Global: The global Covid-19 death toll has passed 5.4 million, with a figure of 5,465,542 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 297 million world wide.
Pfizer has said it expects the latest results from its Covid vaccine clinical trial for children under the age of 5 – which will include booster shots – by April. Dr Alejandra Gurtman, a Pfizer vaccine researcher, said the company could even have data for the age group by the end of March.
US: New York City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said Covid data suggests the city hasn’t yet hit a peak in the Omicron-fuelled spike of coronavirus cases in recent weeks. Cases and hospitalizations are still increasing and “I expect that will continue in the near term, meaning the next days to weeks,” Chokshi said in a Covid briefing on Wednesday. He said the steepness of the curve appears to be falling, but that could be due to the changes of holiday testing patterns, when fewer people are getting tested. He said the impact of gatherings at New Years could still fuel another uptick and encouraged New Yorkers to continue getting booster doses and to continue to wear masks and social distance.
South Africa: South African excess deaths fell for the first week in three, adding to evidence that the Omicron-driven wave of coronavirus infections has been shorter and less severe than those caused by previous variants. Excess deaths, a measure of the number of fatalities against a historical average, in the week to Dec. 26 fell to 3,016 from 3,087 the week earlier, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report on Wednesday. Official deaths due to Covid-19 declined to 425 from 428. The excess death decline was the first in three weeks.
Japan: Japan urged the US to impose restrictions on troops stationed in the country amid virus outbreaks thought to have stemmed from bases, which have strained ties between the allies. In a phone conversation Thursday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi called for steps including limits on excursions off-base. Okinawa, where the first cases of the Omicron variant were linked to a US military base, expects a record of nearly 1,000 cases on Thursday, up from just 50 a few days ago.
Hong Kong: Banks in Hong Kong, including UBS Group AG and Standard Chartered Plc, are once again tightening work rules at their offices and moving into split teams as the Omicron variant threatens a fifth wave of infections in the Asian financial hub.
Macau: A day after Hong Kong announced a two-week ban on flights from eight countries with rising Omicron cases, neighbouring Macau has gone a step further; the autonomous region has banned all civilian flights other than those coming from mainland China.
China: China has tightened flight requirements from the US as Omicron cases there surge. All China-bound travellers, including foreign and Chinese nationals, are now required to stay in their departure city for seven days prior to travel, and must pass two Covid tests during this week. There are currently seven direct flights a week from the US to China.
News by region
US: Covid -19 infections have passed 57.7 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has accelerated to more than 832,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.
US public health advisers said vaccinated teens should get a Covid-19 booster shot from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, an important step in efforts to expand immunizations and keep schools open. The panel of outside experts convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted to 13 to 1 to recommend the booster shot for people ages 12 to 17 who received their second dose at least five months earlier. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has the final say on making the advice official.
This year’s Grammy awards, set to take place on 31 January, have been postponed as a result of the pandemic. In a statement, organisers said: “The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority.”
Italy: Italy has made it obligatory for people aged 50 or more to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as the country scrambles to ease pressure on hospitals and reduce deaths amid a dramatic surge in infections.
Switzerland: Switzerland reported a record 31,109 new cases on Wednesday, 10,000 more than the previous day, according to the Federal Office of Public Health. Hospital capacity remains manageable, despite the rate of infections having surged since the new year. Last Wednesday, 17,636 people tested positive.
France: The French parliament suspended debate on a new Covid law as opposition lawmakers demanded explanations from President Emmanuel Macron about comments in which he said he wanted to “piss off” unvaccinated people.
Germany: Germany is considering shortening self-isolation periods over fears that critical services could grind to a halt, according to health ministry plan. Workers in critical sectors, such as hospitals or electricity suppliers, would be able to end their isolation after five days, provided they get a negative PCR test, under the draft proposals.
UK: Pre-departure tests for people travelling to England are to be scrapped. Boris Johnson announced that the requirement would be lifted from 4am on Friday, along with the need for travellers to self-isolate on arrival until they receive a negative PCR test result.
Australia: Australia is reporting another record day for case numbers, with more than 72,000 logged so far on Thursday. The country’s most populous state, New South Wales, recorded around half of those with 31% of those tested given a positive result.
China: China recorded 142 locally transmitted cases Thursday, as the domestic outbreak continues to sprawl across the country. While the city of Xi’an has effectively contained the virus, according to state media, there were 73 new cases in the central Henan province, including asymptomatic infections. That province earlier locked down two cities and barred some residents, including in the capital Zhengzhou, from leaving their homes.
Thailand: Only two months after introducing quarantine-free entry for vaccinated tourists, Thailand has now suspended the scheme everywhere except in the island of Phuket. With nearly 4,000 cases reported on Wednesday, mostly local transmissions, health officials warned the country could soon be facing “tens of thousands” of new cases per day.
Singapore: Infections are spreading faster in Singapore, with the week-on-week infection growth rate rising Wednesday, according to government data. A number above one means there were more cases “in the community” in the last week compared with the week before that. Once you add in imported cases and infections among guest workers, there was 805 new cases Wednesday, the second-highest one-day total in a month.
Rather than closing borders, Singapore has declared that people won’t be considered fully vaccinated unless they have received a booster within nine months of their second dose. The policy comes into effect in February.
Middle-east and Africa
Israel: The president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, has become the first world leader to get a fourth Covid jab. On Monday Israel became the first country in the world to embark on a fourth Covid-19 vaccination campaign starting with those over 60.