The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 5.5 million, with a figure of 5,510,327 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University . Meanwhile, infections passed 315 million to a world wide figure of 315,390,402.

World Health Organization experts have warned that repeating booster doses of the original Covid vaccines is not a viable strategy against emerging variants.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 62 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 843,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

United States Covid hospitalisations increased by 33% and deaths are up by 40% from a week earlier, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said US Covid cases are expected to peak in the coming weeks.“The magnitude of this increase is largely related to the Omicron variant, which now represents about 90% of the Covid-19 cases in the country,” she told reporters.

Almost all teenagers who needed intensive care for Covid-19 were unvaccinated, according to a study published by The New England Journal of Medicine , bolstering the case for using the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in youths. The vaccine prevented 98% of ICU visits and 94% of Covid-related hospitalizations in the real-world study of more than 1,000 adolescents ages 12 to 18 in 23 states. The research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a network of 31 hospitals is one is one of the most detailed yet showing that vaccines can prevent severe Covid complications in teenagers.

The US federal government will send medical teams to New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico to help hospitals overburdened by Covid-19, USA Today reported, citing an unidentified White House official.

Canada: Quebec, Canada’s second-most populous province, has announced plans to impose a ‘health tax’ on residents who refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccination for non-medical reasons.

Meanwhile, Canada will allow unvaccinated Canadian truck drivers to cross in from US, reversing a decision requiring all truckers to show proof of vaccination, Reuters reported, citing a Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson.

Europe

Germany: Germany has reported 80,430 coronavirus cases – a new daily record – and 384 deaths, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz has argued Covid vaccinations should be mandatory for all adults as the European country reported a record of 80,430 coronavirus infections on Wednesday. “With the decision not to get vaccinated, one ultimately is not just making a decision for oneself but also for 80 million others,” Scholz said. Scholz credited his new government’s measures to tighten curbs on public life and step up booster doses for preventing an even worse onslaught.

UK: Covid infection rates are falling in London, raising hopes that the Omicron outbreak is in retreat. Infections for the UK increased to 4.3 million in the first week of January, up from 3.7 million a week earlier, the Office for National Statistics said. England accounted for the bulk, at just over 3.7 million, and the highest infection rate at 1-in-15. But cases in London, which has been at the epicenter of the UK outbreak, dropped from 1 in 10 to 1 in 15. The hot spots are now the North West of England and Yorkshire and the Humber, where 1 in 10 people have Covid. Signs that the virus may be retreating in the capital provide some hope that the worst may soon be over. A short, sharp surge in cases echoes the experience in South Africa, where Omicron was first reported.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has admitted and apologised for attending a No 10 garden drinks event in May 2020. Johnson said he went to thank staff before going back into his office 25 minutes later.

Austria: Austria set a new record of 18,427 daily Covid cases.

France: France is poised to lift blanket ban on UK travellers ‘by end of the week’.

Denmark: Denmark is to offer a fourth coronavirus vaccination to vulnerable citizens as it faces record infection numbers from the Omicron variant.

Sweden: Sweden will cut the recommended time interval between the second and third Covid vaccine shot to five months from six.

Greece: Greece will extend restrictions by a week at restaurants and bars to help curb the Omicron variant.

Spain: Doctors in Spain will be awarded up to €49,000 (£40,882) each in compensation for working without proper personal protection gear in the first few months of the pandemic.

Switzerland: Switzerland’s interior minister said the transition from pandemic to a stage where the country learns to live with Covid-19 like the flu may be in sight. “We may be on the eve of a watershed, the transition from a pandemic phase to an endemic phase,” Alain Berset, whose ministry includes health, said at a media conference Wednesday. Berset’s comments follow a call by Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday to consider treating the crisis differently, given that the Omicron wave of infections hasn’t led to an equivalent surge in hospitalizations and deaths.

Asia pacific

China: China is battling coronavirus outbreaks in several cities, severely testing the country’s strict “zero-Covid” strategy just weeks before Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics. The northern city of Tianjin has ordered a second round of Covid testing on all 14 million residents after the discovery of 97 cases of the Omicron variant during initial screenings that began Sunday.

China detected Omicron in a second major port city, deepening concern of a wider outbreak at Beijing’s doorstep and raising the prospect that more foreign businesses might follow Toyota in halting operations along the northeastern coast. Chinese officials said Thursday that at least one person has the more transmissible Omicron variant in Dalian, a city of seven million. The patient showed no symptoms, but tested positive after returning from their college in the nearby city of Tianjin, where at least 137 other cases were traced as of Wednesday. A second person in Dalian has also tested positive with the virus, but the variant is unknown.

Vaccine maker BioNTech SE hasn’t given up on securing approval for its mRNA Covid-19 shot in mainland China, despite a months long delay and the country doubling down on homegrown inoculations. “It is continued dialog with the Chinese authorities,” Sean Marett, the German drug developer’s chief commercial officer, said at JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s annual health care conference this week. “It’s difficult to predict when we will get approval, but China remains for us extremely important.” Chief Strategy Officer Ryan Richardson said there was significant interest in mRNA shots in China, but the key was working out how to “open up the regulatory pathway.”

Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s vaccine advisory panel recommended giving a partial dose of BioNTech SE’s adult Covid shot to younger children, resorting to an “off-label use” amid supply shortages for a pediatric formulation. The experts suggested children age 5 to 11 receive 10 micrograms of the German-made shots, which is one-third of the adult dose. The move would “facilitate the timely extension” of vaccine coverage for those age groups, the government advisers said in a statement.

High-risk people should consider wearing two face masks to guard against contracting the Omicron variant, two Hong Kong virus experts said, as the city attempts to stamp out an outbreak of the highly infectious virus. Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask can “tighten the gap not covered by the surgical mask, which is often very loose,” said David Hui, a professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and a member of the government’s scientific committee. He recommended the measure for high-exposure groups, people in outbreak areas and on public transport.

The Hong Kong government is allowing civil servants who are not involved in anti-epidemic duties to take turns to work from home starting Thursday to 4 February, according to an emailed statement from the Civil Service Bureau.

Japan: Japan will allow medical workers who have been identified as close contacts of Omicron cases to keep working, after staff absences caused by a 14-day quarantine period stressed the health system in an area suffering from a large outbreak. The health-care staff can continue working as long as they pass daily tests, the country’s health minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters on Wednesday. The government is moving to allocate resources to those who need them the most as cases surge in Japan, which had all but snuffed out its wave of the delta variant.

Australia: In Australia, state and territory leaders will consider relaxing isolation requirements for the trucking and logistics sector, as the prime minister, Scott Morrison, calls for patience over the country’s disrupted supply chains.

Victoria’s health-care system is under pressure as thousands of its workers are furloughed after being exposed to the virus. The state recorded 37,169 new infections Thursday, up from 7,442 at the start of the year, while hospitalizations have more than doubled to 953 in the same period.

In Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, more than 92,264 new infections were recorded Thursday. That included some 61,387 infections detected from rapid tests since Jan. 1, more than 50,000 of which were from the past 7-days, state health authorities said in a statement. The state has 2,383 people hospitalized with Covid, up from 903 at the start of the year.India: A surge in coronavirus infections may force the Indian parliament’s upcoming budget session to be conducted in shifts, ANI news agency reported citing unnamed officials. The federal Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs proposed the plan after more than 400 staff members tested positive ahead of the session expected to begin later this month, according to the report.