Covid-19 has infected more than 310.6M people and killed over 5.5M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

Cases have been spiking nationwide as the omicron variant has led to unprecedented levels in the winter surge.
Cases have been spiking nationwide as the omicron variant has led to unprecedented levels in the winter surge. (Scott Heins / AFP)

US shatters hospitalisation record 

The US set a record for the number of people hospitalised with the coronavirus, shattering a previous mark set in January 2021.

The nation currently has 145,982 people hospitalised with the virus, according to data from the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department. 

That is far beyond the previous record of 142,000 established last year.

There are nearly 24,000 intensive care unit beds beings used to treat coronavirus patients across the country, with all but four states reporting more than 70 percent of their beds being occupied, according to HHS.

Cases have been spiking nationwide as the omicron variant has led to unprecedented levels in the winter surge. Approximately 1.5 million cases were registered Monday, data from Johns Hopkins University indicates.

WHO: Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated for Omicron

A World Health Organization technical body has said that current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be reworked to ensure they are effective against Omicron and future variants of the coronavirus.

The technical group, made up of independent experts, said it would consider a change in vaccination composition and stressed that shots needed to be more effective in protecting against infection.

"The composition of current Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs (variants of concern), including Omicron and future variants," the technical body, tasked with making recommendations to the WHO, said in a statement.

"A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable," it added. 

Meanwhile, European Medicine Agency indicated that the vaccines remain effective against severe disease and hospitalisation caused by the Omicron variant.

Israel heading towards ‘herd immunity’ 

Israel is heading towards adopting "herd immunity", Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej has said, amid a surge in infections in the country.

"According to the data we have, it is expected that between two to four million people will be infected with the virus in the next three weeks," Frej told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

"This is the trend, why do we bury our heads in the ground and be like an ostrich? The pandemic will reach everyone," the minister said.

This is the first time that a senior Israeli official talks about the possibility of a "herd immunity" scenario. For more than a week, Israeli health authorities have recorded a surge in coronavirus infections.

The Israeli Ministry of Health registered 37,887 virus cases in the past 24 hours.

Hundreds given expired Covid-19 vaccines in Germany

Nearly 1,800 people in southeastern Germany received expired doses of  vaccine last week, authorities said.

A vaccination centre in the Bavarian town of Ebersberg administered expired BionTech/Pfizer doses between Jan. 4 and 6, the local health department said in a statement.

At least 1,800 people were injected with doses which expired on December 31, and authorities started to notify all those affected.

The vaccination centre said in a statement that there is no health risk from the expired doses, and offered free antibody tests to the affected individuals to determine whether they need a new dose for protection.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

China locks down third city, raising affected to 20 million

A third Chinese city has locked down its residents because of a Covid-19 outbreak, raising the number confined to their homes in China to about 20 million people. 

It wasn’t clear how long the lockdown of Anyang, home to 5.5 million people, would last. Mass testing was being enforced, standard procedure whenever outbreaks pop up around the country. 

Another 13 million people are locked down in the city of Xi’an and 1.1 million in Yuzhou, with restrictions imposed on the port city of Tianjin, only about an hour from Beijing, which is to host the Winter Olympics from February. 

Poland's total death toll passes 100,000

Poland's total Covid-19 death toll has passed 100,000, the health minister said.

"Today we can say it is another sad day, but especially so because we have passed the level of 100,000 COVID deaths," Adam Niedzielski told private broadcaster TVN 24 on Tuesday. 

Hong Kong unveils further steps

Hong Kong will shut kindergartens and primary schools and start offering vaccines for children from the age of five, the city's leader has said, as the financial hub grapples with an increase in coronavirus infections.

Certain passengers meanwhile will be banned from transiting through Hong Kong for a month, Bloomberg News reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

It comes as the Chinese-ruled city has seen some local transmissions of the Omicron coronavirus variant after three months of no local coronavirus cases at the end of last year.

Separately, Bloomberg News said Hong Kong's international airport was set to ban transit by passengers from 150 designated high-risk places from Jan. 15 to Feb. 14, citing the unnamed sources.

The ban will not apply to diplomats, government officials, athletes and staff participating in the Winter Olympics, which open on Feb. 4 in Beijing, according to the report.

Hong Kong had already banned passenger flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Britain and the United States in early January.

Trudeau: Canada has enough vaccines for all citizens

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the government has secured enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster as well as a fourth dose, according to a statement from Trudeau's office.

Trudeau made the comments on Monday in a call with Canada's provincial and territorial premiers, as the country grapples with rising infection and hospitalization rates due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Trudeau said the government also plans to deliver 140 million rapid tests to provinces and territories in January, according to the statement.

Chicago schools to reopen

Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest US education district, will resume in-person classes on Wednesday after a union backed ending a walkout over Covid-19 fears in an agreement it has said would boost safeguards.

Teachers began their action last week, idling some 340,000 students, following a union vote to reinstate virtual instruction and a push for more rigorous safety protocols, including wider testing, as the Omicron variant spread.

While most US public school districts have reopened their campuses for the new year, education systems in some major cities have opted for online learning or delayed back-to-classroom plans due to staff shortages.

On Monday, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said the deal was not ideal but made improvements.

"It's not a perfect agreement," he said during a news conference. "It does include some important things which are going to help safeguard ourselves and our schools." 

Japan extends strict border measures

Japan will extend measures barring almost all new foreign arrivals until the end of February and reopen mass-vaccination centres as it battles an Omicron-fuelled coronavirus surge, the government has said.

"We will keep the current border control policy until the end of February while taking necessary measures from a humanitarian viewpoint and considering the national interest," Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on Tuesday.

Local media said there would be some new exemptions for members of Japanese families as well as students studying in Japan but there were no immediate details from officials.

The government will also reopen large-scale vaccination centres run by the Self-Defense Forces, and ask local governments to reopen their own mass-inoculation sites to accelerate booster shots, Kishida said.

Japan has imposed strict border-control measures, such as quarantine and frequent testing, on those entering the country from abroad.

But despite those efforts, the Omicron variant has been circulating locally and Japan is seeing a sharp rise in virus cases.

Heathrow hit by Omicron cancellations in December

Britain's biggest airport Heathrow has handled 19.4 million passengers in 2021, less than one quarter of pre-pandemic levels and lower than 2020, after Omicron sparked a run of cancellations in December.

The airport to the west of London said on Tuesday that at least 600,000 passengers cancelled travel plans from Heathrow in December as new travel restrictions came into force. 

CDC weighs recommending better masks against Omicron

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering updating its mask guidance due to an increase in the number of Omicron-related coronavirus cases, the Washington Post has reported.

The agency will likely advise people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks worn by healthcare personnel, if they can do so consistently, the newspaper reported citing an official close to the deliberations.

Spain's PharmaMar: Potential Covid-19 treatment efficient against Omicron

Spain's PharmaMar has said trials made in vitro and on animals showed its Plitidepsin drug had positive antiviral effects on the variants of Covid-19, including Omicron.

The results of Phase I trials have shown the drug, also known as Aplidin, had a powerful antiviral activity against all the variants in vitro and a distribution into the lungs of animals tested, resulting in a 99 percent reduction of viral load in the lungs, the company said on Tuesday.

The results of the trials were released in a paper published in the scientific journal Life Science Alliance, PharmaMar said.

The paper also reported positive effects of Phase I and II trials on patients.

"All data we have seen so far with Plitidepsin corroborate our initial hypothesis of its activity as antiviral," PharmaMar's Jose Maria Fernandez Sousa said in a statement.

The drug is being tested in final Phase III trials on patients.

Shares in PharmaMar rose 5.3 percent in early trading.

Plitidepsin is a drug developed by PharmaMar originally to treat cancer but has an effect as an antiviral.

US reports at least 1.13 million Covid cases in day

The United States has reported at least 1.13 million new coronavirus infections, according to a Reuters tally, the highest daily total of any country in the world as the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant showed no signs of slowing.

The previous record was 1.03 million cases on January 3. A large number of cases are reported each Monday due to many states not reporting over the weekend. 

The seven-day average for new cases has tripled in two weeks to over 700,000 new infections a day.

Not all states have yet reported on Monday and the final figure is likely to be even higher. 

The record in new cases came the same day as the nation saw the number of hospitalised patients also hit an all-time high, having doubled in three weeks, according to a Reuters tally.

There were more than 135,500 people hospitalised with Covid, surpassing the record of 132,051 set in January last year.

About 861,336 people have died from Covid in United States, according to Worldometer tracker.

Mexico's president tests positive for the second time

Mexico's president has announced he has come down with Covid-19 a second time, as coronavirus infections spike in Mexico and virus tests become scarce.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wrote that he tested positive, after he had sounded hoarse at a morning news briefing. He contracted Covid-19 and recovered from it the first time in early 2021.

Two of the president’s Cabinet secretaries, the heads of the Environment and Economy departments, announced they had tested positive in recent days.

Earlier on in the day, the president told Mexicans to just assume they had Covid-19 if they had symptoms. The number of confirmed cases spiked by 186 percent last week. .

US hospitals' Covid-infected staff to stay on the job

Hospitals around the US are increasingly taking the extraordinary step of allowing nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all.

The move is a reaction to the severe hospital staffing shortages and crushing caseloads that the omicron variant is causing.

California health authorities announced over the weekend that hospital staff members who test positive but are symptom-free can continue working. 

Some hospitals in Rhode Island and Arizona have likewise told employees they can stay on the job if they have no symptoms or just mild ones.

EU ends Omicron travel ban from southern Africa

The European Union ended travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa well over a month after imposing them to in hopes of containing the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The highly contagious variant was first discovered in southern Africa in late November and the 27-nation bloc restricted travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a sudden surge of infections.

Omicron has since become the dominant variant and is responsible in the EU and many other nations for a unprecedent increase in infections. That made the travel ban from southern Africa a moot point.

Peru reports all-time high weekly Covid case count

Peru has reported an all-time high 70,000 Covid-19 infections in the first week of January, a health official told reporters, as a third wave of the pandemic spreads through the Andean nation driven by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Dante Cersso, a government health official, told reporters that the new weekly case count had exceeded the previous record of 67,107 cases during the second week of April of last year.

At the time, Peru was going through a brutal second wave that left the country with the world's worst per-capita death rate, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies