Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 5.5 million, with a figure of 5,554,983 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections surged past 330 million to a world wide figure of 334,181,129.
Omicron won’t be the last variant, and comprehensive strategies are still needed to reduce severe disease, deaths and transmission, according to Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead officer on Covid. She said at a briefing on Tuesday that countries shouldn’t abandon well-established, life-saving interventions, such as social distancing, mask-wearing, good ventilation and avoiding crowds. Bruce Aylward, senior adviser at the WHO, said that if countries give up, “there’ll be more transmission, more infections, more mutations and more risk in terms of variants. There are consequences, additional risks if you throw in the towel.”
Separately, the World Health Organization says the worst of the coronavirus pandemic — deaths, hospitalisations and lockdowns — could be over this year if huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly.
Philanthropist Bill Gates and Jeremy Farrar, director of the UK’s Wellcome foundation, called for caution in predicting the path of the coronavirus as their organizations committed a combined $300 million to help prepare for emerging variants and future pandemic threats. “Talk of the pandemic coming to an end or waking up one Tuesday morning and it’s finished, that is premature,” Farrar said. “We’ve got to prepare for other scenarios which may not be quite as rosy.”
News by region
US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 67 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 853,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Covid deaths in the US are climbing and modellers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March.
The US Postal Service opened access to a website that allows households to order one set of four free at-home Covid-19 tests. Each household is limited to one order, with kits expected to begin shipping later this month. The site is part of a push by the Biden administration to increase access to at-home tests, which have been in short supply since the start of the Omicron surge last month.
Separately, the administration will announce Wednesday a plan to distribute free masks through pharmacies and community sites, Politico reported. The masks will be N95s from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile. The White House declined to comment to Politico.
New York City’s coronavirus surge is declining, with cases and hospitalizations dropping dramatically, health commissioner Dave Chokshi said on Tuesday. The daily number of cases dropped to 17,296 over the last week, down from a peak of 42,576 on 3 January. Despite the decline, cases remain elevated from October and November, when infections were hovering around 1,000 a day. Chokshi said the cases and hospitalizations remain concentrated among unvaccinated New Yorkers.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised against travel to 22 nations and territories because of a rising number of Covid cases.
The Grammy Awards will be held in Las Vegas on 3 April, after a previously scheduled ceremony in Los Angeles was indefinitely delayed because of the pandemic.
The entertainment industry is moving quickly to adjust its annual awards season due to the surge of the Omicron variant. The Oscars have been postponed by one month until late March. The Palm Springs International Film Festival was canceled, while the Sundance Film Festival switched to a virtual format.
Paraguay: Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benitez is the latest senior politician to contract Covid-19 in Latin America. Abdo Benitez is observing quarantine with mild symptoms after he tested positive just two days after his wife was diagnosed with the disease. Four ministers in Peru, including Finance Minister Pedro Francke, also tested positive in recent days, while Venezuela’s Congress held a legislative session outdoors after dozens of lawmakers were infected.
Mexico: Hospital occupancy rates are climbing fast in Mexico City as the country sets new daily records for infections. Since 3 January, occupancy levels have doubled to 58%, according to a federal data base.
Switzerland: A record of more than 200,000 people in Switzerland are in quarantine or isolation after testing positive or coming into contact with a person infected with Covid-19. The fast-spreading Omicron variant is responsible for about 90% of new cases in the country of about 8.5 million people and has forced the largest number of residents into isolation since the pandemic began two years ago, government officials said.
France: In France, 464,769 new cases have been registered in the past 24 hours – a global record increase.
France’s education minister is facing calls to resign after it emerged he had announced Covid protocol for schools while he was on holiday in Ibiza.
Italy: Italy’s Covid cases have jumped to 228,179 from 83,403 a day earlier.
UK: The UK has reported 94,432 new Covid cases and 438 deaths.
There were more than 900 Covid deaths in England and Wales in the first week of January. The ONS records a 58% rise on the previous week but figures are artificially high due to Christmas bank holidays.
Lateral flow tests will no longer be free for people in the UK by the end of June, according to a document seen by Reuters news agency.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce on Wednesday the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in England, the Financial Times reported. Johnson will set out plans to end many rules when they legally expire 26 January. Work-from-home guidance and use of Covid passes are expected to end.
Omicron measures in Scotland will be lifted on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has announced. This includes restrictions on indoor live events, table services in hospitality and distancing in indoor public places.
Germany: Germany joined countries like the UK, France and Italy in recording more than 100,000 new infections on one day, adding to evidence that the highly contagious Omicron variant is spreading fast across Europe’s largest economy. Another 112,323 infections were registered after 74,405 on the previous day, according to data published Wednesday by Germany’s public-health institute RKI.
Tonga: The United Nations is preparing for distanced relief operations in Tonga to avoid a Covid outbreak in the Pacific island nation that is reeling under the impact of a volcanic eruption and tsunami.
Japan: Tokyo is set to report more than 7,000 new cases on Wednesday, a daily record, Kyodo reported, citing an unidentified person. The figure would surpass the 5,908 cases Japan’s capital saw on 13 August.Tokyo and other parts of Japan are poised to come under a state of quasi-emergency for three weeks starting Friday as the government tries to rein in the surging cases. A final decision will be made Wednesday for the 13 prefectures including Tokyo. If approved, the measure will allow the local government to request limits on gathering and hospitality operations. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to ask restaurants and bars to close by 9 pm at the latest, Nikkei reported.
Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s decision to kill thousands of hamsters, rabbits and chinchillas on the never previously seen risk that they could spread Covid-19 to humans is an overreaction borne of Covid Zero politics that may have no impact on the pandemic, experts said. The move came after testing of dozens of small pets turned up 11 infected hamsters at a pet store.
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. is offering bonuses of up to HK$29,000 ($3,700) to pilots willing to endure Hong Kong’s strict quarantine regime in a bid to get more planes in the air. The onerous conditions and long absences from family and friends have made it difficult for Cathay to adequately staff and operate its services. The carrier is operating just 2% of pre-pandemic passenger capacity and 20% of pre-Covid cargo capacity – the lowest level at any time since the start of the pandemic.
South Korea: South Korea’s daily virus cases exceeded 5,000 for the first time in 20 days as spread of the Omicron variant has accelerated. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the variant will likely make up the majority of cases this week, urging people to receive booster shots. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency has warned daily cases could jump to 20,000-30,000 in February-March if Omicron infections continue the current growth rate. Omicron accounted for just 4% of Covid cases three weeks ago, but grew to 13% a week later and then 27% last week.
New Zealand: New Zealand is reviewing whether to begin a phased reopening of its border next month as it rushes to administer booster vaccination shots before the Omicron variant takes hold in the community. “We want to give New Zealanders time to get their boosters,” Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters Wednesday in New Plymouth. “We will be moving to a self-isolation model, the question is exactly what the date is.” The government has already pushed back the border reopening once, moving the start date from mid-January to the end of February.
Australia: Australian workplaces have been put on notice by more than 30 unions to ramp up Covid-19 safety measures as businesses find increasingly risky solutions to cope with mass staff absences. Unions are demanding better protection from the virus and free rapid antigen tests for employees, sparked by mounting anger surrounding a South Australia abattoir that told workers they should still come to work even if infected with the virus, unless their symptoms rendered them too unwell. Separately, Australia’s government will give visa rebates to students and backpackers who want to come to the country, in a bid to get them to fill a record number of job vacancies caused by the pandemic.