Covid-19 has infected more than 336M people and killed over 5.5M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

Portuguese voters with Covid-19 and those in isolation will be allowed to leave home to cast their ballot.
Portuguese voters with Covid-19 and those in isolation will be allowed to leave home to cast their ballot. (Reuters)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Portugal allows those with Covid to vote on election day

Portuguese voters with Covid-19 and those in isolation will be allowed to leave home to cast their ballot when the country holds a snap election on January 30, the government has said.

The announcement came on the day Portugal, which has almost 90 percent of its 10 million population fully inoculated, reported 52,549 new Covid-19 infections, the highest daily figure since the pandemic began, stoked by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Interior Minister Francisca Van Dunem told a news conference quarantined voters should only head to polling stations from 6 pm to 7 pm, urging those not infected to go before that period.

The recommendation is not mandatory. They must wear a face mask, keep a social distance and can only leave home to vote.

Staff working at polling stations will be given protective equipment.

Swiss drop pre-arrival Covid tests for vaccinated

Switzerland decided to drop pre-arrival Covid-19 tests for vaccinated or recovered people coming into the country.

From Saturday, only unvaccinated people who have not recovered from Covid will need to present a negative test upon arrival in Switzerland.

The Swiss Tourism Federation called the change in entry rules a "relief" for the industry, with the cost of tests having put the Alpine nation at a disadvantage compared to other major winter sports holiday destinations.

UK PM announces end of most restrictions 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced  that most coronavirus restrictions in England will be scrapped next week as the Omicron wave seems to have peaked.

Current restrictions, known as Plan B, will expire on January 27, meaning mandatory mask-wearing and Covid-19 status certification will end. 

Working from home guidance, however, has ended "from now."

US begins offering 1B free Covid tests

For the first time, people across the US can log on to a government website and order free, at-home Covid-19 tests. 

But the White House push may do little to ease the Omicron surge, and experts say Washington will have to do a lot more to fix the country’s long-troubled testing system. 

The website, covidtests.gov, allows people to order four at-home tests per household, regardless of citizenship status, and have them delivered by mail. But the tests won’t arrive for seven to 12 days, after omicron cases are expected to peak in many parts of the country.

Covid-19 infections continue to accelerate in the Americas, reaching new peaks, with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 Covid-related deaths in the last week, the Pan American Health Organization said.

"The virus is spreading more actively than ever before," said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne told a briefing.

Dutch museums open as hair salons to protest Covid rules

Museums and concert halls temporarily turned themselves into beauty salons and gyms in the Netherlands in protest against the Dutch government's coronavirus restrictions.

A barber and two nail artists tended to visitors among priceless works of art at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and two barbers set up their chairs on the stage of the Concertgebouw in the capital.

Slovenia, Croatia see record high daily cases

Slovenia and Croatia reported record high daily numbers of new cases with both countries struggling to process results amid a surge in demand for testing.

Slovenia reported 12,285 new cases, while Croatia had 16,017 new infections, including rapid tests.

The number of cases in Croatia, the country of less than 4 million people, more than doubled in the past 24 hours with 45 deaths reported.

Slovenia, which recorded a 41.5 percent jump from the day before and nearly 80 percent more cases than last Wednesday, shortened quarantine for those employed in the health, welfare and educations sectors to enable their normal functioning.

WHO says pandemic 'nowhere near over'

The World Health Organization has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, as France, Germany and Brazil posted new records of infections in the past 24 hours.

The highly transmissible Omicron strain has spread unabated around the world, pushing some governments to impose fresh measures while speeding up the rollout of vaccine booster shots.

"This pandemic is nowhere near over," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters from the agency's headquarters in Geneva.

Germany surpasses 100,000 daily cases for first time

Germany reported 112,323 new coronavirus cases, a fresh single-day record as the health minister said the peak had not been reached and compulsory vaccination should be introduced by May.

Germany's tally of Covid-19 infections now stands at 8,186,850, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious disease said. The death toll also rose by 239 to reach 116,081.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he expected the wave to peak in a few weeks as the highly infectious Omicron variant brought Germany's seven-day incidence rate to 584.4 cases per 100,000 people.

Mexico reports over 49,000 new Covid cases

Mexico registered 49,343 coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, according to the country’s Health Ministry.

Battling the fourth wave of the pandemic, Mexico recorded the highest daily number of cases in recent weeks.

The total number of infections exceeded 4.43 million, while the recovery tally surpassed 3.47 million in the North American country.

Pakistan records highest daily cases since August

Pakistan reported almost 5,500 new coronavirus cases, the highest single-day tally since August last year.

The country registered 5,472 new infections with a 9.5 percent positivity rate in the last 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data. The total number of cases rose to nearly 1.14 million since March 2020.

Another eight people died due to Covid-19, pushing the death toll to 29,037.

Hong Kong's Covid-19 hamster cull sparks fear of owners abandoning pets

A mass hamster cull in Hong Kong sparked fears among animal welfare groups that panicky people would abandon their pets after 11 of the rodents from one petshop in the city tested positive for Covid-19.

The local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which runs veterinary clinics, told Reuters news agency it received "numerous" enquiries from worried pet owners, asking what to do about the latest scare.

"We urge the pet owners not to panic or abandon their pets," SPCA said in a statement.

More Covid deaths feared in Australia

Australia should brace for more Covid-19 deaths for the next few weeks, authorities have said, as record infections fuelled by the Omicron outbreak have overwhelmed health systems forcing Victoria to raise its emergency status for hospitals.

"We have seen and we will continue to see deaths, mostly in older people, mostly in people with other chronic diseases," Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly told broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a day after Australia suffered its deadliest day with 77 deaths from the virus.

Amid record infections, Victorian state hospitals from midday Wednesday will move to a 'code brown' status, usually reserved for natural disasters or mass casualty events, while reports said nurses had demanded the government to get the help of the army.

UN to carry out relief operations for Tonga

The United Nations is preparing to carry out relief operations for Tonga at a distance to avoid a Covid-19 outbreak in the Pacific island nation reeling from a volcanic eruption and tsunami, an official has said.

All the homes on one of Tonga's small outer islands have been destroyed and three people have died, the government said in its first statement after Saturday's devastating eruption which it called "an unprecedented disaster".

With communications badly hampered by the severing of an undersea cable, information on the scale of the devastation so far has mostly come from reconnaissance aircraft.

Paraguay's Mario Benitez tests positive

Paraguay’s president has tested positive for Covid-19, the country’s Health Ministry announced.

Mario Abdo Benitez is showing mild symptoms and will self-isolate in accordance with current health protocols, the ministry said on Twitter.

More than 504,000 people in Paraguay have been infected with the disease and 16,866 have died.

Spain's infection rate drops

Spain’s coronavirus infection rate has decreased for the first time since November, according to new data from the Health Ministry.

This suggests the country’s unprecedented sixth wave may have seen the infection rate peak Monday, with nearly 3.4 out of every 100 people infected in a two-week period.

On Tuesday, the country saw the number of daily infections decrease to just under 95,000. 

Argentina is concerned over supply chain

Up to 2,000 trucks are backed up at Argentina's main border crossing with Chile due to tougher Covid-19 testing requirements, Argentine haulers have said, adding that the supply chain could suffer.

Some 900 trucks a day usually pass through the Christ Redeemer crossing from the Argentine province of Mendoza into Chile.

But those have been backed up for two days due to tougher health controls imposed on Argentine haulers by Chile, the Argentine Federation of Freight Business Entities said in a statement.

WHO: 18M people infected last week

As Covid-19's omicron variant continues sweeping the world with 18 million cases last week, people in countries with low coronavirus vaccination rates are at risk of severe illness and death, the head of the World Health Organization has said.

He reinforced comments from other WHO officials who spoke at the webinar, reiterating that the vast majority of coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths are from among the unvaccinated.

The WHO chief said the next few weeks remained critical for health workers and health systems in many countries.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies