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December 23, 2021updated 07 Jan 2022 6:19am

International update: ‘Blanket booster programs are likely to prolong the pandemic’ – WHO

By Paul Dennis

23 December

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.3 million, with a figure of 5,377,204 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 277 million world wide.

The focus of immunizations must remain on decreasing deaths and severe disease and blanket booster programs are set to exacerbate vaccine inequity as about 20% of all daily doses currently administered are booster shots or an additional dose, according to the World Health Organization. “Blanket booster programs are likely to prolong the pandemic rather than end it by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing on Wednesday.

Omicron latest

Global: AstraZeneca has said it is working with Oxford University to produce a vaccine for the Omicron variant.

Aircraft passengers are twice or even three times more likely to catch Covid-19 during a flight since the emergence of the Omicron variant, according to the top medical adviser to the world’s airlines.  The new strain is highly transmissible and has become dominant in a matter of weeks, accounting for more than 70% of all new cases in the US alone. While hospital-grade air filters on modern passenger jets make the risk of infection much lower on planes than in crowded places on the ground such as shopping malls, Omicron is rapidly spreading just as more travellers take to the skies for year-end holidays and family reunions.

South Africa: A study from South Africa suggests Omicron carries a lower risk of hospitalisation and severe disease. Scientists from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) found the risk of hospital admission was roughly 80% lower for those infected with Omicron compared with Delta though high population immunity may also be a factor.

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US: Los Angeles County Public Health confirmed 6,509 new cases, 162 additional Omicron cases, and 16 additional deaths. The increase represents more than double yesterday’s case count. This rise is one of the steepest increases seen over the course of the pandemic, reflecting circulation of the Omicron variant, the authority said in a statement. The positivity rate was 4.5%, up from 1.9% a week ago.

A surge in cases – believed to be the Omicron variant – is triggering a mandatory mask order in Colorado ski country at the peak of the holiday travel season. The Eagle County Board of Health, meeting in an emergency session Wednesday, reinstated an indoor mask mandate “regardless of vaccination status.” The popular resort towns of Vail and Avon are located in Eagle County. “The decision was made in response to alarming news about the rise of Covid-19 cases,” according to a statement issued by Eagle County government. “During the course of a week, medical providers reported a dramatic spike in the number of sick individuals.”

India: India has so far reported 236 cases linked to the Omicron variant.

Germany: Germany’s new health minister Karl Lauterbach suggested a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose would be required in order to protect against the Omicron variant.

Japan: Japan has confirmed its first known local transmissions of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Osaka.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have passed the grim landmark of 51.5 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 812,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Americans vaccinated and boosted who choose to attend large gatherings over the holidays may not be safe, even for those who received a booster dose, top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said.

Apple Inc. temporarily shuttered at least eight retail stores in the US and Canada over the past day as Covid-19 cases surged among the public and employees. Stores have been closed in Miami, Atlanta, Houston and Montreal, among other locations.

Canada: In Quebec, Canada, gatherings inside homes will be limited to six people or two family bubbles beginning the day after Christmas.

Europe

Europe: European countries including Germany, Sweden, Finland and Portugal announced they will reimpose Covid curbs just before or after Christmas.

UK: The UK recorded 106,122 new Covid cases on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since the beginning of the pandemic and the first time daily cases have passed 100,000.

Britain has signed contracts to buy a further 4.25m courses of antivirals for its health service to help combat the Omicron variant.

England cuts Covid self-isolation to seven days with a negative test.

Italy: Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi said the government is preparing new Covid restrictions, including the return to mandatory mask-wearing outdoors and the use of more protective FFP2 masks indoors.

Denmark: Denmark will tighten restrictions in schools from 5 January with pupils and staff taking two weekly tests, staff and parents urged to wear facemasks.

Wales: Wales will impose a rule of six in pubs, cinemas and restaurants from 26 December.

France: France could soon have around 100,000 new Covid cases a day, health minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday, up from around 70,000 currently as the country battles a fifth wave of the epidemic.

France on Wednesday also opened vaccinations to children aged between five and 11.

Germany: Germany recorded a total of 44,927 new cases, down from 45,659 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI.

Reported new deaths associated with the virus rose by 425, bringing the total to 109,749. The 7-day incidence rate dropped to 280.3 per 100,000 people.

Germany will reduce the recommended minimum gap for an mRNA booster vaccine to three months from the previous six for people over the age of 18.

Switzerland: In Switzerland, authorities now recommend boosters for everyone aged 16 years and older as early as four months.

Portugal: Portugal’s government ordered nightclubs and bars to shut doors and told people to work from home from 26 December to at least 9 January to control the spread of Covid-19 over the holiday period. A negative coronavirus test will also be required to stay at Portuguese hotels and outdoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people per group on New Year’s Eve.

Asia pacific

China: China locks down 13 million people in Xi’an after detecting 127 Covid cases. All residents are barred from leaving their houses except to buy living necessities every other day or for emergencies.

Meanwhile, Organisers of the Beijing Winter Olympics said they expect a “certain number” of Covid-19 cases in China due to foreigners arriving for the Games.

South Korea: South Korea set a new record for Covid deaths on Thursday.

Australia: Australian states reimpose mask mandates with NSW and Victoria set to join Queensland, the ACT, Tasmania and parts of the Northern Territory in requiring masks for inside areas.

India: India added 7,495 new Covid-19 infections, the highest in a week, according to government data reported Thursday. New Delhi has cancelled all Christmas and New Year’s festivities as cases slowly tick up. The city reported 125 new cases on Wednesday, the highest in more than five months.

Excess deaths in the eastern Indian city of Chennai increased 41% from typical mortality levels during the pandemic, according to a peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, which adds further evidence of large-scale under counting of Covid-19 deaths in India. Most excess deaths in Chennai during period occurred amid India’s devastating second-wave, according to researchers from the state government of Tamil Nadu, the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, the University of California Berkeley and Johns Hopkins.

Philippines: The Philippine Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot for ages 5 to 11, the regulator’s head Eric Domingo said.

Middle-east and Africa

Kenya: Unvaccinated people in Kenya will be banned from public places, the health ministry said.

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