CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE
Goldman Sachs, Fidelity halt return-to-office plans; South Africa registers 13,992 new cases
South Africa registered 13,992 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,180,785. A further 11 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,148. A total of 27,188,606 vaccines have been administered.
Goldman Sachs Group told its London staff to work from home if they can, and Fidelity Investments paused its voluntary return-to-office pilot programme in New England.
One person has died from the Omicron variant in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed, as demand for booster shots and rapid at-home Covid-19 tests surged in the face of the fast-spreading mutation.
A paper by University of Oxford researchers found that two doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s vaccines induced lower levels of antibodies against Omicron.
China reported its first case of Omicron, while Australia recorded its first hospitalisation linked to the strain. New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, will ease Covid restrictions at the end of the month, reflecting a declining trend in case numbers and rising vaccination levels.
- Virus Tracker: Cases pass 270.4 million; deaths top 5.3 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 8.48 billion shots given
- US states in northeast deploy soldiers and home tests
- Drugmakers race to create Omicron booster in 100 days
- Two weeks into the Omicron outbreak: where to from here?
- Billionaire’s bet on Pfizer vaccine for China fails to pay off
Fidelity halts return to office in New England
Fidelity Investments paused its voluntary return-to-office pilot programme in New England amid rising Covid-19 risks.
The firm stopped non-essential workers from coming into offices in Boston; Smithfield, Rhode Island; and Merrimack, New Hampshire, spokesman Stephen Austin said on Monday. Voluntary return-to-office programmes for thousands of employees in other locations around the US remain in effect.
Denmark expects Omicron to dominate
Denmark expects Omicron to become the dominant variant of the virus this week and that daily infections will reach 10,000, SSI, the country’s institute for infectious diseases, said in a statement on Monday. The total number of confirmed cases has now reached 2,471 or double the number from Friday.
“We expect that the second and especially the third shot will protect against serious illness from the Omicron variant,” Henrik Ullum, the head of SSI, said in the statement.
The Nordic country, which has a population of 5.8 million, plans to deliver 650,000 vaccinations this week as it is now inviting people to take the third booster shot as early as 4½ months after the second jab.
Goldman asks London staff to work from home
Goldman Sachs Group has told its London staff to work from home if they can, as the City of London’s biggest firms adjust to the latest government guidance.
“Those of you who are able to work from home effectively should do so from Monday,” the lender said last week in an internal memo. The bank’s offices will remain open for those who still need to come in. Safety protocols including an on-site testing programme and the wearing of masks away from desks remain in place.
South Africa’s admissions rise, stay below peak
South African hospitals have 6,198 Covid-19 patients, of whom 6.8% are in intensive-care units, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a report on Monday.
Of the 420 people in ICU, 167 are on ventilators, the institute said. Of the admissions 2,685 are in Gauteng.
The numbers compare with the 5,563 who were in the hospital a day earlier, with 7.3% of those in ICU. Covid-19 hospitalisations reached nearly 20,000 in January and July, the peaks of the country’s second and third waves, respectively.
UK to scrap hotel quarantine
The UK is poised to announce as soon as Tuesday the removal of all 11 countries from its Covid-19 red list, ending mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers arriving from the riskiest countries.
Ministers believe the move is logical now that Omicron cases in the UK are doubling every two to three days, a person familiar with the matter said. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Omicron would account for the majority of cases in London by Tuesday.
Norway warns of Omicron dangers
Norway’s health system will come under strain if tighter measures aren’t implemented soon to counter Omicron, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health warned.
In one scenario, there could be as many as 90,000 to 300,000 cases a day, with 50 to 200 hospital admissions in three weeks, if the contagion isn’t slowed significantly, officials said.
There are now 958 proven cases of the more infectious type of the virus to date in the country, up from 33 cases on 7 December. Almost 90% of Norwegian adults have received two shots of vaccine.
China reports first Omicron case
The city of Tianjin on Monday reported the first case of Omicron in mainland China, the Global Times reported, citing the city.
The infection came from an overseas arrival and the patient is receiving treatment at a designated hospital, the Chinese news outlet reported.
Boris Johnson won’t rule out Christmas curbs
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeatedly declined to rule out imposing further coronavirus restrictions before Christmas to tackle the spread of Omicron, as he confirmed the first UK death linked to the new strain. Johnson also said Omicron would account for most cases in London by Tuesday.
The UK is aiming to counter Omicron by accelerating its vaccine booster programme, offering an extra shot to every adult before the end of December.
A plan to replace self-isolation for contacts of positive Covid-19 cases was hampered when the government website ran out of free at-home rapid lateral flow tests.
Iran cases at 18-month low
Some countries are not yet experiencing a Covid surge fuelled by either the Omicron or Delta variants. Iran reported just 42 new cases overnight, the lowest daily number since May 2020, according to the health ministry.
However, just 57% of Iran’s population has received two vaccine doses. The country has reported more than 6.1 million total virus cases so far.
Hong Kong to quarantine UK arrivals
Hong Kong residents returning from the UK will be required to spend their first week at a government quarantine facility due to concern about the Omicron variant, the South China Morning Post reported.
The UK would be moved to Hong Kong’s enhanced-measures category, the Post reported, citing an unidentified person. An announcement was expected later on Monday, the newspaper said.
On Sunday, Israel added the UK to its travel “red list,” banning Israelis from travelling to Britain and announcing mandatory quarantine for those who do return.
Italy to increase vaccine mandates
Italy will make vaccination mandatory for all teachers, headmasters and school staff across the country as of Wednesday, according to new government measures approved last November. In order to access schools, workers will need to present a so-called super green pass, which proves vaccination or recovery from Covid infection.
Italy will also start vaccinating children from the ages of five to 11 years starting on Thursday, with priority given to the most vulnerable.
Nigeria infections jump with Omicron
Nigeria’s daily Covid infections have jumped more than five-fold over the past week following the discovery of the Omicron variant in the country of 200 million people.
The average number of Nigerians who tested positive for the pathogen rose to 451 a day for the week ending 12 December, compared with 76 in the preceding week, according to data from the National Centre for Disease Control.
UK refuses to rule out school closures
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to keep schools in England open as the government battles to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.
“When it comes to our fight against the pandemic there are no guarantees,” Javid said in an interview on LBC radio.
Talks on reopening Thai-Malaysia border
Thailand and Malaysia are preparing to enter formal discussions over the reopening of land borders to allow travellers from Malaysia to enter Thailand without quarantine requirements.
The opening of land border crossings in the Thai provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Narathiwat and Satun is expected from mid-January, government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek said in a Twitter post on Monday.
Western Australia to reopen
One of the world’s final Covid-Zero strongholds is set to reopen — almost two years after slamming its borders shut. Western Australia announced it will welcome fully vaccinated international and domestic travellers from 5 February. Overseas arrivals without protection will still have to quarantine.
While other Australian states have gradually reopened as vaccination rates have risen, Western Australia held strong, and the state’s residents were able to live almost restriction-free lives within its borders. Western Australia only had 12 days of lockdown in total during the pandemic and recorded one death due to community transmission, according to Premier Mark McGowan.
Auckland curbs to ease at year-end
Auckland will ease some coronavirus restrictions in time for New Year’s Eve. From 11.59pm on 30 December, capacity limits on hospitality venues will be lifted and more close-contact activities such as dancing will be allowed. People still require vaccine passes to enter most venues and events and must wear masks in most public facilities and shops.
Auckland was plunged into a strict lockdown in mid-August to combat an outbreak of the Delta variant. The 107-day lockdown ended on 3 December and a border around the city is due to lift on Wednesday, allowing residents to visit other parts of the country as the summer vacation period approaches.
China cases tick up
China reported 80 locally transmitted cases on Monday as the latest outbreak continues to grow in the eastern coastal region. Zhejiang province, the new epicentre of the current wave, found 74 infections, according to the National Health Commission, with 55 detected in the city of Shaoxing.
More than 1.16 billion people in China, or 82.5% of the total population, have been fully vaccinated, a health commission spokesperson said at a press conference on Saturday.
Australia’s first Omicron hospitalisation
Australia recorded its first hospitalisation from the Omicron variant, according to New South Wales state health officials.
The state has found at least 64 cases of the variant stemming from outbreaks in western Sydney, nightclubs and a party cruise on Sydney Harbour. Overall case numbers are also rising.
Nevertheless, Australia will reopen its borders to skilled migrant workers and foreign students from Wednesday, after initially delaying the move for two weeks as Omicron started to spread.
UK airlines ask for help
The UK’s biggest airlines have asked the government for economic support as new travel restrictions threaten to upend the peak Christmas season for a second year.
The government’s latest moves, which include reintroducing expensive hotel quarantines and travel bans for passengers arriving from southern Africa, are putting more pressure on airlines that were counting on Christmas travel to start to offset huge losses accumulated during the pandemic.
“As leaders of UK airlines, we are deeply concerned about the haphazard and disproportionate approach by government to travel restrictions following the emergence of the Omicron variant,” the chief executives of carriers including British Airways and Ryanair Holdings wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. DM
– With assistance from Yasna Haghdoost, Kitty Donaldson, Flavia Rotondi, Katharine Gemmell, Tom Metcalf, Emily Ashton and Christian Wienberg.
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