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Omicron variant: news summary for Monday 24 January

Update:
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 20: A nurse prepares syringes with the Pfizer coronavirus booster vaccination on January 20, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo Metropolitan Government recorded 8,638 new Covid-19 infections today, the highest ever for the city. However, t

Covid-19 Omicron variant headlines

Moderna vaccine gives longer immunity than Pfizer's

- World at 'critical juncture' in covid pandemic, says WHO chief

- Pfizer CEO points to annual covid vaccine shots

- mRNA covid-19 booster shots reduce hospitalisation, shows CDC study

Vaccine mandate: Sen Cruz and others introduce resolution to stop it

- CDC adds 15 countries to list of very high-risk travel destinations

General news and information

- Free at-home tests can be ordered on US government website covidtests.gov 

- Americans can also request free covid-19 tests on hotline 1-800-232-0233

- How long should you wait after an infection with Omicron before getting a covid-19 booster vaccine?

- Experts suggest there may be an increased risk of long covid from the Omicron variant

Supreme Court rules against vaccine mandates for workplaces with over 100 employees

- Why do I have armpit pain after receiving the covid-19 vaccine?

Key websites:

-  World Health Organisation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Lancet

Further covid-related reading:

40% of US population up to date on covid-19 vaccination - CNN

According to a CNN analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data on vaccinations in the US, around 40% of the country’s population can be considered “up to date” on vaccination against covid-19.

CNN offers the following explanation of “up to date”, provided by the US’ top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, in an interview with the media outlet last week: “If I was not vaccinated at all and I got vaccinated tomorrow, two weeks to a month from now, I would be at my optimal degree of protection, and that would be ‘fully vaccinated'. However, five months later, if I wanted to be up to date, to be optimally vaccinated, I’d want to get the booster.”

Those who are up to date therefore include: people who have had their full initial vaccine dose plus a booster; people who have had the first of two initial vaccine doses and aren’t eligible for their second dose yet; people aged 12 and over who have had their full initial vaccine dose but aren’t yet eligible for a booster; children aged five to 11 who have had their full initial dose but can’t be boosted as this hasn’t been authorised for their age group.

These groups add up to a total of 130 million people, CNN says, per CDC data.

Covid-19 patient whose wife sued hospital to keep him on ventilator dies

A Minnesota man whose wife gained a court injection to prevent a hospital from removing him from a ventilator as he was treated for covid-19 has died aged 55, his family has told the Washingon Post.

Earlier in January, Scott Quiner’s wife, Anne, had gained an injunction from a judge that ordered staff at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids to halt plans to take Quiner off his ventilator, after he had spent two months in the ICU.

Quiner, who was reportedly not vaccinated, contracted covid-19 at the end of October. As his case gained media attention, a page was set up on the donations website GoFundMe, and had accrued just under $40,000 at the time of writing.

Following this month’s court ruling, he had been treated at a Houston hospital.

COVID-19

Covid test kits: How many kits are being offered per household?

The Biden administration rolled out its test request website last week - and it has been met with sharp criticism for the limits on tests and issues with data verification.

AS USA's Maite Knorr-Evans has the full story

Germany extends covid-19 curbs

Germany on Monday extended its current pandemic measures as the experts panel appointed by the government has warned the fast spreading Omicron coronavirus variant could bring critical infrastructure in Europe's biggest economy to a breaking point.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he had agreed with the heads of the federal states to extend restrictions such as limiting private gatherings to 10 ten people and requiring proof of booster vaccination or a negative test at restaurants.

"Now it's time to stay on course," said Scholz after a meeting on Monday.

The government will reconsider relaxing or tightening the measures in case of a very steep rise or decline in infection numbers, Scholz added.

Germany on Monday reported 63,393 new covid-19 cases, an 86% jump from a week ago, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases.

(Reuters)

CDC adds more countries to its 'very high'-risk list

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has added 15 more countries to its level-four list of ‘very high’-risk travel destinations.

Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Kuwait, Mongolia, Niger, Peru, Romania, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates are the latest nations to be included on the list, which now has 115 countries on it.

The CDC considers a country as very high-risk if it has an incidence rate of over 500 cases per 100,000 people in the previous 28 days.

In its guidance, the CDC says of level-four countries: “Avoid travel to these destinations. If you must travel to these destinations, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel.”

Coronavirus

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

Armpit pain is a recognised side effect of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech covid vaccines - the ones that use mRNA (messenger RNA) technology. While it can be painful it is usually entirely normal and generally does not require medical intervention.

AS USA's David Nelson has the full lowdown

China testing site queue

People queue up at a mass testing site in Beijing, China, on Monday. While China has mostly contained the spread of covid-19 during the pandemic, and even though cases remain relatively low, recent outbreaks of the virus, including the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant, have prompted the government to lock down people in various major cities and to reinforce stricter health measures.

