was rendered on December 23, the AFP news agency reported, and suspends the father’s visitation rights until February, unless he decides to get vaccinated.
Australia’s Victoria exempts more workers from quarantine rules
The Australian state of Victoria is exempting more workers from quarantine requirements for being close contacts.
The decision came amid pressure on supply chains and will apply to staff in emergency services, education, and transport.
Australia’s COVID cases hit record high
Australia is reporting its biggest caseload since the pandemic began, logging more than 147,000 new cases on Thursday.
A total of 53 new deaths were also reported, but the death rate during the Omicron wave is lower than prior outbreaks in Australia.
More than 92 percent of people over the age of 16 are double-dosed in the country.
Net new hospital admissions and people admitted to intensive care are at their highest in the pandemic but authorities say the health systems can cope with the rising cases.
Omicron will become dominant variant in Americas shortly, says PAHO
The Pan American Health Organization says it expects Omicron to become the predominant coronavirus variant in the Americas in the coming weeks.
“While Delta is still causing new infections in the Americas, based on current trends, Omicron is on track to become the dominant strain in our region,” said Carissa Etienne, director of the agency known by its initials, PAHO.
The Omicron variant, which spreads more easily, has been detected in 42 of the 56 countries and territories of the Americas.
WHO to discuss extending global health emergency
With the help of an independent committee of experts, the WHO will consider later today whether to extend a global public health emergency it declared over the coronavirus.
The current “public health emergency of international concern” has been in place for nearly two years now.
Whether the committee recommends declaring the coronavirus emergency over or not, there would be few practical consequences.
However, many experts are concerned that ending it could send the wrong signal as cases surge across the globe.
Australian Open crowds capped at 50 percent
Authorities say crowds at the Australian Open will be capped at 50 percent capacity as COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions continue to rise in Melbourne.
Jaala Pulford, Victoria State tourism minister, said in a statement that face masks will also be mandatory at the opening Grand Slam of the year, which starts on Monday.
Spectators will be required to socially distance while indoors, she added.
French teachers to strike over ‘chaotic’ COVID strategy
French teachers are set to walk off the job over what they say is the government’s failure to adopt a coherent policy for schools to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, or properly protect pupils and staff against infection.
“The exhaustion and exasperation of the entire educational community have reached an unprecedented level,” eleven unions said in a joint statement.
“The responsibility of the minister and the government in this chaotic situation is total because of incessant changes of footing, unworkable protocols and the lack of appropriate tools to guarantee (schools) can function properly.”
The strike comes as teachers, parents and school administrators struggle to keep up with new testing rules, announced before the end of Christmas holidays but changed twice since, following criticism.
Unions said they expected many schools to be closed on Thursday and very large numbers of teachers – including about 75 percent in primary schools – to join the one-day strike.
Dutch foreign minister has COVID-19
Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch foreign minister, says he has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be quarantining at home for the next few days.
He made the announcement on Twitter.
Hoekstra, who was only sworn in Monday, had been in Brussels on Tuesday where he met with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Joseph Borrel and Belgian foreign minister Sophie Wilmes.
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives.
(By contrast,Kary Mullis, awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on polymerase chain reaction or PCR method, which has become critical to coronavirus testing,was “an LSD-dropping, climate-change-denying, astrology-believing, board surfing, Nobel Prize-winning chemist,” reads his 2019 obituary, “who was both widely respected and equally criticized for his controversial views.” Upon learning he had won the Nobel Prize, Mullis exclaimed “I’ll take it!” He was also drunk.)
Dr Anthony Fauci, the US top infectious disease expert and President Biden’s chief medical adviser, says there is no room for complacency over the Omicron variant, despite growing evidence that it usually leads to milder symptoms than other strains of covid-19.
Speaking to CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Dr Fauci said: “There are certainly going to be a lot more cases, because this is a much more transmissible virus than Delta is, so quantitatively alone, even if you have a virus that looks in fact like it might be less severe […], the only difficulty is that we have so many, many cases that even if the rate of hospitalizations is lower with Omicron than it is with Delta, there’s still the danger that you’re going to have a surging of hospitalizations that might stress the healthcare system.”
He added: “You have a virus that might actually be less severe in its pathogenicity, but so many people are getting infected that the total amount of people that will require hospitalization might be up. So we can’t be complacent […]. We’re still going to get a lot of hospitalizations.”
More than 3,300 flights have been cancelled around the world – more than 1,900 of them in the United States – as countries report record cases of the coronavirus caused by the Omicron variant.
In Europe, thousands of people defy a ban on gatherings in Amsterdam for a demonstration against the Dutch government’s coronavirus lockdown measures. France says all unvaccinated travellers from the US will need to self-isolate for 10 days.
India reports more than 27,000 new COVID-19 infections – the highest daily count since October. Neighbouring Pakistan warns the country is entering its fifth coronavirus wave.
Here are the latest updates for Sunday:
Secondary students in England to wear masks: Minister
Secondary school students in England will be required to wear face masks when they return to classes after the Christmas holidays.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said Sunday the move was an attempt to “minimise disruption” in schools as the highly transmissible omicron variant drives coronavirus infections in the UK to record levels.
Similar guidance on masks for students ages 11 and above was already in place for schools in Scotland and Wales.
Fauci cites near ‘vertical’ rise in Covid, but sees hope
The United States is experiencing “almost a vertical increase” in Covid cases as the Omicron variant sweeps the country, but the peak may be only weeks away, top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci said.
“We are definitely in the middle of a very severe surge and uptick in cases,” Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week,” calling the soaring infection rate “really unprecedented.”
With the Omicron variant of the virus sweeping around the world, more than 440,000 new cases were reported in the US on Friday.
Fauci warns of hospitalisation surge due to large number of COVID cases
Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said there was still a danger of a surge in hospitalisation due to a large number of coronavirus cases even as early data suggests the Omicron COVID-19 variant is less severe.
“The only difficulty is that if you have so many many cases, even if the rate of hospitalisation is lower with Omicron than it is with Delta, there is still the danger that you will have a surging of hospitalisations that might stress the healthcare system,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN.
Pakistan faces fifth COVID wave: Minister
Pakistan is facing a fifth wave of coronavirus amid surging infections across the country, a senior official said.
Planning Minister Asad Umar, who also heads the country’s anti-virus strategy, said there is “clear evidence” that the fifth wave of the COVID-19 was starting and expected “for last few weeks”.
Clear evidence now of a beginning of another covid wave which has been expected for last few weeks. Genome sequencing showing rising proportion of omicron cases particularly in karachi. Remember : wearing a mask is your best protection
Bulgaria has detected its first 12 cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the Balkan country’s chief health inspector, Angel Kunchev, said.
“We have confirmed the new variant in samples from 12 people,” Kunchev told reporters.
Kunchev said the infected people, mainly from the capital Sofia, were experiencing mild symptoms and none was hospitalised.
Thousands protests lockdown rules in Amsterdam
Thousands of people defied a ban on gatherings to assemble on an Amsterdam square for a demonstration against the Dutch government’s coronavirus lockdown measures.
The municipality of the Dutch capital had outlawed the protest, saying police had indications some demonstrators could be attending “prepared for violence”.
India reports more than 27,000 cases
Infections in India rose sharply rising for a fifth consecutive day with 27,553 COVID cases in the last 24 hours.
The country’s largest cities, including Delhi and the financial capital Mumbai, have seen a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, including those of the Omicron variant, which has triggered a fresh wave of infections in other parts of the world.
Although the number of active cases in Delhi has tripled in just the last three days, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that hospitalisations had not gone up.
“This means that most people who are coming down with [COVID-19] are not requiring hospital care. They are mild cases,” Kejriwal said in an online briefing.
Thousands of flights cancelled amid virus surge
More than 3,300 flights were cancelled around the world, more than half of them were US flights, adding to the toll of holiday week travel disruptions due to adverse weather and the surge in coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron variant.
Including those delayed but not cancelled, more than 4,800 flights were delayed in total, according to a running tally on the tracking website FlightAware.com.
Heading towards COVID ‘storm’: Israel PM
Israel’s prime minister has warned the country will soon see tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases a day amid the spread of the Omicron virus.
Naftali Bennett said that despite rolling out more than 4.2 million coronavirus booster shots to the country’s population of 9.3 million since July, “the storm is coming to us these very days.”
Unvaccinated US travellers to self-isolate for 10 days: France
Unvaccinated individuals travelling from the US will have to self-isolate in France for 10 days under supervision from local authorities in line with new government restrictions that come into force on Sunday.
All passengers from the US have to provide a negative COVID-19 test – a PCR or an antigen test – no older than 48 hours in addition to proof of vaccination before boarding a flight to France.