Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.9 million, with a figure of 5,964,704 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 438 million to a world wide figure of 438,535,937.
Covid-19 vaccines protected children and adolescents from severe disease even after the immune-evasive Omicron variant emerged, according to findings from US government reports. After Omicron became dominant in the US late last year, protection against infection and urgent care visits declined for 5- to 17-year-olds who’d received primary inoculations, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Tuesday. However, vaccinated children and teens were still less likely to get infected than their unvaccinated peers, the agency said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
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US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 79 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 952,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Pfizer Inc. will provide the US with enough treatment courses of its Covid-19 antiviral pill for one million people in March, a Biden administration official said. That’s up from a previously scheduled monthly allotment of 650,000 courses.
New York City will end its main contact-tracing program for the coronavirus next month because of a new federal recommendation, the New York Times reported, citing a city official. The move also comes in response to widespread vaccination and a slump in infections.
Changes in federal face-covering guidance mean Los Angeles County will likely lift its universal indoor mask mandate on Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer also announced plans to relax some vaccine-verification rules.
UK: UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he’ll remove the requirement that those working in health and social care be vaccinated against Covid-19 starting 15 March. The announcement on Tuesday follows a public consultation on revoking the rules, which had threatened to force thousands of unvaccinated health-care workers out of their jobs.
New Zealand: Protesters engaged with New Zealand police near parliament’s main gates, hurling cobblestones torn up from the footpath at officers with riot shields. Police are using fire hoses to push back the demonstrators. “It was an attack on our frontline police, it was an attack on our parliament, it was an attack on our values, and it was wrong,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters. “Parliament grounds have. At least 65 people have been arrested and police said they are intent on ending the protest.
Hong Kong: Record numbers of Hong Kong residents are fleeing while others strip shelves of food and medicine, amid conflicting reports about Hong Kong’s plans to lock down the city. The government plans a four-day limited lockdown at the start of a compulsory Covid-19 testing blitz later this month, HK01 reported Wednesday, citing unidentified people. That is a marginally looser scenario than reports yesterday that triggered panic-buying. “It is totally understandable for members of the public to feel anxious and worried,” the government said in a statement, urging people to “heed the information disseminated by the Government, so as to avoid being misled by rumours spread by individuals with ulterior motives and succumbing to unnecessary fear and irrational behaviour.”
Meanwhile, HSBC Holdings Plc will require all staff, contractors and third parties to have a valid vaccine pass to enter its Hong Kong offices from March 28, according to a memo today. The new requirement won’t apply to customers entering branches.
South Korea: South Korea’s daily new Covid-19 infections reached 219,241, topping 200,000 for the first time, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. There were 96 deaths, bringing the toll to 8,266. The fatality rate has fallen sharply, from 0.88% before the Omicron-led surge to 0.24% Wednesday. However contacts are expected to increase as in-person schooling starts this week, with presidential elections next week.
Japan: Japan’s government plans to further ease border controls for foreign students, the Yomiuri newspaper reported, citing unidentified officials. That would see foreign students excluded from the 5,000-person daily cap on arrivals. Japan yesterday announced an easing of some of the developed world’s most stringent virus border measures, but the cap on arrivals is so low it will take months to clear the backlog of roughly 370,000 visa-holders waiting for entry.
Hong Kong: Bearish bets against the city’s shares have climbed to records and the benchmark Hang Seng Index is near a two-year low. Residents are converting the local currency into China’s yuan at the fastest pace in more than a decade, while the Hong Kong dollar is moving toward the weak end of its trading band against the greenback. Amid the damage to the city’s reputation as a financial center, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority told finance executives that it’s lobbying the government to halve hotel quarantines to 7 from 14 days, people familiar said.
US: Delivering his first State of the Union address, President Biden said Americans need to return to their offices after working at home during the pandemic. The vast majority of federal workers will once again work in-person, he said. “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” he said, according to the text of his speech. “People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office.” He also announced a prosecutor for pandemic fraud will be appointed. “We’re going after the criminals who stole billions in relief money meant for small businesses and millions of Americans.”