Mask mandates, mass testing, immunization boosters, quarantines, some travel restrictions and bans, and lockdowns have become the norm as China continues to maintain its zero-covid policy. China's capital city has been put on high alert as it prepares to host the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which open on 4 February.

(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Nearly nine in ten US restaurants have lost business due to Omicron

A new survey has found that nearly 90% of restaurants in the United States have experienced a recent drop in business due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

According to research carried out by the National Restaurant Association, 88% of restaurants in the US have suffered a reduction in demand for indoor on-premise dining in the wake of the emergence of the highly contagious strain of covid-19.

The survey was conducted among 4,200 restaurant owners between 6 and 18 January.

In a letter to congressional leaders on Monday, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice-president for public affairs, Sean Kennedy, called for renewed financial support for the industry, saying it has reached an "inflection point".

“The new data show that restaurant recovery is paralyzed and nowhere near complete,” Kennedy said. “The restaurant industry is at an inflection point, and we need your leadership now more than ever. Congress must act now, to replenish the RRF [Restaurant Revitalization Fund] in the upcoming legislative package to fund the government.”

CORONAVIRUS

Does Omicron affect your lungs?

A number of academic studies into the highly contagious Omicron variant of covid-19 have suggested that it attacks the human body in a different way to its predecessors.

Read more

vaccine

Mixed covid vaccine schedules offer stronger boost after Sinovac regimen

Giving covid-19 vaccines from either AstraZeneca-Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson as a booster after two doses of the COVID-19 inactivated-virus vaccine from Sinovac, leads to significantly higher antibodies, a study has found.

The best response was seen when an RNA vaccine was given as a booster after the standard schedule of Sinovac's CoronaVac, researchers from Oxford University said on Monday, adding that the responses were seen against the Delta and Omicron coronavirus variants too.

Japan set to widen covid-19 curbs over most of the country amid Omicron surge

Japan on Monday prepared to double the number of regions enacting shortened operating hours for restaurants and other infection curbs to contain a record surge in covid-19 cases.

The central government has received requests for the so-called quasi-emergency measures from another 18 prefectures, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

The measures allow regional governors to order curbs on mobility and business, such as making restaurants and bars close early and restricting alcohol sales.

Japan has declared various levels of emergency multiple times during the two-year pandemic. A full state of emergency might involve closures of venues serving alcohol, attendance restrictions at sporting and cultural events and fines for non-compliant businesses.

Japan recorded more than 54,000 new infections on Saturday, the highest ever, driven by the infectious Omicron variant.

The northern island Hokkaido and the western prefecture of Osaka are among those asking for the curbs. The government will decide on the expansion swiftly, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said earlier.

UK to drop covid test demand for vaccinated travellers from 11 Feb.

Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Britain will no longer have to take a covid-19 test, transport minister Grant Shapps said on Monday, as the government sets out plans to move beyond restrictions and live with the virus.

Currently, vaccinated people arriving in Britain are required to take a lateral flow test within 2 days of arriving.

At times, the government has previously also required all passengers to take tests before departing for Britain. "We promised we wouldn't keep these measures in place a day longer than necessary and it is obvious to me now that border testing for vaccinated travellers has outlived its usefulness," Shapps told parliament.

From 0400 GMT on Feb. 11, fully vaccinated inbound passengers will only have to verify their status on a passenger locator form, he said. For now, fully vaccinated will not include a requirement to have had a booster jab. Under 18s are treated as fully vaccinated passengers.

WHO head says 'dangerous' to assume pandemic is nearing end

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday it would be dangerous to assume that the highly transmissable Omicron was the last variant to emerge and that the world was in the 'end game' of the pandemic.

However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was possible this year to exit the acute phase of the pandemic where covid-19 constitutes a global health emergency if strategies and tools such as testing and vaccines are used in a comprehensive way.

Speaking at the opening of Executive Board meeting, Tedros said since Omicron was first identified a little over nine weeks ago, more than 80 million cases had been reported to the U.N. agency, more than were reported in the whole of 2020.

"Conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge," he added.

pill

UK to begin testing Merck's covid pill for hospitalised patients

British scientists will begin testing Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics' antiviral pill molnupiravir as a possible treatment for patients hospitalised with covid-19, amid the worldwide spread of the Omicron variant.

The pill is approved in Britain for use in people with mild to moderate covid-19, but it is not known whether it would work in patients hospitalised with severe illness, researchers of the RECOVERY trial said on Monday.

The study will compare 800 mg doses of molnupiravir, given twice daily for five days, with standard care for adult patients in hospitals because of covid-19.

In 2020, the same scientists conducting the large trial showed that dexamethasone was able to save the lives of covid patients in what was called a "major breakthrough" in the coronavirus pandemic.

Zagreb

Croatia's conservative party initiates COVID certificate referendum

Croatia's conservative Most party handed 82 boxes of papers in to parliament on Monday carrying the signatures of 410,533 people calling on the government to hold a referendum on whether to abolish Covid-19 certificates.

The government must check the signatures, and if they are found to be valid, the date for a referendum can be set. Croatia has one of the European Union's lowest vaccination rates, with around 55% of its population inoculated against Covid-19, ahead of only Bulgaria, Romania and Latvia. The EU's newest member state reported 1,823 new coronavirus cases on Monday, a significant drop from the 16,017 reported last Tuesday.

Most MP Nino Raspundic said the initiative came about after a study showed that even people who are fully vaccinated can pass on the virus. "This study proved certificates are useless and that testing is the only way to ensure that there will be no infections in hospitals or homes for the elderly, for example," he told reporters. "Even countries that have introduced Covid-19 certificates earlier than Croatia have rising number of cases."

Croatia introduced Covid-19 certificates last year, but unlike their EU peers not for restaurants and cafes. The certificates are needed to enter public buildings including courts, various ministries and parliament.

Germany overtakes US as top donor as WHO chief urges funding reform

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that Germany had become its largest donor, supplanting Washington, and called for broad changes to reform its funding model.

The United States is resisting a financing proposal that would make the UN health body more independent, raising doubts about the Biden administration's long-term support for the agency. The announcement, confirmed by WHO data, came as the WHO's executive board begins a week-long meeting to discuss its funding and management.

"As you all know, Germany has been an important friend and longstanding partner to WHO and in fact it is now WHO's largest donor," said director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking alongside German Development Minister Svenja Schulze.

Germany is this year's president of the Group of Seven major economies, and Schulze said its top priority was to end the Covid-19 pandemic. Tedros praised Germany's commitment to vaccine sharing as well as its "visionary approach, which is rooted in partnership, solidarity and multilateralism".

WHO data up to the end of November 2021 showed Germany topping the table of member states' combined mandatory and voluntary contributions for 2020-2021, followed by the United States and Britain. Washington remains the top contributor of mandatory funds. In a speech to the board, Tedros called for a 'paradigm change' in WHO funding. 'Let me put it plainly: if the current funding model continues, WHO is being set up to fail,' he said.

CORONAVIRUS

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine has edge over Pfizer's - study

Many people believe that the covid-19 vaccines independently developed by Pfizer and Moderna, both of which use mRNA messenger technology to help the immune system identify and respond to the coronavirus, are one and the same. But differences exist between the two. Comparative, controlled studies conducted in Qatar involving a sample of 384,246 people showed that the Moderna shot gives protection for a greater length of time than the Pfizer vaccine.

Read more

Pandemic entering "new phase"

New York Times - The pandemic is entering a "new phase". The rapid spread of the Omicron variant offers "plausible hope" for a return to normalcy in the months ahead, according to the WHO.

Covid

What do covid rapid home tests measure and what does a faint line mean?

John Hopkins University covid tracker is currently reporting over 18 million new covid cases in the past 28 days, as the US suffers under the wave of the highly infections omicron variant. Given the current levels of infection more and more Americans are turning to rapid home tests to self-test and confirm their covid status.

Read more

Pfizer CEO sees annual covid-19 vaccine rather than frequent boosters

Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on Saturday that an annual covid-19 vaccine would be preferable to more frequent booster shots in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 80 million covid-19 cases reported in 9 weeks

Covid infected asked to keep working in hospitals

Hospitals are increasingly asking staff who have the coronavirus to work while potentially infectious, underscoring how the hyper-transmissible omicron variant has sidelined employees, overwhelmed resources and upended nearly two years of strict protocols.

Though vaccine requirements are common at hospitals, many health care workers are coming down with the virus, exacerbating staffing issues.

Read more

US opposes plans to strengthen World Health Organization

The United States, the World Health Organization's top donor, is resisting proposals to make the agency more independent, four officials involved in the talks said, raising doubts about the Biden administration's long-term support for the UN agency. The proposal, made by the WHO's working group on sustainable financing, would increase each member state's standing annual contribution, according to a WHO document published online and dated 4 January.

WHO chief says world at 'critical juncture' in Covid pandemic

The head of the World Health Organization on Monday urged countries to work together to bring the acute phase of the pandemic to an end, saying that they now have all the tools available to do so.

Hello and welcome to AS USA's dedicated covid-19 live feed on Monday 24 January 2022, as we bring you all the latest on the Omicron variant and the coronavirus situation in the United States and around the world.

We'll keep you up to date on vaccines, mandates, testing and mask-wearing as President Biden hopes the country can turn a corner after recording record-high infection rates in recent weeks.

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