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December 24, 2021updated 07 Jan 2022 6:21am

International update: Germany confirms first death attributed to Covid Omicron variant

By Sumanth Kuluru

24 December

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.3 million, with a figure of 5,386,666 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 278 million world wide.

Omicron latest

Germany: Germany’s health minister said he expects a surge in coronavirus cases around new year and people will probably need a fourth vaccine shot. Germany also confirmed the country’s first death due to the Omicron variant.

China: A booster shot, either in the form of inactivated vaccine or protein subunit vaccine, can still generate neutralizing antibodies against Omicron, though the levels are significantly lower compared to protection against the virus’ original strain and delta, according to a study conducted by researchers from China’s National Medical Center for Infectious Diseases. The inactivated vaccine used in the study is the one developed by China’s Sinopharm while the protein subunit shot is developed by Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products Co., according to the study.

US: Another wave of Covid infections is taking hold in the US, powered by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. On Wednesday, daily cases topped 250,000 for the second time this week, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg show.

New York’s daily Covid-19 cases rose to 38,835 on Thursday – nearly doubling in less than a week when the state broke the previous record of 19,942 new cases set in January, according to state data. Of the 324,786 people who were tested, 12% were positive as the Omicron variant washes over the state. Omicron comprised 62% of sequenced cases from New York between Dec. 9 and Dec. 22.

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Hospitalizations aren’t rising as fast as cases but they are starting to climb steadily. Hospitalizations increased by 18% to 4,534 over the last week. Deaths have remained steady with about 60 New Yorkers dying from Covid per day.

The jump in Covid cases is affecting the availability of flight crews and ground personnel on the day before Christmas, United Airlines said. “We’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,” United said. Delta said its cancellations were due to a combination of reasons, including but not limited to potential inclement weather in some places and the impact of Omicron.

Australia: Australia has brought forward implementing third-dose booster shots for Covid-19 as the nation battles outbreaks of the Omicron variant. Australia will shorten the interval for people to receive their booster shots to four months from five from 4 January.

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong government said a 64-year-old male airport restroom cleaner has tested preliminary positive for Covid-19 and is suspected to carry the Omicron variant.  The patient had no recent travel history and mainly worked at a designated restroom used by preliminary positive imported case patients while they await transfer to the hospital, the Center for Health Protection said in a statement. Hong Kong has so far confirmed 34 imported Omicron cases, and all had prior travel history.

UK: Omicron appears to be less severe but more contagious than any other Covid-19 strain to date, the UK government said, as daily infections soared to another new record close to 120,000. An individual with Omicron is 50% to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital, compared with the delta strain, the UK Health Security Agency said Thursday. They are also between 31% and 45% less likely to attend emergency departments with Omicron than with delta. However, data from the HSA also showed that while a booster improves protection, it starts to wane more rapidly than with delta, and is 15% to 25% lower from 10 weeks after the third dose.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 51.8 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 815,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Emergency Covid testing sites are being set up in hard-hit areas across the US.

The US Supreme court will hold a special session on Biden’s nationwide vaccine-or-testing Covid mandate for large businesses and a separate vaccine requirement for healthcare workers.

The US Food and Drug Administration authorised Merck’s antiviral pill, molnupiravir, for Covid-19, after giving the go-ahead to a similar treatment from Pfizer a day earlier.

Just like Covid-19 testing sites and vaccines, Covid-19 treatment pills in the US will be in short supply for months until production can increase. The federal distribution to states will be based on population, and it will likely be up to doctors to prescribe Pfizer Inc.’s Paxlovid. The National Institutes of Health said it will release recommendations on how to allocate treatments.

Ecuador: Ecuador is making vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory.

Europe

UK: In England around 1.2 million people were infected with Covid last week, or 1 in 45 of the population – a pandemic record. London estimated 1 in 30 people were infected last week.

UK health secretary Sajid Javid says there will be no further announcements on Covid restrictions in England before Christmas.

Italy: Italy is planning to tighten restrictions including making mask wearing mandatory outdoors. The country has also banned public New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Greece: Greece banned public Christmas and New Year’s Eve festivities and mandated mask-wearing in open spaces. The measures will come into effect on Friday morning.

Malta: Malta will ban all events where attendees are standing not seated, except weddings and funerals, from 27 December.

Denmark: Denmark will require foreigners entering the country to provide a negative Covid-19 test from 27 December, regardless of vaccination status.

Asia pacific

Australia: Australia reintroduced Covid curbs such as mandated mask wearing indoors, capacity limits and QR code check-ins to cover most of the population on Thursday as daily infections hit a fresh record.

Hong Kong: Particular groups such as those with travel needs can receive booster at least three months after the second shot, the government said. Hong Kong will also extend opening hours for  nine community vaccination centers.

Middle-east and Africa

Middle East: Covid infections are rising again across the six Gulf Arab states after months of low or falling figures.

South Africa: South Africa will stop contract tracing and won’t quarantine people as it shifts focus on Covid-19 mitigation strategies, given that as much as 80% of the nation’s population has past infections providing some immunity. Authorities in Africa’s most-industrialized nation will conduct contract tracing only in cases of cluster outbreaks, the nation’s Director General of Health said in a circular dated Thursday, which was confirmed by department spokesman, Foster Mohale.

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