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Covid news summary: Omicron symptoms, treatment shortages... | 7 January

Update:
The highly contagious Omicron covid-19 strain has led to surging case numbers globally with the return to schools set to pose a challenge for administrations across the world.

Covid Omicron headlines:

- Supreme Court will hear arguements on Friday over Biden administration's vaccine mandates in a special session.

- Nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the US are reporting "critical" staffing shortages as Omicron takes hold.

- Hospitals begin to report shortages of critical covid-19 treatments.

- What are the experts saying about nasal versus throat swabbing with rapid tests?

- US doctors group calls out CDC for 'confusing' isolation guidance

- Test positivity rate reaches 22 percent in the US, well above the five percent advised by health experts

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

- Rate of pediatric hospitalization raises concerns as covid-19 spreads among children, many of whom are not vaccinated.

- CDC advisory panel in favor of Pfizer vaccine booster for ages 12 to 15

Useful information and links:

What's the incubation period for the Omicron variant?

- Can I found out which variant I have with a PCR test?

- What are the symptoms of Omicron in children?

For domestic and international public health information:

- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

- The World Health Organization

- The Lancet

Read our latest stories on covid-19:

Brazil

Brazil reports rise in new covid-19 infections as Omicron variant spreads

Brazil has had 63,292 new cases of the coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 181 deaths from covid-19, the health ministry said on Friday.

That is the highest number of daily infections since July last year. Health experts say the Omicron variant is spreading in the South American country.

Brazil has now registered 22,450,222 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 619,822, according to ministry data. Brazil's covid 19 death toll trails only the United States and Russia, according to Reuters calculations.

New York will require health care workers to get a booster

New York is joining a handful of states in requiring health care workers to get a covid-19 booster shot.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday that she was expanding on a vaccine mandate she instituted last fall requiring health care workers to get vaccinated because too many breakthrough infections were being reported among health care workers.

“Staff is getting sick. They’re leaving. We need them to get well,” Hochul said at a news conference. “We need them to have the best fortification they possibly can and that means getting a booster shot as well.”

Read the full story

The best and most accurate way to use rapid antigen tests

NPR - Testing has become more important than ever as people try to get their lives back to normal. But what's the best way to get tested, which tests are best, and are rapid antigen tests even accurate?

Full story

Coronavirus US

Are pediatric hospitalizations from covid increasing in the US?

Pediatricians are reporting that there has been a large increase in hospitalizations for children with covid-19, with New York reporting that numbers are up 80 percent in the last month. Nationwide, more than 700 children were in hospital with covid-19 related problems in the last week, 90 percent with evidence of Omicron infection.

The increase has been driven by the Omicron variant which is sweeping the US, leading to a record number of infections.

This high number of cases is putting everyone at risk, including children who are less likely to become seriously ill from covid-19. 

Read more

booster

UK says booster shots still protecting older people against Omicron

Booster jabs are continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease from the Omicron coronavirus variant among older adults and there is no need for now for people to have a fourth shot, British health officials said on Friday.

Around three months after receiving a third jab, protection against hospitalisation among those aged 65 and over remained at about 90%, the UK Health Security Agency said.

"The data is highly encouraging and emphasises the value of a booster jab," Wei Shen Lim, chair for COVID-19 immunisation on the government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said in a statement.

"The current data show the booster dose is continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease, even for the most vulnerable older age groups," he said. "For this reason, the committee has concluded there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose, though this will continue to be reviewed."

KH

Cautious optimism from New York Governor Kathy Hochul

New York Governor Kathy Hochul and the head of one of the largest U.S. hospitals both said they were cautiously optimistic that cases and hospitalizations would soon plateau in the state.

"We think with our modeling that the peak will happen next week," said Steven Corwin, chief executive of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, during Hochul's daily briefing.

Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont and Washington, D.C., all reported record levels of hospitalized covid patients in recent days, according to the Reuters analysis.

hospital

Omicron pushes U.S. covid hospitalizations toward record high

Covid-19 hospitalizations in the United States are poised to hit a new high as early as Friday, according to a Reuters tally, surpassing the record set in January of last year as the highly contagious Omicron variant fuels a surge in infections.

Hospitalizations have increased steadily since late December as Omicron quickly overtook Delta as the dominant coronavirus variant in the United States, although experts say Omicron will likely prove less deadly than prior iterations.

While potentially less severe, health officials have warned that the sheer number of infections caused by Omicron could strain hospital systems, some of which have already shown signs of distress, partly due to staffing shortages.

"I don't believe we've seen the peak yet here in the United States," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky told NBC News' "Today" program on Friday, as schools and businesses also struggle with rising caseloads.

dining

Germany tightens dining rules due to Omicron, loosens quarantine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and regional leaders tightened the rules for restaurant and bar visits but shortened covid-19 quarantine periods on Friday in response to the Omicron variant.

Scholz added that all 16 state leaders supported the implementation of a general vaccination mandate and that the Bundestag lower house of parliament would discuss drafts of it soon.

Under new measures decided on Friday, people in Germany who have received a booster shot will not have to isolate after being in contact with someone who was infected with the coronavirus.

They also are exempt from stricter rules on dining requiring a negative test result in addition to proof of vaccination or recovery to enter a restaurant or bar, as part of an effort to encourage more people to get a booster shot.

Scholz said it would help control infections "better than we do now".

Solicitor Generals seeking to block covid-19 vaccine mandates will do so virtually

The Supreme Court was due to resume hearing cases 10 January but decided to return from holiday early to hear arguements over the Biden administrations vaccine mandates today. While the lawyers defending the White House's position will make their arguements in person, the two Solicitor Generals seeking to block the covid-19 vaccine mandates will present their arguements virtually. 

According to his office Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers, who had been vaccinated and had a booster shot, tested positive for covid-19 after Christmas. The office of Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill would not elborate merely saying that she would be arguing remotely "in accordance with COVID protocols."

Could Omicron help bring an end to the covid-19 pandemic?

The Omicron variant is the fastest spreading variant yet of covid-19 causing a surge of new infections around the world. Although initial data show that infections tend to be less severe and lower rates of hospitalization, it has proven fatal and the elevated number of sick are putting pressure on healthcare systems.

In all the doom and gloom there may be a ray of light. Health officials in Denmark, one of the most affected countries where around one in every 60 Danes is currently infected, think Omicron may help bring an end to the pandemic. Through the sheer number of people getting infected the variant may provide a kind of herd immunity that will protect against potential future strains that could be more deadly. 

Omicron presenting symptoms that differ from previous variants

As more data is collected on the Omicron variant driving surging infections around the globe, doctors in South Africa have noticed five new symptoms associated with the Omicron strain. They include a scratchy throat, mild muscle aches, extreme tiredness, a dry cough and night sweats.

When will Omicron surge tapper off?

As the seven-day average number of new cases continues to rise in the US, up 98 percent, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was asked when the Omicron wave will begin to tapper off. "I don't believe we've seen the peak yet," Walensky said. However, she pointed out that hospitals now are full of people who are unvaccinated. 

Compared to those who have received a booster shot, the unvaccinated are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized and 20 times more likely to die. Walensky said that 99 percent of counties around the US are experiencing high transmission rates.

Omicron surge forces hospitals to postpone elective surgeries

Hospitals across the US are being swamped by increased numbers of patients infected with covid-19 needing treatment. Hospital systems in almost half of the US have announced that they will delay elective surgeries to free up beds for those in need of more critical care. The problem has been compounded by staffing shortages due to illness or exposure to the virus.

Faced with staffing shortages UK Armed Forces send 200 more personnel to assist NHS

Hospitals in London have experienced a crush of new patients over the last month increasing nearly four fold. At the same time NHS hospitals have seen thousands of staff kept home either sick or isolating as the Omicron variant spreads with nearly one in eight hospitals worried they might not be able to provide core priority services.

The UK Armed Forces have already deployed 1,800 service members across the nation to assist beleagured hospitals. The Ministry of Defence announced that an additional 200 armed forces personnel will be sent to hospitals in London over the next three weeks.

Supreme Court returns early to hear arguements on Biden vaccine mandates

The Supreme Court, which wasn't due to return until 10 January, will hear arguements on Friday on whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the authority to implement the Biden administration's vaccine requirements for businesses. In a separate session they will hear challenges to a federal rule requiring vaccinations for healthcare workers who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients.

States and businesses have sued that OSHA doesn't have the legal power to require businesses with 100 or more employees ensure that their employees be vaccinated or that unvaccinated workers wear masks and show negative covid-19 test results at least once a week.

The federal mandate for healthcare workers has been blocked in 24 states by two federal appeals courts.

Australia sees covid-19 infections skyrocket

Australia has maintained some of the strictest covid-19 restrictions in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. However, with the onset of the Omicron variant the nation has seen its case numbers soar now overtaking the US.

Nadal speaks about Djokovic's explusion from Australia for not being vaccinated

Novak Djokovic, the world’s No 1-ranked men’s tennis player, was ordered to leave Australia on Thursday for not being vaccinated against covid-19. He had traveled to Australia to defend his Australian Open singles championship after he was given a special last-minute exemption to the country's requirement that all people entering Australia be vaccinated or quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

However, upon review of the validity of his visa and questions about the evidence supporting a medical exemption from a coronavirus vaccine officials decided that he had to leave the country. His team is challenging the order and Djokovic has been given permission to remain until at least Monday awaiting a decision from the court.

One of his competitors in the upcoming Australian Open, Rafael Nadal, gave his opinion on saying "of course I don't like the situation that is happening... But at the same time he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago."

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

Omicron variant producing "croup" cough in young children

Doctors have been noticing with the spread of the Omicron variant that children under the age of five that test positive for covid-19 have a "croup-like" cough. Although the sound of the cough, like that of a dog or a seal, can be scary for parents it is generally not harmful. 

Croup is the result of a virus inflamming the airways which are narrower in little kids causing the distintive sound. For children infrected with the highly transmissible Omicron variant of covid-19, it appears that it settles higher in the respitory system producing the harsh, barking cough.

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.

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:

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

Live updates on the Omicron covid-19 variant: welcome

Hello and welcome to our daily live blog for 7 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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