Covid-19 has infected more than 263M people and killed over 5.2M worldwide. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for December 1:

Around 6,000 people in Sweden have so far had a chip inserted in their hands.
Around 6,000 people in Sweden have so far had a chip inserted in their hands. (AA)

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Facing Covid passport mandate, more Swedes get microchip implants

Following Sweden’s announcement that the coronavirus vaccine passport requirement will be put into practice, the number of people who got microchips inserted under their skin rose, according to local media.

According to digital cultures researcher Moa Petersen, around 6,000 people in Sweden have so far had a chip inserted in their hands.

Petersen stressed that those with microchip implants have stopped carrying vaccine passports, keys, ID cards, and even train tickets with them, thanks to radio frequency identification technology, a wireless system comprising tags and readers.

Belgium in talks to buy 10,000 doses of Merck's pill

Belgium is in talks with US-based Merck & Co Inc to buy 10,000 doses of its Covid-19 antiviral pill jointly developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the country's federal health minister said.

"But we are in favour of a European joint procurement," health minister Franck Vandenbroucke told a news conference, adding that the Belgian bilateral talks would be integrated in the European Union joint procurement if and when it is launched. 

EU recommends daily review of travel restrictions 

The European Commission has recommended a daily review and revisions of travel restrictions to help stop the spread of the new omicron coronavirus variant.

In a new statement, the European Commission advised EU countries to continue to keep their borders open with daily reviews of essential travel restrictions, to coordinate with each other to track the eventual spread of the new variant, and to stay ready for all necessary controls.

WHO warns of 'toxic mix' of low vaccine coverage and testing

The World Health Organization warned a "toxic mix" at the global level of low vaccination coverage and testing rates was creating fertile breeding ground for new Covid-19 variants.

"Globally, we have a toxic mix of low vaccine coverage and very low testing - a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference.

US plans tougher testing, quarantine requirements 

The United States will soon require international travellers entering the country to take a Covid test one day prior to departure, regardless of vaccination status, an official said amid global concern over the Omicron variant.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the measure would be announced once the rule is finalised. 

President Joe Biden is set to talk about America's winter plans for Covid on Thursday and might announce the new requirements then.

Greece makes vaccination compulsory for people over 60

Greece has decided to make it mandatory for all people aged above 60 to be vaccinated, and will start imposing fines starting mid-January.

Unvaccinated individuals in the age group should either have taken a first dose or have an appointment scheduled by January 16, 2022, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said at.

There will be a monthly fine of $115 after that date, he added.

Slovakia plans to give cash to some who get vaccine

Slovakia’s government has proposed a plan to give people 60 and older a $568 bonus if they get vaccinated, the finance minister said.

The measure, announced by Finance Minister Igor Matovic, should boost inoculations in the European Union country with one of the bloc’s lowest vaccination rates. So far, only 46.1 percent of the nation’s 5.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.

Singapore adds 1,324 new cases

Singapore has reported 1,324 new Covid-19 cases versus 1,239 infections the previous day and eight more deaths.

Saudi confirms first case of Omicron 

Saudi Arabia has confirmed its first case of the Omicron coming from a north African country, the state news agency said.

SPA, quoting a statement from the kingdom's Health Ministry, said authorities had isolated the person and people who were in contact with them.

It is the first Omicron variant case reported in the Middle East and North Africa. The ministry said the person was a Saudi national who had travelled from a North African country, without giving further details.

Japan suspends new flight reservations 

Japan has asked international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December in a further tightening of already strict border controls.

The transportation ministry said the request is an emergency precaution amid growing worry over the spread of the new Omicron variant. 

Japan also started offering vaccine booster shots to health care workers.

Nigeria detects first case of Omicron variant from October

Nigeria has detected its first case of the Omicron variant in a sample it collected in October, weeks before South Africa alerted the world about the variant last week.

It is the first West African country that has recorded the Omicron variant since scientists in southern Africa detected and reported it, adding to a list of nearly 20 countries to have the variant.

Portugal reintroduces virus measures

Portugal has re-imposed measures to try to contain a new surge in cases, tightening control in all airports, sea ports and land borders.

Wearing a face mask will once again be mandatory in enclosed spaces and a digital certificate proving vaccination or recovery from the virus must be shown to enter restaurants, cinemas and hotels.

Germany reports highest daily death toll for 9 months

Germany has reported the highest number of deaths since mid-February as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany's state infectious disease agency, reported 67,186 new cases, up 302 from a week ago, and 446 deaths — the highest daily figure since February 18, bringing the overall death toll to 101,790.

This includes four people in southern Germany who tested positive for the Omicron variant even though they were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Fiji reopens to foreign tourists for first time in nearly two years

Fiji has reopened its border to international travellers for the first time in nearly two years, as the Pacific Island country seeks to revive its dominant tourism industry.

Fiji shut its border to all foreign nationals in March 2020 in a desperate bid to stop its limited medical facilities being overrun.

Concerns growing about pause in bookings, business travel delay

Airlines are bracing for a fresh round of volatility due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 that could force them to adjust schedules and destinations at short notice and to rely more on domestic markets where possible, analysts have said.

Many travellers have already booked trips for the Christmas period, a peak season for airlines, but there are growing industry concerns over a pause in future bookings and further delays to the already slow recovery in business travel.

Fitch Ratings said it had lowered its global passenger traffic forecasts for 2021 and 2022, with the emergence of new variants like Omicron highlighting the likelihood that conditions would remain volatile for airlines.

US CDC moving to tighten international testing rules

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said it is working to impose stricter Covid-19 testing rules for air travelers entering the United States amid concerns about a new variant.

The CDC confirmed in a statement it is working to revise its current Global Testing Order "for travel as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States."

South Korea reports daily record of over 5,000 new infections

South Korea has reported a new daily record of 5,123 new cases, as the country battles to contain a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms and stave off the Omicron variant, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency has said.

The government on Monday shelved plans to further relax Covid-19 curbs due to the strain on its healthcare system from rising hospitalisations and deaths as well as the threat posed by the new variant.

Sydney braces for more Omicron cases but no lockdowns for now

Australian authorities have flagged another probable case of the Omicron variant in Sydney as they braced for more infections after at least two international travellers visited several locations in the city while likely infectious.

Officials in New South Wales (NSW), home to Sydney, said initial testing "strongly indicates" a man in his 40s, who arrived from southern Africa on Nov. 25, had been infected with the Omicron variant and had spent time in the community.

Hong Kong bans non-residents from three more countries over Omicron

Hong Kong will ban non-residents from entering the city from Japan, Portugal and Sweden from Friday, adding to a fast-expanding list of countries facing travel restrictions due to concerns over the Omicron variant.

Non-Hong Kong residents who have been in the three countries in the past 21 days will not be allowed to enter the global financial hub. Residents can only board flights if fully vaccinated and will have to undergo 21-days of quarantine in a hotel at their own cost.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies