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December 21, 2021updated 07 Jan 2022 6:13am

International update: Covid-19 Omicron variant spreading faster than Delta – WHO

By Paul Dennis

21 December

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.3 million, with a figure of 5,361,463 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 275 million world wide.

Omicron latest

Global: The Omicron variant is spreading faster than Delta and is causing infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Protection from two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine starts trailing off three months after the second shot, the Financial Times reported, citing research published in the Lancet. The waning protection also applies to severe disease caused by Covid-19, according to the report, underscoring the importance of boosters. Omicron wasn’t circulating at the time that the data from 2 million people in Scotland and 42 million people in Brazil was collated.

Sinopharm’s Covid-19 booster shot generated “significantly lower” levels of antibodies against the Omicron variant, in a study offering further clues on how one of the world’s most widely used vaccines stands up against the new strain. A study of 292 healthcare workers given a booster eight to nine months after their second dose found that Omicron caused a 20.1-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies, compared with the performance against the original Wuhan strain.

US: Omicron is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the US, federal health officials said on Monday, racing ahead of Delta and other variants and accounting for 73% of new infections last week.

Los Angeles has called off its New Year’s Eve celebrations as the Omicron variant sweeps across the US.

The rapidly-spreading Omicron variant has now closed its first Broadway show. “Jagged Little Pill,” a musical based on the songs of Alanis Morissette, ended performances on Saturday and will not reopen, the New York Times reported.

Thailand: Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha has called an urgent meeting of the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration this afternoon to discuss a proposal to cancel quarantine-free entries amid climbing Omicron variant infections. A jump in imported Omicron cases has cast doubt on the nation’s program for vaccinated tourists from more than 60 jurisdictions.

Singapore: Singapore has detected a cluster of three Covid-19 Omicron cases linked to a gym, its ministry of health said late on Monday.

Japan: The governor of Japan’s Okinawa prefecture wants American military personnel banned from leaving Camp Hansen after an outbreak of the Omicron variant on the base, the Okinawa Times reported. Governor Denny Tamaki will speak to Japan’s vice minister of foreign affairs and to the commander of marine forces in Japan about the matter by phone on Tuesday, the newspaper said. There have been more than 180 cases reported on the base and four Omicron infections detected in the wider community.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have passed the grim landmark of 51 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 807,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

President Joe Biden spent time on Friday with an aide who tested positive for coronavirus infection three days later but has so far tested negative himself, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

A federal court in Missouri blocked the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate for government contractors in 10 states, becoming the latest to grant an injunction as part of a series of challenges to the president’s power to set workplace requirements via executive order. The ruling will apply to contractors in Arkansas, Alaska, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Just 40% of New Jerseyans eligible for boosters have received the shots, Governor Phil Murphy said. New Jersey reported 7,249 positive tests, the fifth straight day of cases exceeding 7,000. Numbers that high haven’t been recorded in the state since January, he said. In all, 1,902 Covid patients were hospitalized, marking a 12% increase since 13 December. Still, medical centers are nowhere near a capacity crisis, Murphy said.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services on Monday issued a public health advisory as a surge in Covid-19 infections threatens to overwhelm the state’s health care system. “We are seeing daily case numbers that we haven’t seen since the end of last year,” Karen Timberlake, Department of Health Services secretary-designee, told reporters Monday. A total of 96% of the state’s intensive-care unit beds are now occupied, she said.

Canada: Quebec is closing schools, gyms and bars and making work-from-home arrangements mandatory to stem a wave of coronavirus infections that has reached record levels. The province recorded 4,571 new infections in 24 hours, far above the levels of last winter, when the provincial government imposed a curfew and closed all restaurants. Nearly 400 people are in the hospital with Covid-19, an increase of 76% in two weeks.

Europe

UK: London Mayor Sadiq Khan canceled the New Year’s Eve celebration in Trafalgar Square, which was set to welcome 6,500 people, due to a surge of Omicron infections. He urged residents to instead to stay at home and watch a live broadcast planned for the night.

Asia-pacific

Hong Kong: Travellers to Hong Kong from Britain will have to initially quarantine in a government camp from Tuesday, joining 12 African nations and the United States on the city-state’s strictest entry tier, Agence France-Presse reports.

Australia: Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has rejected a return to Covid lockdowns.

New Zealand: New Zealand has announced a suite of measures to strengthen its defence against the Omicron variant, including pushing back the start of its quarantine-free border reopening for its citizens returning from Australia to the end of February.

China: The Chinese city of Xi’an began testing millions of residents for the coronavirus on Tuesday after the detection of 42 new cases.

Thailand: Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the use of Pfizer’s vaccine in children aged 5 to 11 years to shield them against Covid-19. Before the approval, Pfizer shots were used among children aged 12 years and older, according to the agency’s statement.

Middle-east and Africa

South Africa: South African new Covid-19 infections almost halved to 8,515 from a day earlier, though hospital admissions and deaths over the same period rose significantly, according to a report by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Eswatini: Eswatini is having to hospitalize a fewer proportion of Covid-19 cases even as the Omicron variant spurs a new wave of infections. One out of every 100 cases currently seeks hospital care in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, which neighbors South Africa. That’s compared with one in 25 during the peak of the last wave in August. “This is an indication that much fewer people are getting severe disease that requires admission,” the government said in a statement posted on Twitter Monday. “More than 80% of those admitted are not vaccinated.”

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