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Covid news summary: 26 January 2022

Update:
FILE PHOTO: A nurse prepares a fourth dose of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as part of a trial in Israel, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel December 27, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

Covid-19 Omicron variant: live updates

Covid-19 Omicron variant headlines

- Scientists developing "pan-coronavirus" vaccine, Dr Fauci says

- US Labor Dept withdraws vaccine requirement for large employers

- Pfizer and BioNTech announce trial of Omicron-specific vaccine

Hong Kong may maintain covid isolation until 2024

15 new countries get ‘avoid travel’ warning due to covid-19

- Beijing city's covid infections rise ahead of Winter Olympics

Over 1m children diagnosed with covid-19 in single week, according to American Academy of Pediatrics

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:

How to claim your free at-home covid tests

Earlier this month President Biden pledged to send out at-home covid-19 testing kits to every American household in an effort to keep the nation out of lockdown measures despite the surge of Omicron cases. The free tests will be distributed with four for every home address, and can be claimed online or using a dedicated covid test hotline. Former President Barack Obama has the details here...

Data illustrates the effectiveness of vaccines and boosters

Data from the United States and Switzerland shows the importance of vaccinations to prevent hospitalisations and death over the difficult summer months. Cases of coronavirus have soared this winter, fueled by the more contagious Omicron variant. However while the super-transmissible can still infect people who have been vaccinated, that group are far less likely to suffer any serious side effects as a result. 

Omicon B.2 variant, otherwise known as the "stealth" variant found in Canda

How worried should people be about this new Omicron sub-variant? Dr. Bogoch, a Canadian doctor, breaks down what the scientists known so far.

CDC Director Walensky provides update on covid-19 situation in the US

The current seven-day daily average of cases is about 692,400 cases per day, a decrease of about 6 percent over the previous week.

The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 19,800 per day, a decrease of about 8 percent over the prior week.

And the seven-day average daily deaths are about 2,200 per day, which is an increase of about 21 percent over the previous week.

Rochelle Walensky , US CDC Director

CORONAVIRUS

What is the subvariant of Omicron known as the 'stealth' variant?

A new variant within Omicron, named Omicron BA.2, has been detected in over 40 countries. What makes it different from the original Omicron BA.1 strain is that it BA.2 lacks the mutation that makes it as easy to detect with PCR tests, according to the UK Health Security Agency. This makes tracking the infection much more difficult as it may not show up as Omicron on a test.

AS USA's Oli Povey has the full story

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 covid-19 vaccines - the two that use mRNA technology. Although it can be painful, it is usually entirely normal and generally does not require medical attention.

Read more

Anthony Fauci

Fauci: Scientists developing "pan-coronavirus" vaccine

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’ top infectious disease expert, says scientists are working to produce a vaccine that can protect humans against all or many types of coronavirus.

SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease covid-19, is just one of a number of coronaviruses to have affected humans in recent decades. Others include MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

However, Dr Fauci, who is President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the process of developing a “pan-coronavirus” vaccine will “take years”.

I don’t want anyone to think that pan-coronavirus vaccines are literally around the corner in a month or two,” Fauci told a media briefing on Wednesday. “It’s going to take years to develop in an incremental fashion. Some of these are already in phase-one clinical trials.”

(Photo: Shawn Thew/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo)

CORONAVIRUS

Does Omicron affect your lungs?

A number of studies into the dangerous variant have suggested that it attacks the human body in a different way to its predecessors.

AS USA's Will Gittins has the lowdown

Israel broadens eligibility for fourth vaccine dose

Israel on Wednesday broadened eligibility for a fourth dose of the covid-19 vaccine to include adults under 60 with underlying medical conditions, their caretakers, and others over 18 at significant risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

An official statement said the Health Ministry's director-general had approved the measures.

Earlier this month, as the Omicron variant swept the country, Israel began offering a fourth dose, meaning a second booster, of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to people over 60.

(Reuters)

Oklahoma's covid concerns

Covid-19 appears to be plateauing in the state, but Dr. Dale Bratzler says the disease's spread is high and still imparting a profound impact on Oklahomans — especially hospitals.

Oklahoma ranks worst in the US for rate of covid-19 hospital admissions, according to the latest federal data published Wednesday.

The state's rate of 30.1 covid admissions per 100 inpatient beds — meaning three of every 10 inpatient beds are in use by covid patients — is the highest yet of the pandemic.

Corey Jones reports.

Omicron: the kids are not alright

Until very recently, if there was one silver lining to the pandemic, it was that kids seemed to escape the worst of the virus. Very few became seriously ill or even mildly sick, compared with adults.

But now that hopeful aspect may be fading.

The number of children hospitalized with covid has skyrocketed in recent weeks as the Omicron variant fuelled a surge of infections, raising concerns that the latest version of the coronavirus may pose a greater threat to children.

Nationwide, an average of 881 children under age 17 are being admitted to hospitals with covid each day, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitalizations of children under the age of five, who are not eligible for the covid vaccine, have soared to levels two to four times that of previous peaks.

Marla Broadfoot reports

Eyeing an endemic

As Omicron and the other variants start to come under more control, could we soon officially be waving goodbye to the covid-19 pandemic?

Omicron lowers GDP projections

The International Monetary Fund has lowered its projections for global real GDP growth in 2022 to 4.4%.

This is down from the 4.9% it had projected in October 2021 and they have cited Omicron and inflation.

High school sports amid the omicron surge

High school athletics are feeling the impact of the omicron surge, from paused games to restricted fans, amid a winter season that coaches and administrators already anticipated would pose challenges for indoor, close-contact sports.

Amid record covid-19 cases in the US, schools are revisiting coronavirus protocols and guidelines to safely keep students playing in person. Teams have had to limit out-of-state travel due to transmission risks, or postpone in-league games due to cases. The Los Angeles school district, the second largest in the country, returned from winter break in person this week with a pause on all sports competitions due to surging cases.

US airlines

US screens fewest daily airport passengers since April 2021

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it screened just 1.06 million passengers at US airport checkpoints on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since April 2021.

Airlines reported a significant decline in bookings in December amid a rise in covid-19 cases sparked by the Omicron variant.

Last week, American Airlines said while ticket sales are still not back to pre-Omicron levels, they are recovering "quickly" after dropping off "considerably" in early December.

TSA screened 468,933 people on the same day in 2021 but 1.64 million on the day in January 2020.

Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

salzburg

Austria ends lockdown on unvaccinated

Austria's lockdown for people not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will end on Monday because the pressure on hospitals has eased, the government said on Wednesday.

New daily coronavirus infections are rising, driven by the extremely contagious Omicron variant. They hit a new record above 30,000 on Wednesday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told a news conference, adding that they would peak in the next two weeks at around 35,000 to 40,000.

The occupancy rate of hospital and intensive-care beds, however, has been falling.

"We came to the conclusion that the lockdown for unvaccinated people in Austria is only justifiable in the event of the threat of an imminent over-burdening of intensive-care capacity," Mueckstein told a news conference, adding experts no longer saw it as necessary.

Photo by REUTERS/Lukas Barth

Sweden sets new daily covid-19 case record

Sweden set a new daily record for covid-19 cases, registering 89,888 cases on Jan. 25, health agency data showed on Wednesday as a fourth wave of the virus mounted across the country.

The daily infection figures are typically revised somewhat as any delayed records of additional cases are added to the national total for a given day. The previous record of 87,446 cases was set on Jan. 20.

Sweden's government announced new restrictions this month as the more contagious omicron variant has spread rapidly, putting strain on the country's healthcare system.

CDC: 15 new countries get ‘avoid travel’ warning due to covid-19

Escaping the North American winter during the covid-19 pandemic just got a bit trickier, as the United States put five popular Caribbean destinations and one Central American favorite on its ‘Avoid Travel’ list.

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave 15 countries new Level 4 travel health notices, including the tropical islands of Jamaica, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin, Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic as well as the nature lover’s paradise of Costa Rica.

Full story

WORLD NEWS

Which countries have had no coronavirus cases?

Back in late 2019, little was known about a novel coronavirus that had been identified in Wuhan, China, but murmurs were that if it was to spread, it could become a national and potentially international problem. As we have tragically found out, it did, and changed the world that most of us inhabit. Two years down the line, and over 300 million confirmed cases later, some people are wondering whether any countries have actually managed to avoid being hit by the virus.

Read more

Pfizer starts clinical trials for vaccine designed to specifically target covid-19 omicron variant

Pfizer and BioNTech have begun a clinical trial for their Omicron-specific covid-19 vaccine candidate, they announced in a news release on Tuesday.

The study will evaluate the vaccine for safety, tolerability and the level of immune response, as both a primary series and a booster dose, in up to 1,420 healthy adults ages 18 to 55.

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.

The at-home rapid tests can tell you within minutes whether you have an active covid infection; the problem up to now has been finding one, with stocks short across much of the country. President Biden promised a $1 billion investment in home testing and on the federal website COVIDTests.gov you can request free coronavirus testing kits.

Read more

N95 distribution plan could imperil small US mask makers

The Hill - The Biden administration’s effort to distribute 400 million N95 masks for free dealt a blow to ailing American mask manufacturers that were just starting to see their sales recover during the recent omicron variant surge. 

Small US mask makers saw their N95 sales decline by around 70 to 80 percent following President Biden’s mask announcement, potentially putting their operations at risk unless the federal government swiftly purchases more respirators, according to the American Mask Manufacturer’s Association (AMMA), their trade group. 

Full story

Over 1m child cases of covid-19 in single week - American Academy of Pediatrics

More than one million children in the United States were diagnosed with covid-19 during the week ending 20 January, a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed on Tuesday.

Almost 1,151,000 new cases of covid-19 were reported among children during the seven-day period, the AAP said - a 17% increase on the 981,000 child cases reported in the previous week.

"As we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, cases of covid-19 among children and adolescents are the highest they have ever been. These numbers are staggering,” said AAP president Dr Moira Szilagyi.

Read the American Academy of Pediatrics' report

Coronavirus

Is the Omicron variant more dangerous for the unvaccinated?

Despite covid-19 remaining a "dangerous virus," the World Health Organization (WHO) says the Omicron variant is not as severe as previous iterations of the virus.

While this sounds like good news as the world enters the third year of the pandemic, other factors in the virus means we are not yet out of the woods, and with so much of the world unvaccinated, especially the continent of Africa, much still needs to be done before normal life can return.

Read more

Hong Kong may maintain Covic isolation until 2024

Reuters - Hong Kong may only reopen in early 2024 because of its stringent covid-19 policies, which could trigger an exodus of foreign firms and staff and jeopardise its role as a financial hub, the city's European Chamber of Commerce said in a draft report.

Japan infections top 60,000 for first time

Japan's daily count of new covid-19 infections surpassed 60,000 for the first time on Tuesday, broadcaster FNN said.

The government is poised to expand infection control measures to try to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

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.

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.

Hello and welcome to AS USA's dedicated covid-19 live feed on Wednesday 26 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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