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January 5, 2022updated 07 Jan 2022 5:27pm

International update: Covid infections surge world wide

By Paul Dennis

5 January

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.4 million, with a figure of 5,457,882 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 295 million world wide as case numbers surge.

Omicron latest

Global: More evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant is causing milder symptoms than previous variants and resulting in a “decoupling” in some places between soaring case numbers and low death rates, a World Health Organization official said on Tuesday.

UK: Reinfections should be included in Covid figures for the UK as soon as possible, scientists have said, amid warnings that up to 15% of Omicron cases could be people who have had coronavirus previously.

France: France reported a record-breaking 271,686 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, as Omicron infections continue to burden hospital staff and threaten disruption to services across the country.

Germany: Germany has relaxed restrictions on travel from the UK, South Africa and seven other southern African countries that were imposed following the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Greece: Authorities in Greece have introduced new price limits for Covid testing following a surge in demand due to a steep rise in infections blamed on the Omicron variant.

India: India’s capital Delhi will impose a weekend curfew to try to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as cases have risen rapidly in the past few days, its deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia told a news conference on Tuesday.

Singapore: Singapore’s week-on-week infection growth rate, a measure tracking the spread of Covid-19 in the community, rose above 1 for the first time in almost two months as Omicron variant cases in the city-state increased. The rate increased to 1.09 from 0.95 the previous day, the Ministry of Health said late Tuesday on its website. The measure reached 1.04 on 12 November and had fallen to a low of 0.52 on 24 December before climbing again.

Taiwan: Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday urged vigilance against the spread of Covid after the island detected its first cases of the Omicron variant spreading in the community.

Thailand: Thailand reported 3,899 new Covid cases on Wednesday, the highest number since 11 December, as the country braces for an Omicron-driven surge. The Southeast Asian nation is expected to see an increase in new infections following a peak travel period during the New Year holiday. The government has already ordered state employees to work from home for two weeks to reduce the risks of infections, while schools have been advised to hold classes online as necessary.

Hong Kong: Officials in Hong Kong have disclosed the first preliminary positive case of Covid-19 from an unknown source in almost three months, a worrying sign as the city works to contain an Omicron cluster.

The city’s health department suspects that the patient, an unvaccinated worker in the North Point area of the city, carries the omicron variant, although whole genome sequencing still needs to be conducted to confirm if that’s the case, according to a government statement on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is rushing to plug holes that have seen the highly infectious Omicron variant finally break through the city’s defenses, banning five more individual airline routes – including those from Seoul, Vancouver and Delhi – after discovering infected passengers.

Embattled flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., as well as Air India Ltd., Air Canada , Thai Airways International Pcl and Philippines AirAsia have had routes suspended from 4 January to 17 January, the government said. That’s the most flights Hong Kong has banned in a day since Omicron emerged in November.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 57 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has accelerated to more than 830,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The language around what constitutes fully vaccinated against Covid-19 is being replaced, in the strongest indication by White House chief medical adviser Anthony S. Fauci that two shots of a messenger RNA vaccine fall short of protection amid the highly transmissible omicron variant. “We’re using the terminology now ‘keeping your vaccinations up to date,’ rather than what ‘fully vaccinated’ means,” Fauci said during a National Institutes of Health lecture Tuesday. “Right now, optimal protection is with a third shot of an mRNA or a second shot of a J&J.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Tuesday for third shots of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine to be administered within five months of the initial two-shot series, shortening the time frame before a booster by a month. A CDC advisory panel is expected to recommend boosters for teenagers in a meeting Wednesday.

Europe

France: French president Emmanuel Macron has prompted a furore after saying that his government’s vaccination strategy is to “piss off” people who have not had coronavirus jabs by continuing to make daily life more and more difficult for them. “I am not about pissing off the French people,” he said in an interview with Le Parisien on Tuesday. “But as for the non-vaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And we will continue to do this, to the end. This is the strategy.” The remarks come as the French parliament debates new legislation that, if passed, will mean only the fully vaccinated – and no longer those with a negative Covid test – will qualify for the country’s health pass from next month.

UK: Confirmed daily Covid cases in the UK have hit another record high, with 218,724 reported in the past 24 hours.

Italy: Italy reported a record 170,844 new Covid cases on Tuesday, compared with 68,052 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of coronavirus-related deaths rose to 259 from 140.

Greece: Greece reported a record 50,126 Covid-related infections on Tuesday, breaking a previous high of 40,560 registered on 31 December.

Sweden: Sweden set a new daily record for Covid cases, registering 11,507 cases on 30 December, health agency data showed on Tuesday as a fourth wave of the virus spread across the country.

Spain: Students at Spanish schools and universities will return to class in-person when the new term begins on 10 January, the country’s health minister said on Tuesday.

Germany: Police in Germany have reported sporadic violence at demonstrations against the country’s pandemic restrictions, with one protester in the eastern town of Lichtenstein biting an officer and another attempting to steal a service weapon.

Asia pacific

China: China’s central province of Henan, which reported four confirmed cases on Wednesday, locked down another city of 7.9 million people after it detected one patient who didn’t show symptoms. Municipal government of Shangqiu has asked all residents not to leave the city unless necessary, and tightened restrictions including shutting down indoor public venues, according to local authorities. The lockdown order came after the province shut Yuzhou city and its capital Zhengzhou earlier this week. A total of 41 domestically transmitted cases were reported across the country, according to the National Health Commission. Meanwhile, Tonggu county in the east Chinese province of Jiangxi found traces of coronavirus in batch testing of 10 people returning from other provinces, according to a statement from local government.

China’s Covid-19 health code system that strictly governs people’s movements crashed in Xi’an this week, worsening conditions in the locked-down city where the country’s worst outbreak since Wuhan has been unfolding. The crash has complicated efforts to weed out cases through mass testing, created hurdles for people seeking care at hospitals and led to the suspension of a top official, the latest among a slew of bureaucrats to be punished as Beijing fumes over the situation.

Japan: The number of new Covid-19 infections in Japan rose above 1,000 on Tuesday for the first time in three months, the Jiji news agency reported.

Hong Kong: More Hong Kong residents are getting their first Covid-19 vaccinations, though the majority are receiving a Chinese immunization that studies have shown gives inadequate protection against the recently arrived omicron strain. The city administered about 18,000 initial injections on Tuesday, the most in four months, as the highly-transmissible variant began spreading in the community and a looming expansion of the vaccine mandate led many people to fear losing access to restaurants and leisure facilities. The jump in first doses outpaced the roughly 16,400 booster shots given. The rising demand shows progress is being made against vaccine hesitancy in Hong Kong, a problem particularly among the elderly.

Indonesia: Almost nine in 10 Indonesians have developed antibodies against Covid-19, a survey showed, even as the country lagged behind its Asian neighbors in vaccination rates.  About 86.6% in the survey tested positive for SARS-CoV2 antibodies, said Wiku Adisasmito, spokesman for the Covid-19 task force. Some 73.2% of those with the antibodies had never been vaccinated and had no confirmed history of coronavirus infections, he said in the statement. The survey was held in 100 cities across the nation in November and December.

Middle-east and Africa

Israel: A fourth dose of Covid vaccine boosts antibodies five-fold a week after the shot is administered, the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said on Tuesday, citing preliminary findings of an Israeli study.

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