Covid-19 has infected more than 318M people and killed over 5.5M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

US President Joe Biden says about 15 million tests are being administered every day, compared to two million when he took office a year ago.
US President Joe Biden says about 15 million tests are being administered every day, compared to two million when he took office a year ago. (AFP)

Thursday, January 13, 2022

US to distribute 1B Covid test kits

US President Joe Biden has said the government will double its purchase of Covid-19 tests with an extra 500 million kits, bringing the total to one billion.

As the United States struggles against the Omicron variant sweeping the world, Biden urged Americans to wear good quality masks as "part of your patriotic duty."

However, the White House faces pressure over the lack of easily available Covid tests, stymying efforts to keep schools open and get people to work when Omicron infections are surging.

UK to cut self-isolation period

UK will cut the minimum self-isolation period for those with Covid-19 in England from seven to five days to help boost economic activity.

UK records 335 new deaths and 109,133 new cases on Thursday.

Germany breaks daily case record for 2nd straight day

With more than 81,000 new infections, Germany has reported its highest daily coronavirus cases for a second day in a row.

The Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control agency, confirmed 81,417 new infections and 316 fatalities in the past 24 hours. 

Greece calls in army to boost Covid testing

Greece said the army would help boost Covid-19 testing after extending entertainment restrictions to contain the Omicron variant.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said 50 additional free testing locations would be set up near army camps, after days of long queues at pharmacies.

The ministry had also announced that music and seating restrictions at bars and restaurants would be extended to January 23.

Netherlands to ease restrictions

Coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands will be eased from Saturday despite a wave of new infections due to the Omicron variant, Dutch media reported.

Non-essential stores, hairdressers and gyms will be allowed to reopen for a limited number of customers.

 Students will be welcomed back to their colleges and universities.

Bars, restaurants, theatres, museums and other public places will remain closed.

French Senate approves latest Covid measures and vaccine pass

The French Senate has approved the government's latest measures to tackle the Covid-19 virus, including a vaccine pass, by 249 in favour, versus 63 against.

The new measures had encountered some opposition among the public after President Emmanuel Macron's harsh criticism of the unvaccinated.

Macron and members of his ruling La Republique En Marche party have stepped up their campaign this year against those not vaccinated against Covid, as France battles a fifth wave of the virus.

Macron told Le Parisien paper this month that he wanted to "piss off" unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting the Covid vaccine.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of French teachers walked off the job over what they say is the government's failure to adopt a coherent policy for schools to manage the pandemic.

Africa health body seeks to import Pfizer Covid pill

Africa's top public health body Africa Centres for Disease Control has initiated talks with Pfizer about bringing in supplies of its antiviral Paxlovid treatment pills for Covid-19 to the continent.

"We are in really close discussions with Pfizer to see what can be done to make the drugs available on the continent and accessible on the continent, that is the Paxlovid drugs," said director John Nkengasong.

Paxlovid was nearly 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths, and data suggested it retains its effectiveness against Omicron, Pfizer has said.

Governments around the world are scrambling to buy Paxlovid, while Merck's Molnupiravir has faced setbacks after disappointing trial data.

Nkengasong said that obtaining supplies of Covid-19 drugs was one of three key strategies for combating the pandemic in Africa in 2022, along with scaling up vaccinations and expanding testing.

India’s big cities could see Covid cases peak next week

New Covid-19 infections in Indian cities such as capital New Delhi and Mumbai could peak next week after rising rapidly, experts warned, as the country reported the highest number of daily cases since late May.

The 247,417 new infections were more than 30 times higher compared to daily cases from a month ago, rising as the more transmissible Omicron variant replaced Delta across the country. 

Total infections reached 36.32 million, behind only the United States.

Mumbai recorded a high of 20,971 infections last Friday but cases have been coming down since. City officials said the rate of infection was also coming down, with nearly 80 percent of Covid-19 hospital beds vacant.

Delhi reported more than 27,500 infections on Wednesday, close to its all-time high, and its health minister told local media this week infections could start coming down in a few days.

Pakistan reports highest number of single-day cases in months

Pakistan reported over 3,000 new Covid-19 cases, the highest single-day total in the past four months, as the fifth wave of the coronavirus intensified.

The country registered 3,019 infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the caseload to 1.13 million, Health Ministry data showed. Five fatalities were also reported, taking the death toll to 28,992.

On September 11 last year, Pakistan registered 3,153 cases, which gradually decreased to 291 on December 29. However, infections again spiked earlier this month with cases of the new Omicron variant.

Asad Umar, the minister who is heading Pakistan's Covid-19 response, warned that authorities have “clear evidence” of a new virus wave.

He said a surge “has been expected for the last few weeks” and that genome sequencing shows a “rising proportion of Omicron cases,” particularly in Karachi, the country's largest city.

France eases entry rules for vaccinated travellers from the UK

France is set to let in travellers from Britain who are vaccinated against Covid-19 without having to self-isolate or offer a valid reason for the trip.

Travel restrictions will be eased starting Friday because the highly-contagious Omicron variant is now largely dominant in both countries, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

Unvaccinated travellers arriving from the UK must still provide a valid reason for travelling and undergo a 10-day quarantine under police supervision.

All those arriving from Britain must still present a negative virus test taken within the previous 24 hours.

France, which has one of Europe’s most-vaccinated populations, reported this week a daily record of more than 368,000 new coronavirus cases.

US study shows less hospitalisation and death risk for Omicron patients

A preliminary US study of nearly 70,000 Covid positive people showed a substantially reduced risk of hospitalisation and death from Omicron even after controlling for growing population immunity levels.

People infected with Omicron were half as likely to be hospitalised, about 75 percent less likely to need intensive care, and around 90 percent less likely to die compared to those infected with the formerly dominant Delta variant, according to the paper.

Hospital stays lasted for a median of 1.5 days for Omicron compared to five days for Delta, and 90 percent of Omicron patients were discharged in three or fewer days.

The study showed that of 52,000 people infected with Omicron, none ended up on a ventilator, compared to 11 people from nearly 17,000 with Delta.

Australian Open crowds capped at 50 percent over Covid

Crowds at the Australian Open will be capped at 50 percent capacity as Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations continue to rise in Melbourne, the Victoria state government has said.

"These updates to arrangements for the Australian Open will mean that fans, players and the workforce can look forward to a terrific Covid-safe event," Victorian tourism minister Jaala Pulford said in a statement ahead of the first tennis Grand Slam of the year, which starts on Monday.

Brazil's Bolsonaro underestimates Omicron

President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the Omicron coronavirus variant amid a surge in hard-hit Brazil, ruling out new containment measures as he defended the pursuit of herd immunity through widespread infection.

In the country with the world's second-highest Covid-19 death toll, Bolsonaro said the arrival of the Omicron variant posed little threat, even as experts warn of growing pressure on hospitals.

The coronavirus-skeptic president said that Omicron has not killed anyone, after municipal authorities in the state of Goias announced the country's first death due t o the new variant.

Spain seeks a different approach to Covid

Spain has reported a new daily record for coronavirus infections and its health minister said the country may begin treating Covid-19 like other viral infections once the current wave subsides.

Spain is leading the push for other European countries to consider how to live with Covid-19 like other endemic viruses.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies