The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 5.5 million, with a figure of 5,504,291 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 313 million to a world wide figure of 313,497,756.
More than half of people in Europe could contract the Omicron in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, the World Health Organization has warned. The fast-spreading variant represents a “west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region,” said Hans Kluge, the regional director of the WHO for Europe at a briefing Tuesday. He cited forecasts by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that the majority of Europeans could catch it in the next six to eight weeks.
The WHO warned that it is too soon to treat Omicron as a flu-like endemic illness. Senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, said: “We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.
News by region
US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 62 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 842,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The US recorded a record number of hospitalisations due to Covid-19, as the daily infection rate soared to more than 1.35m. There were 145,982 people hospitalised with coronavirus on Monday, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
However, the Omicron-fueled Covid surge in New York appears to be “cresting over that peak” as the rate of increase slows, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said. The percentage of New Yorkers that tested positive has dropped to 18.6% from more than 22% in recent days. In New York City, Covid rates are “plateauing,” while upstate figures are tracking behind the city by a couple of weeks, Hochul said in a virus briefing.
The fact sheet for Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine has been revised by US regulators to warn of the risk of a rare bleeding disorder. The Food and Drug Administration said in a letter to the company on Tuesday that adverse-event reports suggested an increased risk of immune thrombocytopenia during the 42 days following vaccination. Symptoms include bruising or excessive or unusual bleeding, according to the agency.
France: France’s health ministry is expected to announce a record of more than 350,000 new Covid infections over a 24-hour period, according to the health minister, Olivier Véran.
Meanwhile, about three-quarters of teachers in France plan to strike on Thursday to protest against the government’s shifting rules on Covid forcing the closure of half the country’s primary schools, a union has warned.
Germany: German police have drawn criticism for using an app to trace Covid contacts from bars and restaurants.
Sweden: Sweden announced a record 70,641 new Covid cases since Friday. It also said there were a 54 new deaths from Covid.
China: Vice Premier Sun Chunlan called on authorities in Henan province in central China to adopt more targeted measures to curb Covid after virus flareups there in recent days, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Tuesday.
Hangzhou city in China’s southeast, meanwhile, will offer immigrant workers digital coupons to encourage them to stay in the city and avoid travelling during the Lunar New Year holiday, the Paper reported. Toyota Motor Corp. has stopped work at its plant in Tianjin since Monday as authorities in the municipality to the east of Beijing lock down areas and move to test citizens for Covid-19.
China has sent three people to prison for up to four-plus years over breaches of rules that led to a virus outbreak, in one of the harshest punishments for lapses in enforcing the government’s strict Covid-zero policy. The violations at a cargo company in Dalian, a port in the northeast, included failing to ensure employees wore masks, avoided visiting public venues after hours, and were properly quarantined and tested, the Global Times reported late Tuesday. Those oversights allowed four people to infect 83 others.
China’s Guangxi region resumed customs clearance on 10 January at three border crossings with Vietnam’s northern province of Quang Ninh after thousands of transport trucks were stranded for weeks.
South Korea: South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety will allow the use of Novavax Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine, provided a report of the final clinical test result is submitted, according to a statement. The vaccine is manufactured by SK Bioscience Co. in Korea.
Meanwhile, about 40 officials with Samsung Electronics Co., SK Group and Hyundai Motor Group who attended a CES trade show in Las Vegas last week were infected with Covid, Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported, without citing anyone.
Japan: Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, the site of the nation’s biggest Covid-19 outbreak, saw the number of health-care workers taking sick leave climb to a record of 503, Kyodo News reported Tuesday. That’s forced 15 medical institutions to limit the capacity of emergency patients they accept.
Philippines: The Philippines has banned unvaccinated individuals from public transport in the capital following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to restrict their movement as Covid-19 infections surge. Commuters are required to show proofs of vaccination before riding buses, jeepneys, trains and other public transport in Metro Manila, the transportation department said Wednesday. The “no vaccination, no ride” policy will be in effect while the capital is under Alert Level 3, the third-highest in a five-step scale.
Australia: The Omicron variant represents about 90% of cases in New South Wales state, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told reporters Wednesday, the remainder being the delta strain. Omicron is now responsible for about 67% of Covid-19 cases in intensive care units across the state, she said.
Australia was already facing a record shortfall of workers before spiraling Omicron infections triggered the widespread absenteeism that is causing the country more acute pain from the variant than its global peers. Official data Wednesday showed job vacancies climbed to a record, up 18.5% to almost 400,000 in the three months through November. With the virus now raging, a key industry body is warning that firms in food and logistics are reporting 10%-50% of their workers are sick or in isolation, leaving supermarket shelves empty.
Middle-east and Africa
Israel: About 400,000 Israelis have gotten a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a press conference on Tuesday. Israel was the first to give the extra shot to people age 60 and over, part of his government’s strategy to protect those most vulnerable to the virus. European Union regulators on Tuesday warned that frequent Covid-19 booster shots could adversely affect the immune system and may not be feasible.