Covid-19 has infected more than 268M people and killed over 5.2M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

A patient gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Witkoppen clinic in Johannesburg on December 8, 2021.
A patient gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Witkoppen clinic in Johannesburg on December 8, 2021. (AFP)

Thursday, December 9, 2021

WHO warns against vaccine hoarding as poorer countries go without

The World Health Organization has warned wealthy countries against hoarding Covid-19 vaccines for booster shots as they try to fight off the new Omicron variant, threatening supplies to poorer countries where inoculation rates are low.

The UN health agency's vaccine advisors warned that a rush to stockpile more jabs, especially without clear evidence they are needed, would only exacerbate the already glaringly inequal vaccine access around the globe.

"As we head into whatever the Omicron situation is going to be, there is a risk that the global supply is again going to revert to high-income countries hoarding vaccine to protect (their populations) a sense in excess," WHO vaccines chief Kate O'Brien told reporters.

"It's not going to work from an epidemiologic perspective, and it's not going to work from a transmission perspective, unless we actually have vaccine going to all countries," she said.

O'Brien warned that efforts by wealthy countries to stockpile more jabs for their people would only prolong the pandemic.

FDA expands Pfizer Covid booster, opens extra dose to age 16

The US is expanding Covid-19 boosters, ruling that 16- and 17-year-olds can get a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds to get a third dose of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech – if it’s been six months since their last shot.

The Pfizer vaccine is the only option in the US for anyone younger than 18, either for initial vaccination or for use as a booster. It’s not yet clear if or when teens younger than 16 might need a third Pfizer dose.

Vaccinations for children as young as 5 just began last month, using special low-dose Pfizer shots. By this week, about 5 million 5- to 11-year-olds had gotten a first dose.

Vaccine makers racing to update Covid shots, just in case

Vaccine makers are racing to update their Covid-19 shots against the newest coronavirus threat even before it’s clear a change is needed, just in case.

Experts doubt today’s shots will become useless but say it’s critical to see how fast companies could produce a reformulated dose and prove it works – because whatever happens with omicron, this newest mutant won’t be the last.

Omicron “is pulling the fire alarm. Whether it turns out to be a false alarm, it would be really good to know if we can actually do this – get a new vaccine rolled out and be ready,” said immunologist E. John Wherry of the University of Pennsylvania.

It’s too soon to know how vaccines will hold up against omicron. 

The first hints this week were mixed: Preliminary lab tests suggest two Pfizer doses may not prevent an omicron infection but they could protect against severe illness. And a booster shot may rev up immunity enough to do both.

Better answers are expected in the coming weeks and regulators in the US and other countries are keeping a close watch. 

UN chief ends quarantine after Covid exposure

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tested negative for Covid-19 and ended two days of isolation prompted by exposure to a UN official with the coronavirus.

"Yes, negative," his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said as the 72 year old UN chief went into a UN Security Council meeting without speaking to reporters.

Guterres has received a two-dose vaccination and a booster shot.

The Security Council meeting was due to focus on terrorism and climate change in the Sahel region of Africa.

UK records 50,867 new cases, 148 deaths

Britain has recorded 50,867 new cases of Covid-19 and a further 148 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, official daily statistics showed.

On a seven-day basis, cases are up 8 percent on the week before, with deaths up 0.7 percent.

Italy reports 79 deaths, 12,527 new cases

Italy has reported 79 coronavirus-related deaths against 86 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 12,527 from 17,959.

Italy has registered 134,551 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. 

The country has reported 4.94 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 6,333 on Thursday, up from 6, 099 a day earlier.

Pakistan probing first potential Omicron case 

Authorities in Pakistan are investigating the first possible case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in the South Asian nation, a provincial health ministry official said.

The official initially said contact tracing was underway and the patient had travelled abroad, but later Sindh authorities said they were uncertain of the person's travel history.

Pakistan's National Institute of Health (NIH) later issued a statement saying the case was not yet confirmed.

"To clarify, the sample is not yet confirmed to be Omicron via whole genome sequencing, which is to be performed after obtaining the sample," the NIH said.

Africa CDC: Problems between India's Serum and Africa affecting vaccine supply

The supply of vaccines from India's Serum Institute to the global vaccine-sharing network Covax has been affected by its poor relations with African bodies, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control said.

"The problem with Serum and India and Covax and Africa is one that is very unfortunate," John Nkengasong told an online media briefing, blaming what he described as Serum's "unprofessional manner" for the difficulties.

UEFA confirms Tottenham v Rennes match is off after outbreak

European football's governing body UEFA has confirmed that Tottenham's Europa Conference League game with Rennes is off after a Covid outbreak in the Spurs camp.

Spurs announced on Wednesday that the Group G fixture would not take place after 13 players and members of staff tested positive for Covid-19.

UEFA said in a statement: "We can confirm that the Tottenham-Rennes match will not take place tonight. Further information will follow in due course."

WHO: Africa accounts for 46 percent of reported cases of Omicron

Africa accounts for 46 percent of reported cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 globally, Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the World Health Organisation's Immunisation and Vaccine Development Programme for Africa, told an online briefing.

Hong Kong mandates Covid tracing app for adults

The Hong Kong government has made its check-in app mandatory for most adults in bars and restaurant.

From Thursday, all adults under 65 must use the city government's Covid app, scanning QR codes to log their presence at 18 types of premises – including eateries, cinemas, gyms and karaoke venues.

The logs can be used to trace infections if there is an outbreak.

No local infections have been recorded in months, but the city is further ramping up virus measures, aligning with China's zero-Covid strategy as it seeks quarantine-free travel with the mainland.

WHO sets out guidance for booster shots

The World Health Organization's (WHO) vaccine advisory panel recommends that people who are immunocompromised or received an inactivated vaccine should receive a booster dose of a Covid-19 shot, the head of the panel said.

The recommendation comes after the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunisation held a meeting on Tuesday to evaluate the need for COVID-19 boosters.

Speaking in a briefing, SAGE chair Alejandro Cravioto said emerging data showed that vaccines' efficacy against Covid-19 wanes, with a significant decline seen in older people in particular.

Inactivated vaccines which take the SARS-CoV-2 virus and inactivate or kill it using chemicals, heat or radiation, are made by Sinovac Biotech, Sinopharm and India's Bharat Biotech.

CDC chief: Omicron mostly mild so far

More than 40 people in the US have been found to be infected with the omicron variant so far, and more than three-quarters of them had been vaccinated, the chief of the CDC said. But she said nearly all of them were only mildly ill.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data is very limited and the agency is working on a more detailed analysis of what the new mutant form of the coronavirus might hold for the US.

“What we generally know is the more mutations a variant has, the higher level you need your immunity to be.... We want to make sure we bolster everybody’s immunity. And that’s really what motivated the decision to expand our guidance,” Walensky said, referencing the recent approval of boosters for all adults.

She said “the disease is mild” in almost all of the cases seen so far, with reported symptoms mainly cough, congestion and fatigue. One person was hospitalised, but no deaths have been reported, CDC officials said.

Some cases can become increasingly severe as days and weeks pass, and Walensky noted that the data is a very early, first glimpse of US omicron infections. The earliest onset of symptoms of any of the first 40 or so cases was November 15, according to the CDC.

China grants emergency approval for Covid drug

China's drug authority has granted emergency approval for a specialised treatment against Covid-19, found in clinical trials to significantly reduce hospitalisations and deaths among high-risk patients.

In an official notice, China' s National Medical Products Administration said it has granted "emergency approval" for a monoclonal antibody treatment.

A monoclonal antibody is a type of protein that attaches to the spike protein of the coronavirus, reducing its ability to enter the body's cells.

The treatment involves a combination of two drugs, administered through injections, and can be used to treat certain cases that are at risk of progressing in severity, the drug authority said.

It was co-developed by Tsinghua University, the Third People's Hospital of Shenzhen and Brii Biosciences.

Trial data showed that the combination therapy could reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death in high-risk patients by around 80 percent, Tsinghua University said in a statement on social media.

France records more than 61,000 infections

Health authorities in France have registered more than 61,000 positive coronavirus cases, the highest recorded figures since November.

An estimated 61,340 cases were identified and 133 fatalities were recorded in the last 24 hours.

Until last week, the number of daily cases was between 45,000 and 49,000.

The fifth wave is regarded as highly contagious and is progressing rapidly across the country.

Several hospitals have activated the crisis emergency response known as the “white plan” by increasing bed capacities in critical care and augmenting medical resources and staff services to care for coronavirus patients.

Coronavirus spreads in Australia's pubs

Covid-19 infections have been spreading in pubs and clubs in Australia's biggest city, including three new cases of the Omicron variant found among people who went on a harbour party cruise, sending officials rushing to trace contacts.

Authorities have been easing restrictions in Sydney since early October when the city emerged from a nearly four-month lockdown to contain the Delta coronavirus variant after the population reached higher vaccination levels.

"We have seen recently increased transmission in larger social venues . .. and that is certainly a contributing factor to the increase in cases," Marianne Gale, New South Wales Deputy Chief Health Officer, said in a video posted on Twitter.

Dozens of people who attended a Sydney pub quiz tested positive for the coronavirus and officials are awaiting the results of genomic tests to see if they are infected with the Omicron variant.

Deaths, infections rise in Brazil, Mexico

Brazil has reported 10,055 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 233 deaths from Covid-19.

The South American country has now registered 22,167,781 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 616,251, according to the government data, in the world's second-deadliest outbreak outside the United States.

With 85 percent of adults now fully vaccinated, the rolling 14-day average of deaths has fallen to 208 per day, compared to the toll of almost 3,000 a day at the peak of the pandemic in April.

Meanwhile, Mexico's Health Ministry reported 289 more deaths from Covid-19, bringing the country's death toll since the pandemic began to 295,893. 

The number of infections has risen to 3,908,534. 

Australia's deputy PM tests positive in Washington

Australia Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has tested positive for Covid-19 in Washington, DC while on an official visit, his office said in a statement.

The remaining members of his delegation have tested negative and Joyce will remain in isolation until further advice, the statement said.

Joyce had been experiencing mild symptoms and chose to get tested for Covid-19. He is the highest-ranking Australian leader to contract the virus since the pandemic began.

Joyce reached the United States on Tuesday after a visit to Britain, where he met senior government officials.

Finnish PM apologises for nightclub visit

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has apologised to the public after a photo surfaced of her in a nightclub following the foreign minister testing positive for Covid-19.

Marin said she decided not to cut her night out short on Saturday after being told she had been exposed to the coronavirus the day before, she wrote on Facebook on Monday after a Finnish gossip magazine published a photo of Marin in a crowded nightclub.

Marin said she was at a restaurant when she received a phone call from her state secretary informing her about the exposure.

"He said ministers would not be quarantined because they all have been vaccinated twice," Marin wrote on Facebook, explaining why she continued socialising.

The prime minister's office later said it had sent the exposed ministers two text messages on Saturday recommending that they avoid contact with other people.

Marin said she had left her official phone at home and instead relied on aides reaching her on her personal phone.

British PM announces new restrictions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the tightening of virus restrictions in England as Omicron variant cases surge, including guidance to work from home and mandatory Covid passports.

The UK has had more than 10 million confirmed cases and nearly 146,000 people have died from the virus, one of the highest tolls in Europe.

Johnson said that it was becoming increasingly clear that Omicron is "growing much faster than the previously dominant Delta variant and "we can't yet assume Omicron is less severe than previous variants".

Source: TRTWorld and agencies