Covid-19 has infected more than 401M people and killed over 5.7M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

One quarter of the countries in the Middle East have not yet reached 10 percent vaccination coverage.
One quarter of the countries in the Middle East have not yet reached 10 percent vaccination coverage. (Reuters)

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

WHO: Covid infections, deaths on the rise in Middle East

Middle Eastern countries have seen a rise in coronavirus infections in the last six weeks because of low vaccination rates, according to officials at the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office.

Reported cases rose to a daily average of 110,000 in the past six weeks, while average daily deaths rose to 345 in the last three weeks, WHO regional director Ahmed Al-Mandhari said on Wednesday.

More than 35 percent of the region's population is fully vaccinated. But one quarter of the countries have not yet reached 10 percent vaccination coverage, said Rana Hajjeh, director of programme management.

The WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region comprises the Middle East, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti and Afghanistan, among others. 

Sweden lifts restrictions

Sweden has scrapped almost all of its few pandemic restrictions and stopped most testing for Covid-19, even as the pressure on the healthcare systems remained high and some scientists begged for more patience in fighting the disease.

Sweden's government, which throughout the pandemic has opted against lockdowns in favour of a voluntary approach, announced last week it would scrap the remaining restrictions - effectively declaring the pandemic over - as vaccines and the less severe Omicron variant have cushioned severe cases and deaths.

"As we know this pandemic, I would say it's over," Minister of Health Lena Hallengren told Dagens Nyheter. "It's not over, but as we know it in terms of quick changes and restrictions it is," she said, adding that Covid would no longer be classified as a danger to society.

As of Wednesday, bars and restaurants will be allowed to stay open after 11 p.m. again, and with no limits on the number of guests. Attendance limits for larger indoor venues were also lifted, as was the use of vaccine passes.

UK plans to end all restrictions by March

England will scrap the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 later this month if infection levels remain stable, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unexpectedly announced.

The proposed move would be one of the most dramatic easings of coronavirus rules taken by any country so far in the pandemic, as Johnson doubles down on a strategy of trying to "live with Covid".

However it is likely to prove controversial, with health experts warning much of the world still needs to be vaccinated and UK opposition politicians asking whether the government's scientific advisers support the planned change.

Johnson, dogged by revelations of apparent breaches of the Covid rules at Downing Street that have led to calls for him to quit, had earlier said he aimed to end the self-isolation rules on March 24.

But addressing lawmakers before parliament goes into recess on Thursday until February 21, he said he would bring the change forward by a month, to cheers from hordes of his fellow Conservative MPs who have grown increasingly weary with the restrictions. 

Palestinian authorities step up measures as hospitals fill up

Palestinian authorities have ramped up Covid-19 testing and vaccinations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and warned that public indifference to their calls for masking and social distancing is hampering efforts to fight the pandemic.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry registered more than 64,000 active cases on Wednesday, in what officials described as an unprecedented daily increase due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.

"Three weeks ago we were recording up to 300 infections daily, but in the last few days we crossed the 11,000 mark," said Mahdi Rashed, director of health services in Ramallah. "It's clear this is a result of the Omicron variant spreading."

Rashed cautioned that the real number of infections is likely higher, because many people are not getting tested, and he blamed the rise on peoples' "recklessness and indifference " by not adhering to health safety rules. 

Spanish King Felipe VI tests positive

Spain’s King Felipe VI has tested positive for Covid-19, the Royal Palace said in a statement.

The 54-year-old Spanish monarch has mild symptoms and will isolate for seven days.

“The general state of his majesty’s health is good, and he will carry on with his institutional activity from his residence,” said the statement.

Queen Letizia and their daughter Princess Sofia are showing no symptoms and will not isolate for now, following Spain's current rules.

UAE to lift gradually Covid-related restrictions

The United Arab Emirates will gradually lift restrictions imposed to check the spread of the pandemic, as the number of infections and hospitalisations has gone down, the state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

Venues will be allowed to function at maximum capacity by mid-February, it said, citing the National Emergency Crisis Management Authority.

The oil-rich federation reported on Wednesday 1,538 new coronavirus infections and four deaths in the past 24 hours, according to WAM. The total n umbers of Covid-related cases and deaths recorded in the country are respectively 862,514 and 2,273, it said.

The UAE has one of the world's highest vaccination rates. 

Queen of Denmark tests positive for Covid-19

Denmark's Queen Margrethe II has tested positive for Covid-19, experiencing only mild symptoms, the Royal House said. 

The 81-year-old monarch, who received a third dose of the vaccine in November, tested positive on Tuesday evening and "is displaying only mild symptoms," the court said in a statement.

The popular queen, who recently celebrated 50 years on the throne, had to cancel a planned holiday trip to Norway and is isolating at her palace in Copenhagen under current health recommendations.

Despite lifting all domestic virus restrictions last week, Danis h authorities still recommend patients isolate for at least four days. 

Japanese princess hospitalised for Covid, pneumonia

The first member of Japan’s imperial family infected with the coronavirus has been hospitalised after being diagnosed with pneumonia.

Princess Yoko, 38, was reported to have caught Covid-19 on Tuesday but the latest medical reports showed doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia, Japan’s Imperial Household Agency said in a statement on Wednesday to Tokyo-based Kyodo News.

Yoko is the first member of Japan’s imperial family to have been infected with the coronavirus.

She was being treated inside the imperial palace before being shifted to the University of Tokyo Hospital after her fresh medical reports came.

Covid pushing Zimbabweans to quit smoking

Rising awareness in Zimbabwe about Covid-19 complications has prompted smokers of tobacco and other substances to quit, health experts in the Southern African nation confirm.

"With the advent of Covid-19 and the health awareness that was broadcast, it became clearer that there are certain people who are at more risk of succumbing to Covid-19," Dr. Anesu Chinoperekwei, a Harare-based psychiatrist, told Anadolu News Agency on World Smoking Cessation Day.

"Among those are people with chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma," said Chinoperekwei.

"Those who smoke are also at risk," she said, noting that many smokers are worried about the future consequences of their habit in relation to the coronavirus.

WHO urges rich countries to pay up for Covid plan

The WHO has urged rich countries to pay their fair share of the money needed for its plan to conquer Covid-19 by contributing $16 billion as a matter of urgency.

The World Health Organization said the rapid cash injection into its Access to Covid Tools Accelerator could finish off Covid as a global health emergency this year.

The WHO-led ACT-A is aimed at developing, producing, procuring and distributing tools to tackle the pandemic: vaccines, tests, treatments and personal protective equipment.

ACT-A gave birth to the Covax facility, which delivered its billionth vaccine dose to poorer countries in mid-January.

South Korea sees nearly 50,000 fresh infections

South Korea has reported nearly 50,000 new cases, a new record driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant of coronavirus.

During the past 24 hours, 49,567 new cases were confirmed, pushing the total caseload to over 1.13 million, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said. 

The previous daily high was 38,689 infections on Sunday.

Japan to extend virus quasi emergency for 13 regions 

Japan has decided to extend its Covid-19 quasi-state of emergency in Tokyo and 12 prefectures until March 6, public broadcaster NHK said.

The government will add one more prefecture to the list of regions facing quasi-emergency measures including restrictions on the business hours of eateries, according to NHK. 

Russia's daily cases hit new record high

Russia reported 183,103 Covid-19 cases, a record daily high, as the Omicron variant continued to spread.

Russia also confirmed 669 deaths in the past 24 hours, the government coronavirus task force said. 

Slovakia adds record 20,582 new cases

Slovakia reported 20,582 new Covid-19 infections, the country's Health Ministry has said.

It is the highest daily tally since the pandemic started as the country is hit like others in central Europe by the spread of the Omicron variant.

Sweden ends testing as pandemic restrictions lifted

Sweden has halted wide-scale testing for Covid-19 even among people showing symptoms of an infection, putting an end to the mobile city-square tent sites, drive-in swab centres and home-delivered tests that became ubiquitous during the pandemic and provided essential data for tracking its spread. 

The move puts the Scandinavian nation at odds with most of Europe, but some experts say it could become the norm as costly testing yields fewer benefits with the easily transmissible but milder Omicron variant and as governments begin to consider treating Covid-19 like they do other endemic illnesses. 

UK minister apologises for continuing meeting after positive Covid test

British health department minister Gillian Keegan has apologised for continuing a meeting after she was informed she had tested positive for Covid-19.

In a thread on Twitter published late on Tuesday, Keegan said was informed that a precautionary lateral flow test had returned a positive result whilst speaking to a group in her role as minister for care and mental health.

WHO mourns 500,000 Omicron deaths

The World Health Organization has lamented that half a million Covid-19 deaths had been recorded since the Omicron variant was discovered, calling the toll "beyond tragic".

The WHO's incident manager Abdi Mahamud said that 130 million cases and 500,000 deaths had been recorded globally since Omicron was declared a variant of concern in late November.

It has since rapidly overtaken Delta as the world's dominant Covid variant because it is more transmissible, though it appears to cause less severe illness.

Mexico reports more deaths

Mexico's Health Ministry has reported 132 more deaths from Covid-19, bringing the total number of fatalities in the country since the pandemic began to 309,884.

Brazil registers nearly 1,200 deaths

Brazil has recorded 177,027 new coronavirus cases and 1,189 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has registered 26,776,620 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 633,810, according to the ministry data.

Hong Kong reports first Covid death in five months

An elderly man who returned a positive test for Covid-19 in Hong Kong died, the city's Hospital Authority said, the city's first death potentially linked with the virus in five months as it struggles with a worsening outbreak.

The 73-year-old patient was chronically ill and had tested preliminarily positive for Covid during hospital admission screening, according to a statement from the Authority late on Tuesday.

It was unclear whether his death would be classified as Hong Kong's 214th Covid death as preliminary positive cases have to undergo further tests to be classified as positive.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is due to report at least 1,160 daily Covid-19 cases, a new record for the global financial hub that has been struggling to contain an outbreak of the Omicron variant, broadcaster TVB reported, citing an unidentified source.

Canada provinces to ease rules as trucker protests harden

Truckers paralysing the Canadian capital in anger at Covid rules showed no sign of backing down, as several of the nation's provinces announced it was time to roll back restrictions that count among the world's toughest.

With authorities struggling to bring the protest movement to heel, Saskatchewan in the country's west said it was ready to lift all pandemic restrictions, with Quebec and Alberta also signaling plans to ease measures.

And in the capital, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau –– who a day earlier issued a stern warning the protests "had to stop" –– appeared to shift tone, saying he understood "how frustrated everyone is" and that "the time is coming when we will be able to relax."

The truckers have received US support ranging from former president Donald Trump to the billionaire Elon Musk, while at home, according to a Leger poll, 44 percent of vaccinated Canadians sympathise with their "concerns and frustrations."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies