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Covid news: Omicron symptoms, treatment shortages, quarantine, vaccines, flurona, Ihu strain... | 6 January

Update:
A medic prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a clinic of Clalit Healthcare Services in Israel's Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 3, 2022. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Coronavirus Omicron strain: latest news

JB

Brazil's Bolsonaro criticises vaccinating children

President Jair Bolsonaro criticized Brazil's health regulator Anvisa on Thursday for authorizing the vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 years against covidD-19, one day after his health minister unveiled plans to inoculate that age group.

Vaccine skeptic Bolsonaro said in a radio interview that he had not heard of children dying of COVID-19 and repeated that his daughter Laura, 11, would not be vaccinated.

Bolsonaro said vaccines could have side effects on children, but gave no evidence. Anvisa and health regulators around the world have found that covid-19 vaccines are safe from age 5 and up.

Canada signs deal to buy 20,000 more doses of GSK covid-19 drug

GlaxoSmithKline PLC said on Thursday it has signed agreements with the Canadian government to supply 20,000 more doses of its covid-19 drug, as the country battles a surge in infections driven by the Omicron variant. The new purchase agreement follows October's initial deal to supply 10,000 doses of the drug, sotrovimab, which included an option for Canada to buy more.

BJ

UK PM Johnson says covid-19 shots will stay voluntary

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that covid-19 vaccines would not be made mandatory even though anti-vax campaigners were dissuading people from taking up the shots. Johnson said he wanted to persuade those people hesitating about the vaccines to get them, but the task was made harder by people spreading misinformation.

vax

Omicron may be less severe in young and old, but not 'mild' - WHO

The more infectious Omicron variant of covid-19 appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorised as "mild", World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Thursday. Janet Diaz,

WHO lead on clinical management, said early studies showed there was a reduced risk of hospitalisation from the variant first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November compared with Delta.

Argentina breaks covid-19 case record as infections near 110,000

Argentina reported a record number of covid-19 cases on Thursday for a third day in a row at nearly 110,000, as the highly infectious Omicron variant drives a third pandemic wave in the South American nation.

The record tally of 109,608 in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere summer holiday season with tourist centers full of travelers, has not translated into a similar exponential rise in covid-related deaths, which totaled 40, the governnent said.

"We do not have a strong impact on intensive therapy units and less in terms of deaths," the chief of staff of the Ministry of Health, Sonia Tarragona, told local radio station Urbana Play. "The cases are mild or moderate and they are not putting stress on the health system."

COVID-19

Are hospitals in the US running out of covid-19 treatments?

Hospitals around the country are feeling the pressure of Omicron as treatments become scarce and staffing hits critical levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that currently almost 15,000 covid-19 patients are being hospitalized each day, an increase of more than 63 percent over the rate captured last week.

While Dr. Anthony Fauci has shared data from various countries and studies showing that Omicron typically leads to less severe infection, he has reiterated that though the risk of hospitalizations is lower, when coupled with a massive surge in cases, hospital systems could still be strained. Public health officials have been optimistic that the hospital system will be able to withstand the Omicron wave, but the New York Times is reporting that many hospitals are running out of treatments like monoclonal antibodies, and beginning to ration to patients with the highest need. 

Read more

Video: Has the Omicron variant peaked or is it gaining speed?

Dr. John Torres answers the question on everyone's lips. 

CORONAVIRUS

What is the new covid-19 IHU variant in France? Where else has it been discovered?

The spread of Omicron is continuing to cause problems for authorities in the United States and across the world, but in France another variant, named ‘IHU’, has been identified.

The new variant contains 46 new mutations on the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and is so far thought to have infected 12 people in southeast France. This variant, also known as B.1.640.2, is not yet known to be particularly contagious or dangerous but the high number of new mutations contained within the molecular structure is notable.

Authors of a medRxiv research paper into the IHU variant said "subsequent detection... of three mutations in the spike gene to screen for variants... did not correspond to the pattern of the Delta variant involved in almost all SARS-CoV-2 infections at that time".

Read more

covid-19 cases

Highest number of covid infections in a single day

El País - On Wednesday, there were 2.3 million cases of covid-19, the highest since the pandemic began, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The death toll, however, continues to fall, thanks to vaccines.

Since 27 December (1.4 million cases), the daily figure has increased every day. In the last week, there have been 9.6 million infections, almost double the previous peak of 5.7 million in April 2021.

Photo: Reuters

COVID-19

Should I swab my nose and throat for at-home Covid-19 tests or rapid tests?

Can swabbing your throat help to determine whether you have Covid-19 when taking a rapid test? Maite Knorr-Evans investigates what the medical experts are saying.

Read more about swabbing nose and throat for Covid-19 infection here:

Chile

Chile to become first country in South America to offer 4th Covid-19 jab

Chile will begin offering a fourth shot of the coronavirus vaccine next week to immunocompromised citizens, the government said on Thursday, the first country in South America and one of the first in the world to offer the extra dose.

"Starting next Monday, January 10, we are going to start a new mass vaccination process with a fourth dose or a second booster dose," Chile President Sebastián Piñera said in a press conference.

Chile has one of the world's highest vaccination rates and has been hailed as a model for its response to the pandemic, having administered two doses to over 85% of the population. About 57% have received a third booster shot, according to Our World in Data.

The vaccines used for the fourth dose will be a combination of the same shots that have been used so far in Chile, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and AstraZeneca, said Health Minister Enrique Paris. This combination of different vaccines between the first and fourth doses should allow 'an improvement in the immune response,' Paris explained.

Chile reported its first case of the Omicron variant at the beginning of December and has confirmed 698 cases of this variant have been reported, the vast majority corresponding to people who travelled outside the country.

Spanish Covid-19 vaccine aiming for Phase III trails

Hipra, the developers of Spain's Covid-19 vaccine are hoping to begin Phase III clinical trials of the drug by the end of the month if it receives the endorsement of the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS). Malaga University Hospital. 

Volunteers must have received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca, Janssen, Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. People who have already had Covid-19 can also take part in the study.

India Covid-19 cases rocket by 600% in 9 days

India reported 58,097 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday alone according to figures released by, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Covid-19 cases in India are surging with the daily positivity rate now at 4.18%. The country's active coronavirus caseload has jumped to 2,14,004 - a 600% rise during the past nine days.

1.3 million people in the UK suffering from 'long Covid'

An estimated 1.3 million people living in private households in the UK (2.0% of the population) were experiencing self-reported long Covid (symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus (Covid-19) infection that were not explained by something else) as of 6 December 2021, according to UK Coronavirus Infection Survey data.

Of those who reported long Covid, 270,000 (21%) first had (or suspected they had) Covid-19 less than 12 weeks previously; 892,000 people (70%) first had (or suspected they had) Covid-19 at least 12 weeks previously, and 506,000 (40%) first had (or suspected they had) Covid-19 at least one year previously.

The estimates relate to self-reported long Covid, as experienced by study participants who responded to a representative survey, rather than clinically diagnosed ongoing symptomatic Covid-19 or post-Covid-19 syndrome in the full population.

France averaging over 200,000 new coronavirus cases per day

France reported 261,481 new confirmed coronavirus infections on Thursday, less than the record of more than 332,000 on Wednesday, but the seven-day moving average of new cases rose well above 200,000 for the first time since the start of the epidemic.

jakarta

WHO chief: Omicron may be less severe, but not 'mild'

The more infectious Omicron variant of covid-19 appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorised as "mild", the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Speaking at a media briefing, director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also repeated his call for greater equity globally in the distribution of and access to vaccines.

Based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO's target for 70% of the world's population to be fully vaccinated by July, Tedros added. That aim is seen as helping end the acute phase of the pandemic.

Another variant - labelled as IHU and first registered in September 2021 - is among those being monitored by the WHO but is not circulating widely, said the WHO's technical lead on covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove.

There are two other categories of greater significance the WHO uses to track variants: "variant of concern", which includes Delta and Omicron, and "variant of interest".

Speaking at the same briefing from Geneva, WHO adviser Bruce Aylward said 36 nations had not even reached 10 percent vaccination cover. Among severe patients worldwide, 80 percent were unvaccinated, he added.

Photo by REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

israel

Israel to cancel high covid-risk designation of US

Israel is cancelling its designation of the United States and seven other countries as high covid-19 risks, the Health Ministry said on Thursday, as the fast-spreading but relatively low-morbidity Omicron variant prompts reviews of restrictions.

Moving fast after Omicron was first detected abroad, Israel in late November barred foreigners and expanded a list of "red" countries to which travel by its citizens was strictly limited, with greater latitude given for medium-risk "orange" countries.

The measure devastated winter tourism. It had come under public scrutiny as Israel, seeking to husband resources amid surges in new but mostly mild infections, earmarked PCR tests for vulnerable cohorts and loosened quarantine requirements.

On Thursday morning, the United States, Britain, United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Turkey, Tanzania, Mexico and Switzerland were on the "red" list. Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash said the list would be scrapped at midnight (2200 GMT), subject to approval by the Cabinet and a parliamentary panel.

Photo by REUTERS/Nir Elias

EU covid cases set new daily record

According to Bloomberg, coronavirus cases in the EU have passed the one million-mark for the first time in a 24-hour period since the start of the pandemic.

Ukraine offers booster shots to all adults

Ukraine is now offering booster doses of covid-19 vaccines to all adults as the Omicron variant is spreading and is likely to lead to a spike in coronavirus infections next month, Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said on Thursday.

Following several periods of strict restrictions, the average daily number of coronavirus cases in Ukraine fell in early January to about 4,000 from above 10,000 in early December.

"The medical system is preparing for another increase in the number of covid-19 cases in Ukraine," Lyashko said in a post on Facebook.

"We call on all Ukrainians to make a conscious choice in favour of vaccination against coronavirus disease and help us overcome the epidemic," he said, adding that all vaccinated citizens over 18 years old will be eligible for a booster shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna covid-19 vaccines.

Ukraine detected its first case of Omicron in December, saying that the infected person had recently returned from the United Arab Emirates.

macron

French parliament approves Macron's vaccine pass

France's parliament on Thursday approved President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a vaccine pass to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant after a tumultuous debate whipped up by Macron's comments that he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated.

Macron told Le Parisien newspaper earlier this week that he wanted to make the lives of those refusing the covid-19 vaccine so complicated by squeezing them out of public places that they would end up getting jabbed.

Macron's coarse language barely three months before a presidential election was widely seen as a politically calculated, tapping into a intensifying public frustration against the unvaccinated.

More than 90% of over-12s have received at least two doses, government data shows. Health Minister Olivier Veran said a record number of people since 1 October received a first shot on Wednesday after Macron's comments were published.

Lawmakers in the lower house passed draft legislation including the vaccine pass shortly after 5 a.m. after an all-night session by a margin of 214 to 93. Many of those who voted against the bill were from the far-right or left-wingers.

The legislation will go to the Senate before a final vote in the National Assembly.

Photo by Christophe Ena/Pool via REUTERS

Billionaire Richard Branson says recovering from 'mild' case of covid

British billionaire Richard Branson said on Thursday he was recovering from a "mild" case of coronavirus along with his wife and other family members after they tested positive for the Omicron variant.

"Friends & family, including myself and my wife Joan, recently caught omicron. Thanks to all being vaccinated and boosted, our symptoms have been mild," Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, said in a post on Twitter.

Stressing the importance of vaccinations, Branson urged all eligible individuals to get their booster shots. Omicron appears to be far more easily transmitted than previous strains of the virus, though the World Health Organization has said that the evidence so far suggests the variant is causing less severe illness.

Nets' Irving returns as leagues take softer stance toward unvaccinated athletes

Kyrie Irving, who had been barred from playing for the Brooklyn Nets this season after refusing to be vaccinated against covid-19, will suit up for the team late on Wednesday in what critics say is the latest example of sports leagues giving in to their unvaccinated star players.

The Nets said before the season that Irving could not play with the team until he was vaccinated, proof of which is required to attend games at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

The seven-time All-Star made his season debut in Indiana and will in essence be a part-time player for the championship contenders as he is unable to compete in home games due to NY State restrictions.

CDC

CDC recommends Pfizer's covid-19 booster for ages 12 to 15

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday it expanded the eligibility of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE's booster doses to those 12 to 15 years old.

The move came after a panel of outside experts advising the CDC voted earlier to recommend booster shots of the covid-19 vaccine be made available for ages 12 to 15.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted 13 to 1 to recommend that the U.S. health agency support booster shots for those aged 12 to 15 at least five months after their second dose.

The panel also said the CDC should strengthen its recommendation for boosters for ages 16 and 17. The agency had previously made the shots available to those teenagers, but had stopped short of suggesting that all of them should receive the additional jab.

base

US strengthens infection controls at military bases in Japan

U.S. military bases in Japan introduced stricter measures on Thursday to tackle an increase in covid-19 cases as the government expressed grave concern over the outbreak.

U.S. Forces Japan said it is "establishing more stringent mitigation measures in a further effort to prevent virus transmission." The measures include requiring U.S. military personnel to wear masks off base and for stricter testing mandates, it said in a press release.

Earlier, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi requested U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that U.S. service members be restricted from leaving base, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

Matsuno said the Japanese government was "gravely concerned" about covid in fections at U.S. bases. The southern prefecture of Okinawa, host to 70% of U.S. military facilities in Japan, leads the country in new infections and requested quasi-emergency measures from the central government on Thursday.

Australia PM outlines his position on Djokovic

"There are no special cases. The rules are the rules," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said today, explaining at a press conference in Canberra that travelers entering Australia are required to have the full covid-19 vaccination regimen or a medical exemption.

india

Omicron spreads in India's big cities but hospitalisations still low

Indian megacities Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are experiencing a surge in covid-19 cases, although without a corresponding rise in hospitalisations, but fears are growing about a spread to rural areas in coming days.

India reported 90,928 new daily covid-19 cases on Thursday, up nearly four-fold since the start of the year, mostly from cities where health officials say the Omicron variant has overtaken Delta. The bulk of those infected have shown no or only mild symptoms and have recovered quickly at home, officials said.

The federal health ministry on Wednesday identified Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru as some of the main regions of concern, although state officials worry the disease will soon spread to the countryside where health facilities are weaker.

Africa CDC says severe lockdowns no longer tool to contain covid-19

Africa's top public health official said on Thursday that he was encouraged by the way that South Africa had handled its latest covid-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant, adding that severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain the virus.

"We are very encouraged with what we saw in South Africa during this period where they look at the data in terms of severity," John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a news conference.

"The period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over. We should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way as the vaccination increases."

South Africa experienced a steep rise in covid-19 infections from late November, around the time it alerted the world to Omicron, with new infections peaking in mid-December at an all-time record.

Live updates on the Omicron covid-19 variant: welcome

Hello and welcome to our daily live blog for 6 January 2022, covering the latest developments in the spread of the Omicron covid-19 variant.

The highly contagious strain has led to surging case numbers - with new daily infections reaching one million in the United States on Monday - albeit it generally appears to cause milder symptoms than other variants of covid-19.

The rise in infections associated with the emergence of Omicron has also led to major disruption at airports around the globe, with the next challenge facing governments across the planet is the handling of classroom returns after the holiday period.

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