Covid-19 has infected more than 420M people and killed over 5.8M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

UK has recorded 160,000 deaths from Covid-19, but PM lifted lockdown restrictions as vaccination and lower severity of Omicron variant break the link between cases and deaths.
UK has recorded 160,000 deaths from Covid-19, but PM lifted lockdown restrictions as vaccination and lower severity of Omicron variant break the link between cases and deaths. (Reuters)

Friday, February 18, 2022

Dropping isolation requirement in England could lead to epidemic growth - advisers

UK government advisers have said in a document that scrapping Covid tests and isolation periods in England could lead to rapid epidemic growth as people's behaviour changes more swiftly than at previous times in the coronavirus pandemic. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will outline his plans for living with the virus on Monday, and has said that he aims to scrap the legal requirement to self-isolate for people who test positive for the coronavirus.

Health leaders have urged him not to be too gung-ho, with a survey showing most believed he should not scrap the requirement to self-isolate or end free testing.

The government's advisory pandemic modelling group SPI-M-O echoed that caution in easing the rules any further.

"While behaviour change following the lifting of restrictions has previously been gradual, a sudden change, such as an end to testing and isolation, has the scope to lead to a return to rapid epidemic growth," SPI-M-O said in a document dated February 2 but released on Friday, citing work done at the University of Warwick.

The Warwick estimates said that the combination of measures and behavioural change since before the pandemic, such as testing, self-isolation and mask wearing, were reducing transmission by around 20-45 percent.

The estimates indicate there is a potential for transmission to increase by around 25-80 percent if the population were to return to pre-pandemic behaviour with no mitigations.

Swiss president tests positive as restrictions lifted

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, has tested positive for Covid-19 on the day coronavirus restrictions were lifted in Switzerland.

Cassis, also foreign minister, tested positive following a PCR test on Wednesday afternoon, the government announced in a statement on Thursday.

On the day the government made its announcement in the capital Bern, Twitter user @Ann_Waeltin sent a tweet that went viral showing Cassis coughing briefly and then speaking.

She tweeted in German, "Swiss Federal Councilor Ignazio Cassis took off his mask at yesterday's press conference, laughed, coughed, and announced the lifting of the measures.

"Today, it was announced that he is corona positive."

Hong Kong to postpone picking new leader amid outbreak

Hong Kong has said that it would postpone plans to pick the city's new leader, in a fresh blow for the government as it struggles to tackle a wave of coronavirus cases.

The Chinese financial hub is currently in the throes of its worst-ever coronavirus outbreak, registering thousands of confirmed cases a day with hospitals reaching breaking point and a Beijing-mandated zero-Covid policy collapsing.

A small committee of Beijing loyalists had been set to pick the city's new chief executive in late March, with the nomination period for candidates beginning Sunday.

But current leader Carrie Lam announced the selection would need to be pushed back to May 8. 

"The decision is due to Hong Kong facing the most severe situation since the pandemic began two years ago. It is a critical situation," she told reporters. 

Low Omicron efficacy behind delay of Pfizer vaccine for kids under 5

US health regulators have delayed the review of Pfizer Inc's vaccine for children under 5 years of age because its two-dose regimen did not work well against the Omicron variant, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it needed more data on the vaccine, delaying its decision for using the vaccine in children 6 months through 4 years of age for at least two months.

An early look at data showed the vaccine to be effective against the Delta variant during testing while that was the dominant strain, but some vaccinated children developed Covid-19 after Omicron emerged, the report said, citing people familiar with the FDA's decision.

However, since the overall Covid-19 cases were low, the small number of Omicron cases made the vaccine appear less effective in an early statistical analysis, the report added. 

The FDA did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. 

Britain reports 47,685 new cases, 158 deaths

Britain has reported 47,685 new cases of Covid-19 and 158 further deaths within 28 days of a positive test, government statistics showed.

That compared with 51,899 cases and 183 deaths reported on Thursday. 

Italy reports 53,662 coronavirus cases, 314 deaths

Italy has reported 53,662 Covid related cases, against 57,890 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the number of deaths fell to 314 from 320.

Italy has registered 152,596 deaths linked to the virus since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the eighth highest in the world. The country has reported 12.4 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19, not including those in intensive care, stood at 13,948 on Friday, down from 14,562 a day earlier.

There were 52 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 71 on Thursday. The total number of intensive care patients fell to 987 from a previous 1,037.

Some 510,283 tests for the virus were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 538,131, the Health Ministry said. 

Six African countries selected for mRNA jab production

Six African countries have been chosen to establish their own mRNA vaccine production, the World Health Organization said, with the continent largely shut out of access to jabs.

Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia were selected as the first recipients of technology from the WHO's global mRNA vaccine hub, in a push to ensure Africa can make its own jabs to fight Covid-19 and other diseases.

"No other event like the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting, and dangerous," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Tedros has continually called for equitable access to vaccines in order to beat the pandemic, and rails against the way wealthy nations have hogged doses, leaving Africa lagging behind other continents in the global vaccination effort.

Germany to get 1.4M shots of Novavax vaccine 

Germany still expects to receive 1.4 million doses of Novavax NVAX.O vaccine Nuvaxovid on Februrary 21, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said.

"The company has attracted attention several times in the past with indications that deliveries cannot be made on time. But I want to assume now that ... we will be supplied next week," Lauterbach told a news conference.

Meanwhile, Germany's health minister said that he thinks the country has passed a peak in new daily infections with the Omicron variant.

Lauterbach said government measures taken to curb the number of cases had been effective, but he warned against relaxing the public health rules too hastily.

South Korea eases restrictions despite record high cases

South Korea has said it would ease pandemic restrictions, even as the country's daily caseload crossed 100,000 for the first time, with officials citing economic concerns over social distancing measures.

"Considering the deepening difficulties of the people's livelihood and economy, we have concluded that the minimum adjustment was inevitable," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Friday.

Despite the spike in cases, the country will also drop its requirement that businesses including restaurants and cafes maintain handwritten visitor logs to allow for contact tracing, Seoul officials said.

Japan's record deaths hit in surge estimated to last till April

Japan set a new record for daily deaths in a wave of Omicron-fuelled fatalities that a government-affiliated researcher estimated may stretch into April.

Newly recorded fatalities rose to 271 on Thursday, according to a tally by national broadcaster NHK, the third straight day over 200.

There have been 2,446 deaths so far in February, already the second-deadliest month in the two-year pandemic.

Beijing Olympics detects one new case 

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee has said that one new case was detected among games-related personnel on February 17.

The one case was found among new airport arrivals, according to a notice on the Beijing 2022 official website.

Brazil reports over 1,100 Covid deaths

Brazil has recorded 131,049 new coronavirus cases and 1,128 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has registered 27,937,835 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 641,902, according to ministry data.

South Korea cases top 100,000 for the first time

South Korea's new daily Covid-19 cases have topped 100,000 for the first time amid an Omicron outbreak, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said, though deaths have remained relatively low in the highly vaccinated country.

The KDCA said 109,831 new Covid-19 cases had been reported as of midnight.

Mexico reports 470 more coronavirus fatalities 

Mexica has reported 470 coronavirus fatalities, bringing the total death toll to 314,598 since the pandemic started.

EU official says Covid-19 has shown fragility of societies 

An EU official has said that Covid-19 has exposed the unpreparedness and fragilities of societies and also that the pandemic does not know borders. 

Participating in a discussion through video link on the future relations of EU and Türkiye, the Acting Deputy Director-General of the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, John Ryan said health and pandemics are areas of common concern for both the partners. 

Ryan said the EU has supplied 400 million doses of vaccines to countries under the Vaccines Global Access for Covid-19 (COVAX).

Stating that the EU hopes to increase this figure to 700 million doses by the middle of this year, Ryan said, the pandemic was entering a different phase and added that accelerating global vaccination is a high priority.

Source: Reuters