Covid-19 has infected more than 382M people and killed over 5.7M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

New coronavirus infections have started to level off or decline in the places first hit by the variant.
New coronavirus infections have started to level off or decline in the places first hit by the variant. (Reuters)

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Omicron infections slowing where variant first hit

Covid-19 infections and deaths in the Americas are still increasing, but the rise in infections seems to be slowing down in places hit earliest by the Omicron variant, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Most of the 7 million new cases reported in the past week were in North America, some 4 million new infections, while Chile and Brazil posted record numbers of daily cases. Deaths have more than doubled in Cuba, the Bahamas and Antigua and Barbuda, the regional health agency said.

PAHO said 63 percent of people across Latin America and the Caribbean have now been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and the region has some of the highest Covid-19 vaccination coverage in the world. But it remains the most unequal region in the world, with uneven coverage between countries.

Germany reports new record daily Covid-19 cases

Germany reported 208,498 new Covid-19 cases, its highest-ever daily rise since the pandemic started.

According to the country’s disease control agency, the highly infectious Omicron variant has been the main reason behind the surge, and it accounts for nearly 95 percent of the new infections.

The Robert Koch Institute said it estimates that 2,278,900 people are currently sick with Covid-19, which is also an all-time high for the country.

Tonga enters lockdown 

Tonga has entered a lockdown after five Covid-19 cases were recorded in the capital Nuku’alofa over the past 48 hours.

This is the first time that Tonga has imposed a lockdown as the South Pacific island nation previously managed to stay virus-free until last October when it reported only one case.

The lockdown began at 6:00 pm local time, days after the island nation began receiving aid in the wake of a deadly volcanic eruption that also triggered huge tsunami waves.

Finland to lift Covid restrictions

Crowd limits at cultural and sports events will be lifted in Finland from February 14, the prime minister said, with most remaining coronavirus controls to end on March 1.

The government will issue advice to local authorities "to make events, culture and sports possible in all their forms", from February 14, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said after cabinet discussions on the country's coronavirus strategy.

In addition, restaurants and bars, which must currently end alcohol sales at 8:00 pm, will be able to serve alcohol until 11:00 pm from mid-February, but nightclubs will remain closed until the start of March, Marin said.

Vote on virus law shows rifts in Poland

A Covid-19 draft law defeated in Poland's parliament has exposed deep divisions inside the ruling right-wing coalition and a weakening of the country's most powerful politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, analysts said.

The widely criticised draft law would mandate regular Covid-19 testing of employees and enable those who got infected in the workplace to seek compensation from colleagues who refused testing.

Some 61 lawmakers of the so-called United Right ruling team led by Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party abstained or voted against the law in the 460-seat lower house late Tuesday.

Another 15 of the ruling coalition's 228 lawmakers didn't even show up for the vote. Analysts said the result marked an unprecedented high degree of dissent within the ruling coalition and poses a challenge to Kaczynski's leadership.

Turkiye reports new daily record of cases 

Turkiye has reported more than 110,600 coronavirus cases, the highest single-day figure in the country since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Health Ministry confirmed 110,682 new Covid-19 infections, 217 deaths, and 86,671 recoveries over the past day. As many as 457,885 virus tests were done during this period.

The country has administered over 142.34 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines since it launched an immunisation drive in January last year, according to official figures.

France eases restrictions, including outdoor mask-wearing

France has begun lifting restrictions, including mandatory outdoor mask-wearing in a bid to ease citizens' daily lives, dividing opinion as the country only last month reported record infections.

Audience capacity limits for concert halls, sporting matches and other events were also removed, and although homeworking will no longer be mandated it is still recommended.

The move has divided experts after authorities reported record coronavirus infections just last month, with critics accusing the government of making a hasty bet on a return to normality.

But President Emmanuel Macron is betting that widespread vaccinations will curb the pandemic.

Russia reports fresh record of daily cases

Russia has reported a record daily number of cases as the Omicron variant spread across the country, authorities said.

New daily cases jumped to 141,883, up from 125,836 a day earlier. The government coronavirus task force also reported 678 deaths in the last 24 hours. 

US hospitals face blood shortages amid Omicron surge

The US medical system has been grappling with a national blood shortage as the Omicron surge hampers its ability to collect blood from donors at workplaces and college campuses.

The American Red Cross, which provides 40 percent of the nation's blood, says supplies have reached dangerously low levels, which means some hospitals have to delay surgeries because they don't have enough blood on hand.

Slovakia posts record 20,000 daily cases

Slovakia has reported over 20,000 new infections in one day for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started, hit like others in central Europe by the spread of the Omicron variant.

Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million, recorded 20,224 new cases through PCR testing on Tuesday, the Health Ministry said. 

It said around 61 percent were among unvaccinated people.

Georgia hits record new infections

Georgia has registered 26,320 new infections, its highest single-day tally since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Health Ministry.

The Eurasian country's total caseload jumped to more than 1.22 million, and 44 more related deaths pushed the fatality count to 15,060. Active coronavirus cases currently stand at 180,031.

Czech Republic adds over 57,000 fresh cases

The Czech Republic has reported 57,195 new infections, its highest daily tally since the pandemic started, amid the spread of the Omicron variant, Health Ministry data showed.

The ministry also reported 9,775 cases of suspected reinfections in the country of 10.7 million. 

Hospital admissions were steady at 2,653, the ministry said on Wednesday, well below previous peaks. 

Brazil reports 929 new Covid deaths

Brazil has reported 193,465 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours and 929 Covid-19 deaths, the Health Ministry said.

The country has now registered 25,620,209 cases since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, while the official death toll has risen to 628,067, according to the ministry data.

Pfizer, BioNTech seek US approval of vaccine for children under 5 

Pfizer and BioNTech have said they are seeking emergency authorisation from US health regulators for use of their Covid vaccine for children aged over six months and under five years.

If the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorises the two-shot regimen, it will become the first Covid vaccine available to this age group in the United States.

The companies said that they started submitting their formal application "following a request" from the FDA, which seemingly wants to get the process moving quickly.

In a tweet soon after the announcement, the FDA said it will hold a meeting in two weeks, on February 15, to consider the request.

Starbucks reports higher profits, but more costs due to Omicron

Starbucks has reported higher quarterly profits, but said an unexpectedly costly hit from the latest Covid-19 wave would lead to further price increases.

The coffee chain scored higher comparable store sales in the United States in the quarter ending January 2, but lower sales internationally, with a big drop in China in the wake of that country's "zero Covid policy."

In its home market, Starbucks experienced "very strong" consumer demand over the holidays, Chief Executive Kevin Johnson told analysts.

But Johnson said Omicron weighed on the US results, leading to staffing shortages in its distribution and transportation network and higher Covid isolation pay for employees who became sick.

UK's Johnson reportedly attended leaving party in lockdown

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attended a leaving party on January 14, 2021, during the post-Christmas lockdown period, the Guardian has reported, adding to the list of government social events that appeared to breach rules in the pandemic.

The event was listed in civil servant Sue Gray's investigation into the parties published on Monday, but the details were redacted, the Guardian said.

Johnson was understood to have given a speech thanking an official at the gathering in Downing Street, where he stayed for about five minutes, it said.

China reports 63 new Covid cases

China has reported 63 confirmed coronavirus cases for February 1, down slightly from 66 a day earlier, the country's Health Authority said.

Of the new confirmed infections, 36 were domestically transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, higher than 27 a day earlier.

The remaining 27 cases were found among people arriving from overseas.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies