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January 28, 2022

Covid-19 update: Boosters up protection against death from Omicron

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.6 million, with a figure of 5,637,717 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections surged past 360 million to a world wide figure of 366,298,737.

Covid-19 boosters increase protection against death from the Omicron variant to 95% in people aged 50 or over, the UK Health Security Agency said. Vaccines were also able to keep infected people out of the hospital, even months after a booster dose. The Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine showed about 75% effectiveness against hospitalization by 10-14 weeks after a booster dose, the UK agency said. Up to nine weeks after a Moderna Inc. booster, vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization was 90% to 95%. These figures may change with time, the agency added.

A third dose of mRNA Covid-19 vaccine provided more protection against hospitalization during the rise of the Delta variant compared with two shots, according to a US government study. Vaccine efficacy for adults who received a booster dose made by Moderna Inc. or partners Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE was as high as 88% for those with weakened immune systems and 97% for those without such conditions, according to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis. After just two doses, the vaccines were 69% effective in immunocompromised people and 82% effective in otherwise healthy recipients, according to the data which analyzed almost 3,000 hospitalized adults.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 73 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 878,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The US government’s main health agency is failing to meet its responsibilities for leading the national response to public health emergencies, including the coronavirus pandemic, a federal watchdog said Thursday.

About 1,700 dockworkers at West Coast ports have tested positive for Covid-19 in January, stretching capacity at the US’s busiest gateway for shipping containers. The number of infections for this month compares with 1,624 for all of 2021, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates contacts with the International Longshore and Warehouses Union for 70 companies at 29 ports on the coast. About 80% of January’s reported infections were at the U.S.’s two largest ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Almost 15,000 ILWU workers are employed at West Coast ports.

Southwest Airlines Co.’s chief executive officer is weighing in again on measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus – and this time he’s firmly in the pro-mask camp as carriers struggle to cope with the Omicron variant’s impact. CEO Gary Kelly said on the airline’s quarterly conference call Thursday that now would not be the best time to lift a federal requirement for masks to be worn at all times on aircraft and in airports – unless a person is eating or drinking. The mandate, which covers all transportation networks across the US, is set to expire 18 March.

Canada: Canadian truck drivers are meeting in Ottawa to protest a federal government vaccine mandate.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau says he has been exposed to Covid-19 and will isolate for five days, in accordance with health rules for vaccinated people.

Europe

EU: The EU’s drug regulator gave the green light to Pfizer Inc’s antiviral Covid-19 pill for treating adults at risk of severe illness.

Booster shots could reduce future hospitalisations in Europe by at least half a million, the EU’s public health agency said.

Germany: Germany’s seven-day rate of coronavirus infections rose to record 1,073 per 100,000 people. For the time being, hospitals are not coming under the same pressure as in previous waves. The nation reported 190,148 new Covid-19 cases, compared with a record 203,136 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach expects the latest wave to peak in mid-February.

Finland: Finland will begin gradually easing restrictions from 1 February instead of mid-February as initially planned.

France: The head of the Paris hospitals system has set off a fierce debate by questioning whether people who refuse to be vaccinated should continue to have their treatment covered by public health insurance.

UK: England is going back to its “Plan A” Covid strategy by lifting virus restrictions, with commuters back to the office, masks no longer required in enclosed places and vaccine passports shelved.

A former head of England’s health service, a Nobel Prize winner and World Health Organization advisers are among more than 300 experts urging the UK government to clear the way for lower-income nations to produce Covid-19 vaccines, drugs and tests. In a letter, the scientists and public health specialists called on the government to support efforts to suspend intellectual property rules, while expressing concern about Omicron and the threat of future variants. Joined by groups including Global Justice Now, they’re pushing the UK to spur drugmakers to share vaccine recipes.

Many more Covid restrictions are being lifted on Friday in Wales, allowing nightclubs to reopen and some rules on social distancing to be scrapped.

Sweden: Sweden’s health authority says it will not recommend Covid-19 jabs for all five to 11 year olds, the country again choosing a different Covid policy to much of Europe.

Asia pacific

Hong Kong: It will take Hong Kong at least six weeks to vaccinate 90% of the population if the current immunization pace holds, meaning mid-March may be the earliest the city can potentially start easing restrictions.The first-dose rate among people 12 years old and above stands at 79% and will cross 90% by March 14, according to Bloomberg News calculations based on the average speed over the past three weeks. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Thursday that’s the level at which authorities could consider easing some social distancing rules, which currently include restaurant restrictions and the closure of gyms and bars.

Hong Kong is considering expanding vaccine mandate to include premises including shopping malls and public transport, HKET reported, citing unidentified people. The city will also ban most unvaccinated people from entering restaurants, gyms and bars. The move comes as the city struggles to stem a worsening outbreak that’s filling hospital beds and has put thousands of people into quarantine or lockdown.

Hong Kong will shorten its 21-day quarantine requirement to 14 days for incoming travellers starting from 5 February.

Japan: Japan’s government is considering shortening the isolation period for people who have been in close contact to those with Covid-19 to 7 days from 10 days, Nikkei reported without attribution. The period was already shortened from 14 days in mid-January.

India: New Delhi ends a weekend curfew, reopens restaurants and allows markets to operate at full capacity, as the Omicron variant outbreak slows.

China: China reported a combined 12 Covid infections among incoming air travelers involved in the Winter Olympics and in the “closed-loop” system on Thursday, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics said in a statement.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese people are expected to make the trip back to their hometowns over the Lunar New Year break, though holiday travel is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels as Covid-19 spreads. For the holiday period through 25 February, the Ministry of Transport expects people to make 1.18 billion trips. That’s well below the almost 3 billion trips made in 2019, the last year before the pandemic broke out in China, and shows the recovery in travel and spending has a long way to go.

China’s Walvax Biotechnology has recruited most of the 28,000 participants needed for a large clinical trial of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine candidate, a senior company official said.

Singapore: Singapore will increase enforcement of its social distancing rules over the Lunar New Year holiday next week in an effort to mitigate the spread of Omicron. The government has increased the number of safe distancing personnel in Chinatown, and said it would cut off access to some park areas when they get too crowded.

Philippines: The Philippines will no longer require fully vaccinated arriving passengers to undergo facility-based quarantine, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said. Starting 1 February, fully-vaccinated visitors from non-visa countries shall only be required to present a negative RT-PCR test taken within 48 hours prior to departure, Nograles said in a televised briefing.

Australia: Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration approved Pfizer booster shots for people aged 16 and 17. Health Minister Greg Hunt said the boosters could be available within a week, with the country’s technical advisory group on vaccinations also expected to soon sign off, and to give the government advice on the timing of the third shot. More than 93% of Australians aged 16 and over have had two doses of Covid-19 vaccine.

Middle-east and Africa

UAE: A United Arab Emirates medical convoy of one million Covid-19 vaccines reached the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing, state news agency WAM said.

Morocco: Morocco will reopen its airspace for international flights starting 7 February, the state news agency (MAP) reported on Thursday.

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