Covid-19 has infected more than 267M people and killed over 5.2M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

Scientists don't yet know how big a threat the omicron variant really is.
Scientists don't yet know how big a threat the omicron variant really is. (AP)

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Pfizer: Covid booster offers protection against Omicron

Pfizer says that a booster dose of its Covid-19 vaccine could offer important protection against the new omicron variant even though the initial two doses appear significantly less effective.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said that while two doses may not be protective enough to prevent infection, lab tests showed a booster increased by 25-fold people's levels of virus-fighting antibodies.

Blood samples taken a month after a booster showed people harbored levels of Omicron-neutralising antibodies that were similar to amounts proven protective against earlier variants after two doses.

Pfizer's findings, announced in a press release, are preliminary and haven't yet undergone scientific review.

But they're the first from a vaccine maker examining whether the booster doses that health authorities are urging people to get may indeed make an important difference.

UK urges Covid test firms to stop exploiting travellers

Britain has urged private Covid test firms to stop exploiting travellers, after a former competitions chief said the market was a "rip-off jungle".

"We've been clear it is unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers," the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement.

"The government has taken action to drive down the cost of tests for international travel."

The call came one day after Britain rolled out new travel curbs to try and prevent transmission of the Omicron variant.

Airlines say nations overreacted to Omicron variant

Global airlines have blasted governments for worsening the Omicron scare through snap border measures and "rip-off" virus testing regimes, and urged politicians to let travellers make their own decisions based on scientific data.

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, predicted "knee-jerk" border restrictions resulting from the coronavirus variant would ease soon, but it was too early to say whether holiday travel would be disrupted.

"We can't shut down everything when a new variant appears," Walsh told a news briefing, adding hasty travel bans had penalised countries like South Africa for reporting findings.

Eight Tottenham players test positive for coronavirus: Conte

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte said that eight players and five members of staff had tested positive for coronavirus and he expected more confirmed cases.

"Eight players and five members of staff," Conte said at a press conference, which was held virtually rather than in person at the club's Hotspur Way training centre.

"Every day we are having people with Covid, people who were not positive yesterday. This is not a good situation."

Spurs are due to play a crucial Europa Conference League game against Rennes on Thursday and UEFA has said the match is due to take place as scheduled.

It remains unclear whether the club will ask for their Premier League match at Brighton on Sunday to be postponed.

France says fifth wave has not peaked yet

The fifth wave of Covid-19 hitting France has not yet reached its peak, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, and the cabinet's top adviser on the coronavirus indicated a fourth vaccine shot to fight the disease was possible.

"The peak is clearly not behind us, the pandemic continues to gain ground," Attal said during a press briefing following the weekly cabinet meeting, though adding the pace of increase in daily new cases seemed to be slowing somewhat.

WHO: Omicron in 57 countries

The Omicron variant has been reported in 57 nations and the number of patients needing hospitalisation is likely to rise as it spreads, the World Health Organization said.

The WHO, in its weekly epidemiological report, said more data was needed to assess the severity of disease caused by the Omicron variant and whether its mutations might reduce protection from vaccine-derived immunity.

"Even if the severity is equal or potentially even lower than for Delta variant, it is expected that hospitalisations will increase if more people become infected and that there will be a time lag between an increase in the incidence of cases and an increase in the incidence of deaths," it said.

EU to produce 3.6B shots in 2022 

Vaccine plants in the European Union are expected to produce 3.6 billion Covid-19 shots next year, out of a global output of more than 20 billion.

EU countries are administering boosters after having completed the primary vaccination of nearly 70 percent of the EU population, whereas in Africa only 7 percent have been immunised against the coronavirus, according to EU data.

"We are going to produce in Europe much more than what is needed," the EU official told a press briefing, adding that administering boosters in the bloc was not in conflict with the goal of vaccinating the world, because the EU produces more than it needs for itself.

Philippines bans travellers from France 

The Philippines will ban travellers coming from France to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant.

The ban, which applies to everyone who has been in France in the past 14 days, runs from December 10 to December 15.

This adds to an earlier ban on travellers from South Africa and 13 other countries to prevent Omicron, which has yet to be detected in the Philippines.

Germany records highest daily deaths 

Germany has recorded the highest number of deaths from the virus since February as it battles to stop a fourth wave of the pandemic.

A total of 69,601 new infections were reported, 2,415 more than the same time a week ago, and another 527 people died – the highest number since February 12 – bringing the total to 104,047.

However, the country's seven-day incidence rate of cases per 100,000 people continued to fall, declining to 427 from 432 on Tuesday.

Papua New Guinea holds mass burial

Papua New Guinea carried out the first in a series of mass Covid-19 burials Wednesday, interring 54 people whose remains were unclaimed for months as the pandemic ravaged the under-resourced Melanesian nation.

Hospital and government officials ordered the crisis ceremony after 300 bodies piled up at Port Moresby General Hospital morgue, overwhelming a facility designed to hold just 60.

Some remains had been stored there since March, as authorities tried to locate loved ones and secure scarce funding to carry out the last rites.

The ceremony took place at Nine Mile Cemetery on the outskirts of the capital Port Moresby.

Nigeria received expired doses from Europe – report

Up to one million Covid-19 vaccines are estimated to have expired in Nigeria last month without being used, two sources told Reuters news agency, one of the biggest single losses of doses that shows the difficulty African nations have getting shots in arms.

In Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and home to more than 200 million people, fewer than 4% of adults have been fully vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The expired doses were made by AstraZeneca and delivered from Europe, the sources with direct knowledge of vaccine delivery and use told Reuters. 

They were supplied via Covax, the dose-sharing facility led by the GAVI vaccine alliance and the WHO which is increasingly reliant on donations.

A third source with knowledge of the delivery said some of the doses arrived within four-to-six weeks of expiry and could not be used in time, despite efforts by health authorities.

WHO says current vaccines are highly unlikely to fail

Omicron does not appear to cause more severe disease than previous Covid variants, and is "highly unlikely" to fully dodge vaccine protections, a WHO official has told AFP news agency.

The official said that while a lot remained to be learned about the new, heavily mutated variant of Covid-19, preliminary data indicated it did not make people sicker than Delta and other strains.

At the same time, he said there was no sign that Omicron could fully sidestep protections provided by existing Covid vaccines.

Brazil's announces new traveling requirement

Brazil has ruled out requiring a Covid-19 vaccination certificate for foreign travelers arriving in the country, despite a recommendation from the national health regulator. 

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga told reporters after a meeting at the presidency that "people cannot be discriminated between vaccinated and unvaccinated to impose restrictions."

However, Queiroga said that with the precise characteristics of the Omicron variant still unknown, Brazil will require "a five-day quarantine" for unvaccinated travelers, as recommended by the health regulator Anvisa. 

New record for booster shot receivers in US

Americans are lining up for booster doses of vaccines at a record pace, with concerns about the newly-detected Omicron coronavirus variant spurring millions to get shots, the US government has said.

Just under a million people a day received booster doses of one of the three authorised vaccines last week, the highest rate since US regulators gave the nod to additional shots for some adults in September, government data shows.

All in all the United States administered 12.5 million vaccines in the last week, Zients said at a White House briefing, its highest rate since May.

Around 47 million people in the United States have now received a booster shot, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows, almost a quarter of all fully vaccinated adults in the country.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies