Covid-19 news summary: 14 January 2022

AS USA

COMMENT

Omicron covid-19 variant headlines:

- At-home testing kits to be sent out to US households "soon" - VP Harris

- US government to purchase additional 500m at-home testing kits, taking total to 1bn - Biden

- Risk of catching Omicron abroad delays airline recovery

Omicron to hit US growth in early 2022

- US President Biden announces deployment of medical teams to support overwhelmed hospitals in six states

- Omicron "will find just about everybody", Dr Fauci says

- US hospitalizations for covid-19 at record levels

- Omicron variant accounts for over 60% of global covid-19 cases

- Quebec plans to impose 'health tax' on residents who refuse vaccine

General news and information

- Are the doses of the Moderna and Pfizer booster shots different?

- What side effects does the vaccine have on children?

- What is 'flurona' and what are the symptoms?

- Will swabbing your throat produce a more accurate result for a covid-19 rapid test?

- Is it normal to experience armpit pain after receiving the vaccine?

Key websites:

World Health Organisation

- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

- The Lancet

Further reading:

Students walkout over in-person teaching

Despite the spiralling case numbers caused by Omicron, the nation's schools have largely returned to in-person teaching this year as education boards look to get back to a form of normality. However this decision has not been popular with everyone and students in Boston and Chicago have staged walkouts in protest. 

SUPREME COURT

Why has the Supreme Court blocked Biden's vaccine mandate for businesses?

In a 6-3 vote against President Biden’s proposed vaccine mandate for businesses, Supreme Court Justices ruled that the mandate would have exceeded the Biden’s administration’s authority. The rule would have been applied to workplaces with at least 100 employees, and would have affected around 84 million workers.

Read more

Psaki: Vaccine hesitancy has been a major setback of the first year

When President Biden took office he set his sights on an ambitious vaccination effort which he hoped would see the vast majority of Americans vaccinated against covid-19 within the first year. However after a year in office his press secretary Jen Psaki stated that the reluctance of some to get the shot has been a surprise for the administration. 

CDC confirms N95 masks are the most safe

Mask-wearing has become a fact of life in some situations during the pandemic, althought health authorities have largely steered clear of recommending a specific type of mask until now. Today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the N95/KN95 variations offered the best protection for civilians and recommended their usage to help curb the spread of the more contagious Omicron variant. 

Omicron isolation hampers public services

Less than a month ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it was lowering the isolation period for positive covid-19 cases to just five days, a move partially in response to the huge numbers of people being forced to stay at home. However despite this effort it seems that workers' absenses are being felt in many industries, most recently the garbage and recycling collection services. 

COVID-19

What is Bill Gates' prediction on Covid after Omicron?

The Omicron variant has brought about a rapid increase in case numbers in recent weeks with the United States surpassing one million cases per day for the first time in the pandemic. The more contagious strain is thought to be better at evading vaccine immunity, but Bill Gates has suggested that the latest wave of infections could actually represent the start of a return to normality. 

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US students stage walkouts to protest in-person classes

Students in Boston and Chicago planned walkouts on Friday to pressure officials to switch to remote learning, as a surge in covid-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant disrupts schools around the United States.

An online petition started by a Boston high school senior saying schools are a "covid-19 breeding ground" and calling for a remote option had gathered more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday morning.

The Boston Student Advisory Council, which called for a citywide walkout on Friday morning, posted a series of demands on Twitter, including two weeks of remote learning and improved covid-19 testing for teachers and students.

Ash O'Brien, a 10th-grade student at Boston Latin School who left the building with about a dozen others on Friday, said he didn't feel safe staying in school.

"I live with two grandparents who are immune-compromised," he said. "So I don't want to go to school, risk getting sick and come home to them."

In Chicago, a group called the Radical Youth Alliance is calling on students to walk out on Friday afternoon and make their way to the public school district's main headquarters for a rally.

"We demand safety, and we demand care!" the group said on Twitter.

Students returned to Chicago schools on Wednesday after a week of canceled classes due to a standoff between teachers and the school district over covid protocols. The teachers union ended its walkout after striking a deal to strengthen safeguards.

netherlands

Netherlands to lift lockdown on Saturday

Coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands will be eased as of Saturday, despite a record number of infections due to the Omicron variant, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday.

Non-essential stores, hairdressers, beauty salons and other service providers will be allowed to reopen under strict conditions until 5 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) for the first time since mid-December.

Photo by Remko de Waal / ANP / AFP

Russia postpones second reading of draft law for Covid QR codes

Russia said on Friday it had postponed the second reading in parliament of a draft law that would require people to show QR codes demonstrating proof of immunity to covid-19 in order to visit certain public places.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said new challenges had arisen since the bill was initially prepared in response to the Delta strain of covid-19. Authorities are now bracing for an intense rise in cases due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said a serious increase in Omicron cases would grip the capital in the coming days, news agencies reported. The mayor's office said 729 cases of Omicron have been detected in Moscow, where it now accounts for over 40% of infections, Izvestia newspaper said.

Authorities have used QR codes, which citizens can receive if they have been vaccinated, recovered from covid-19 or have a negative PCR-test, to control access to various public settings but there is no unified approach across Russia's 80-plus regions.

Strong public opposition led the Russian parliament to shelve a draft bill last month that would have required people travelling by plane or train to present QR codes.

The bill whose progress was delayed on Friday would have prevented citizens from using a PCR-test to access a QR code from Feb. 1, effectively forcing people wishing to visit public settings like restaurants, theatres and museums to get vaccinated.

Omicron has 1/3 reduced risk of hospitalisation compared to Delta

There is a one third reduction in the risk of going into hospital associated with the Omicron variant of covid-19 compared with Delta, researchers at Imperial College London said in scientific advice published by the British government on Friday.

The reduction in risk from Omicron compared to Delta increased to two-thirds when looking at severe outcomes such as formal admission or death, the researchers said.

Super Bowl staying in California despite covid-19 surge, say NFL officials

NFL officials and Super Bowl LVI organisers claim the showpiece event will not be moved, despite a covid-19 surge in California.

Next month's Super Bowl will not be moved away from the Los Angeles area despite an increase in covid-19 cases across California, the NFL has insisted. 

The SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, home to both the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers, is set to host Super Bowl LVI on 13 February, 56 years after Los Angeles staged the first edition of the NFL's annual championship game.

A surge in covid-19 cases across the state, and the prospect of the introduction of further health measures in response, had fuelled speculation that the Super Bowl could be moved to the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium, which had reportedly been explored as a back-up site by the NFL.

However, at a media event held at the stadium exactly a month before the conclusion of the NFL season, both the NFL and the Super Bowl's organisers were quick to quell fears that such a move was in the offing.

"All of our plans for Super Bowl week remain fully in place for a month from today," said the NFL's senior director of event operations Katie Keenan.

"We're working along with everyone here, and with the L.A. County Health Department, to make sure all of our events are being held safely."

‘Menace to public health’: 270 doctors criticize Spotify over Joe Rogan’s podcast

A total of 270 US doctors, scientists, healthcare professionals and professors have written an open letter to streaming company Spotify, expressing concern about medical misinformation on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, listed as the platform’s most popular program.

Full story

Biden to boost test availability and send military to help hospitals

LA Times - As the Omicron variant swamps hospitals with new coronavirus cases, President Biden on Thursday said he would reinforce the country’s healthcare system and make more covid-19 tests available.

The announcement was a reflection that, despite hopes that the latest wave of the pandemic would be over soon, more resources are needed to help Americans cope with a virus that could be a persistent presence for the foreseeable future.

The military is sending 120 medical personnel to hospitals in six states, the first step in a potential surge of 1,000 service members to be deployed across the country.

Full story

Omicron to hit US growth in early 2022

The US economy will take an early hit this year from the omicron variant of coronavirus -- but the damage shouldn’t last beyond the first quarter, according to Bloomberg’s latest monthly survey of forecasters.

Full story

US government to send additional medical teams to six states

US President Joe Biden has announced that the federal government is to deploy six additional medical teams to support overwhelmed hospitals in six states.

The medical teams, comprising around 120 military personnel, will be sent to hospitals in Michigan, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island, Biden said in an update on the administration’s covid-19 response on Thursday.

Risk of catching Omicron abroad delays airline recovery

Before the Omicron variant of coronavirus burst onto the scene in November, retired Australian Glenn Turnley was looking forward to a three-week trip to Japan, Britain and France in March - his first overseas jaunt since the pandemic began.

Even though he is fully vaccinated and boosted, Turnley says the high transmissibility of Omicron means he is likely to cancel - even if Japan opens its borders to foreigners.

"I was worried less with Delta because the vaccines that were available, they seemed to be doing the trick," he said.

"I don't want to spend any part of a holiday in quarantine or anything like that anywhere, especially in a foreign country."

While the Omicron variant of the covid-19 infection is potentially less severe, for many airlines it is proving as disruptive as the Delta variant and has dampened the first quarter outlook.

Government to send out home testing kits "soon" - Harris

Vice-President Kamala Harris says the United States federal government is to start sending home covid-19 testing kits to all Americans who request one “soon”.

The Biden administration has pledged to make 500 million home testing kits available to households in the US.

“They’ve been ordered. They’ve been ordered,” Harris told NBC’s Today show on Thursday. “I have to look at the current information. I think it’s going to be by next week. But soon. Absolutely soon. And it is a matter of urgency for us.”

J&J booster 85% effective against Omicron hospitalisation

Reuters - A Johnson and Johnson covid-19 vaccine booster shot is 85% effective in protecting against being hospitalised by the Omicron variant for 1-2 months after it is received, the head of South Africa's Medical Research Council (SAMRC) said on Friday.

Coronavirus

Is armpit pain after the covid vaccine or booster shot a normal symptom?

Swollen lymph nodes causing a sore armpit after an mRNA covid-19 vaccine is a normal reaction and a sign the body’s immune system is working correctly.

Full details

Fauci

Omicron "will find just about everybody" - Fauci

President Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, says he expects the Omicron variant of covid-19 to “find just about everybody”, adding that the unvaccinated will “get the brunt” of the serious cases caused by the highly contagious strain.

“I think, in many respects, Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will, ultimately, find just about everybody,” Dr Fauci told a Q&A with the Center for Strategic and International Studies this week.

Omicron variant live updates: welcome

Good morning and welcome to our live blog for Friday 14 January 2022, covering the latest news on the spread of the Omicron variant of covid-19, with a particular focus on the situation in the United States.

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