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January 10, 2022updated 14 Jan 2022 9:31pm

Covid-19 update: Strain of Covid-19 combining Delta and Omicron discovered

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.4 million, with a figure of 5,488,750 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 300 million to a world wide figure of 307,179,029.

A strain of Covid-19 that combines Delta and Omicron was found in Cyprus, according to Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology. “There are currently Omicron and Delta co-infections and we found this strain that is a combination of these two,” Kostrikis said in an interview with Sigma TV Friday. The discovery was named “Deltacron” due to the identification of Omicron-like genetic signatures within the Delta genomes, he said. Kostrikis and his team have identified 25 such cases.

Omicron latest

Global: Two million new coronavirus cases were recorded on average across the world every day between 1 and 7 January, with figures doubling in 10 days, according to a tally kept by Agence-France Presse. New global case numbers have soared 270% since Omicron was discovered in South Africa in late November.

US: The main driver of the Omicron outbreak is “the fact that we’re probably only diagnosing somewhere between one and five and one in 10 actual infections,” said Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. It’s “a lot of people walking around with mild illness or asymptomatic infection who don’t know it, who are spreading it,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Gottlieb, a board member of Pfizer Inc., said that that young children not eligible for vaccines are most at risk now, with more than half of all pediatric hospitalizations in New York City age 4 and younger. He said the outbreak in the Northeast and “probably Florida” appears to be peaking but is building in other parts of the US.

As the Omicron variant sends US Covid case numbers soaring to records and drugstores and walk-in clinics clamor for test kits, suppliers have been struggling with their own mounting problems: Infected workers, delayed government authorizations for new tests and the pressure of panic buying and hoarding have left these companies scrambling. Vault Health, a telehealth company that now sells tests, has found itself shuffling test samples across the country, as sick lab workers who usually processes its at-home PCR test stay home. In New Jersey, one of the labs Vault regularly contracts with had more than 40% of its workforce out with Covid recently, said Jason Feldman, the company’s chief executive officer.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defended the agency from criticism that it has issued confusing guidance on how Americans should protect themselves from Covid-19. “This is hard,” Rochelle Walensky said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have ever-evolving science with an ever-evolving variant. And my job is to provide updated guidance in the context of rapidly rising cases. And that is what we’ve done.”

Walensky has faced widespread criticism most recently on a shortening in late December of the recommended quarantine as US infections caused by the Omicron variant soar. The quarantine was cut to five days from 10 but without a recommendation for testing before returning to activities like work or school.  She also said initial reports are that about 40% of hospitalizations are among people who sought care for something other than Covid-19 but tested positive. She said that while Omicron appears milder individually, the large number of people infected means “we very may well see death rates rise dramatically.”

Germany: Germany will study how reliable rapid antigen tests are in detecting the fast-spreading Omicron variant, the health minister, Karl Lauterbach, said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Some trucking supply routes are at risk of failing because of the impending wave of infections, German logistics association BGL said. “Omicron has the potential to increase supply bottlenecks,” BGL President Dirk Engelhardt told newspaper Bild am Sonntag. Germany’s seven-day incidence rate climbed further and reached 362.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest since 14 December, according to Robert Koch Institute data Sunday. That compares with the nation’s pandemic record high of 452.4 reached on 29 November.

Hungary: Hungary expects more than 13,000 daily infections and about 200 daily deaths during the Omicron-variant-fueled latest wave, the country’s health chief told Inforadio. The number of Covid-related hospitalized patients may peak at between 8,000 to 9,000 during the fifth wave in Hungary, which is expected to last until May, Human Resources Minister Miklos Kasler, who’s in charge of healthcare, said. Hungary’s daily Covid infections almost doubled in a week to 6,524 on Friday, while daily Covid-related deaths rose to 101 from 82 a week earlier.

UK: Kevin Fenton, London’s regional director for public health said the Omicron variant “may have passed its peak” in the UK capital. While new cases may be slowing, nearly one in ten Londoners are still infected, Fenton said. London was the first UK epicenter for the Omicron variant, but other parts of the country now have higher and still-rising seven-day case rates.

China: Tianjin, a major Chinese port city near the capital Beijing, has begun mass-testing its 14 million residents after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for Covid-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong reported 33 confirmed positive infections Sunday – of which 6 were local and the rest imported – most of which carry the Omicron variant, health official Chuang Shuk-kwan said at a briefing Sunday. Chuang raised concern about silent chains of community transmission in a separate list of 20 preliminary positive cases, one of them a 20-year-old part-time saleswoman at Sogo department store in Causeway Bay whose source of infection is unknown. That’s a worrying trend for city officials who have upheld a zero tolerance approach to Covid since the pandemic began, and typically trace each new case or cluster. Since Friday, the city has returned to the strictest social distancing measures as a fifth wave sparked by the Omicron variant takes hold: evening dining-in is banned and leisure venues like bars, gyms and museums have been ordered to close.

Israel: Israel isn’t planning widespread new coronavirus assistance for businesses during the current Omicron-driven wave of cases, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday. As many as 4 million Israelis, roughly 42% of the population, will be infected in the current wave, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday, citing data presented to his government. As recently as mid-December, daily cases were in the hundreds.  Meantime, an Israeli government-appointed committee will consider on Sunday evening whether to extend the offer of a fourth vaccine dose to additional groups, including school employees and security personnel, the Kan News reported.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 60 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 837,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

US daily infections almost doubled over the last week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Average daily cases reached a record of more than 663,000 on Friday, compared with about 385,500 a week earlier, with hospitalizations rising rapidly and fatalities trending upward.

New York reported a record 90,132 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday as the state passed 4 million total infections since the start of the pandemic. Another 154 people died, one of the highest daily figures in almost a year. Hospitalizations continued to increase to 11,843 and the state’s health-care system remains significantly strained. New York is the fourth state to surpass 4 million infections, after California, Texas and Florida, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

Brazil: Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa asked president Jair Bolsonaro to retract statements he made criticising the Covid vaccination for children.

Europe

Europe: Protests against virus rules continued in Europe on Sunday, with demonstrations in Belgium and the Czech Republic. Some 5,000 people demonstrated in central Brussels, police said, far fewer than a November protest that drew 35,000. Christmas trees were set on fire, and projectiles were thrown at police, according to news service Belga. Another 750 people joined a protest in Antwerp. Thousands marched in Prague against new compulsory vaccinations, the Associated Press reported. Czechs 60 and older, as well as medical personnel and students, police and firefighters will be required to get vaccinated starting in March. In Austria thousands marched in central Vienna on Saturday to protest against virus restrictions and an upcoming vaccine mandate. The mostly maskless crowd carried banners with slogans that included, “Your needle breaks on us” and “Have the courage to use your own judgment.” The protest was met by Viennese police in riot gear though the confrontation, while noisy, was mostly peaceful. Police said “dangerous objects” were found on some demonstrators. The rally marked a post-holiday resumption of protests that started in late November after the Austrian government announced a three-week national lockdown. The shutdown helped knock Austria’s daily virus cases down by about 80%, but levels are climbing again as the Omicron variant spreads. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said Friday he had tested positive.

UK: The UK has passed a grim milestone with more than 150,000 coronavirus deaths – the highest figure in Europe.

Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson has been warned by a Conservative rebel ringleader he faces a massive revolt from his own MPs if he does not end all coronavirus restrictions this month.

Covid should be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu, and ministers should end mass vaccination after the booster campaign, the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.

Lateral flow tests in the UK will remain free, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted amid reports they could be scaled back despite soaring Covid cases.

The UK government plans to restrict free lateral flow tests to high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, and to people with symptoms, the Times reported, citing an unidentified Whitehall source. The move, which Boris Johnson is set to announce within weeks, is part of the government’s plan to get the population used to living with Covid-19. In a tweet, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the approach “utterly wrongheaded.”

The boss of one of London’s busiest hospitals has said he is worried about losing staff when new rules come in requiring them to be vaccinated, BBC News reports.

Germany: Germany’s seven-day incidence rate climbed to about 336 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest since 16 December. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that the government is preparing for the possibility that another variant may emerge that is “as contagious as Omicron, but significantly more deadly.” Germany needs a permanent infrastructure to vaccinate the population quickly, he said.

Separately, the country’s hotel and restaurant lobby said the government’s decision to limit dining access only to people with booster vaccinations or a fresh test is “a disaster” for many businesses. A survey among member firms showed that December sales were already 50% below levels in 2019.

Greece: Greece sets 1 February deadline for booster jabs. Those who have not received their coronavirus booster jabs will be barred from most indoor venues.

Italy: Italy will only allow people showing a so-called reinforced green pass to board trains, planes, boats and to access to hotels, open air restaurants and swimming pools from 10 January. The reinforced certification is already mandatory in the country for many leisure activities, including eating inside restaurants, and going to theaters, cinemas, sporting and other public events. Unlike the original green pass, the reinforced version doesn’t grant access to the unvaccinated even if they have had a negative test.

Meanwhile, Serie A League decided to limit to 5,000 viewers the capacity in Italian football stadiums on 16 and 23 January in order to contain the spread of the virus. Italy’s government had already cut capacity for open-air sports events from 75% to 50% at the end of 2021, with many top football clubs like Inter Milan and Juventus suspending ticket sales for upcoming matches.

France: France should not impose mandatory vaccination and would not be the most efficient way to encourage people to get vaccinated, a government spokesperson said. More than 105,000 people took to the streets on Saturday in protest.

Asia pacific

Philippines: The Philippines reported a record number of daily infections with 28,707 new cases, up from 26,458 cases the previous day.

Japan: The US and Japan have reached an agreement to keep American troops within their bases amid concerns over a surge in Covid cases that has been linked to US military bases.

India: Maharashtra, the Indian state that houses financial hub Mumbai, will limit attendance at private sector offices at 50% of capacity and allow only fully vaccinated people from Monday. “Non-vaccinated employees must be encouraged to go for full vaccination,” the government said in a statement late Saturday. Schools will remain shut through 15 February. Mumbai reported more than 20,000 new infections in the past 24 hours, with hospital occupancy crossing 21% of capacity. The capital of Delhi also reported more than 20,000 cases over the same period, with test positivity approaching 20%. India’s health ministry reported more than 100,000 new cases for a second consecutive day, with the daily surge starting to look similar to levels in June.

Australia: Two people connected to the Australia (tennis) Open have left Australia, with the the Australian Border Force (ABF) saying the individuals voluntarily departed. The ABF did not confirm their names, but one is understood to be Czech player Renata Voráčová, according to Sky News.

Middle-east and Africa

Africa: Africa has registered a total of more than 10m cases since the start of the pandemic, according to figures from the Africa Centres for Disease Control. South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Libya are among the countries with the highest number of cases on the continent.

South Africa: Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa, has said the country needs to step up Covid-19 vaccinations, as its campaign founders in the face of apathy from the public. Nearly 40% of South Africa’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, less than the government had hoped for by this stage.

Kuwait and Qatar: Reported record daily Covid cases over the weekend. Kuwait reported 2,999 new cases on Sunday and Qatar on Saturday reported 3,487 new cases.

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