Fauci says lockdowns unlikely; South Africa registers 15,465 new cases

Fauci says lockdowns unlikely; South Africa registers 15,465 new cases
A woman receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccination in a pachinko parlour on 13 October 2021 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo: Carl Court / Getty Images)

South Africa registered 15,465 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,308,074. A further 3 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,348. A total of 27,521,386 vaccines have been administered.

Lockdowns in the US will likely not be necessary even as Covid-19 cases increase, according to President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, Anthony Fauci. Even so, many hospitals may be strained as the Omicron variant spreads, especially in regions with lower levels of vaccination, he said. 

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to rule out stronger measures before Christmas after the nation’s top health advisers urged more restrictions to contain sharply-rising infections. With Omicron spreading rapidly, infections in the U.K. jumped more than 50% in a week. 

The Netherlands returns to a strict lockdown on Sunday, closing schools and non-essential shops, and limiting the number of visitors allowed in households. Germany’s virus cases are only a few weeks past their peak, but Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the country is already headed for a fifth wave after registering a “critical number” of Omicron infections.

Key developments: 

NBA postpones five games

The NBA on Sunday announced that five games had been postponed because of players and staff entering Covid-19 health and safety protocols. The impacted games include Denver at Brooklyn, Cleveland at Atlanta, New Orleans at Philadelphia, Orlando at Toronto and Washington at Brooklyn.

France ups health workers’ pay

The French government will double overtime pay for health workers at public hospitals beginning Monday. “It’s a proper recognition by the state for health workers who have been fully involved since the beginning of this crisis,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a statement. France reported 48,473 new infections on Sunday, an 11% increase from a week earlier.

NIH head warns of ‘world of trouble’

The outgoing director of the National Institutes of Health (NHI) warned of “a world of trouble” as the Omicron variant spreads through the US. But the impact can be blunted if Americans get vaccines, boosters and are careful about masking again, Francis Collins said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I know people are sick of hearing this, but the virus is not sick of us,” said Collins, who is stepping down this week after 12 years as NIH head. “It’s thrown us a new curveball and we’ve got to be ready to hit it.” 

He said the evidence remained unclear if Omicron infections are milder than other Covid-19 strains “That’s something we’ve got to hope for or our health systems are going to be overwhelmed,” he said. 

UK cases jump 50% in week

The UK reported another 82,886 cases on Dec. 19 while the weekly total soared 52% to 547,606. Deaths declined by 6.5% to 780 for the week, including 45 on Sunday. The rate of 646 per 100,000 population is the highest since the start of the pandemic. Parts of London are running at more than double that, including more than 1,600 per 100,000 resident in the financial district. 

Confirmed Omicron cases increased to a total of 37,101 on Sunday from 14,909 on Dec. 17, though health officials said the actual number is running in the hundreds of thousands per day.

Germany looks at next wave, vaccine mandates

Germany’s virus cases are only a few weeks past their peak, but Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the country is already headed for a fifth wave after registering a “critical number” of Omicron infections. 

The nation is administering booster shots faster than most of Europe, and won’t enact a lockdown comparable to that in the Netherlands before Christmas, Lauterbach told ARD on Sunday. 

He said that restrictions on travel from the UK were an important step, but that he’s also pushing for travellers to be obliged to take a further PCR test on arrival. Germany could get a better handle on the pandemic if it made vaccinations mandatory, Lauterbach said. 

South Africa Covid hospitalisations tick up

South African hospitals have 7,951 Covid-19 patients of whom 6.7% are in intensive care units, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a report on Sunday.

Of the 535 people in ICU, 212 are on ventilators, the institute said. Of the admissions, 3,286 are in Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Fauci doesn’t expect lockdowns

An effective shutdown of the US likely won’t be necessary as Covid surges again, though hospitals will be tested by the expected rise in cases from the Omicron variant, according to President Biden’s top medical adviser.

“I don’t foresee the kind of lockdowns that we’ve seen before but I certainly see the potential for stress on our hospital system,” Anthony Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”.

UAE cases rise most since September

The United Arab Emirates reported the highest number of daily infections since late September, as Omicron threatens a winter surge in a country that’s managed to keep a lid on the virus for most of this year.

The UAE, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, reported 285 cases on Sunday. While that’s well below levels seen at the start of the year, daily cases had remained below a hundred a day since mid-October, even falling to a low of 48 earlier this month. 

EU orders additional 20 million Pfizer doses

The European Commission said BioNTech-Pfizer will deliver an additional 20 million vaccine doses in the first quarter, bringing the total number of deliveries in the first three months of 2022 to 215 million.

The organisation also said it activated an option to order more than 200 million doses under the third contract with BioNTech-Pfizer. That order also covers vaccines adapted to the Omicron variant, should they become available.

UK taps retired teachers

UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi appealed to retired teachers to come forward to fill possible shortages expected to be caused by what he called the “tidal wave of Omicron coming this way”. The temporary assignments would begin at schools and universities in the new year, he said.

Israel may bar travel to US, Canada 

An Israeli Health Ministry panel has recommended adding the US and Canada, as well as a number of other countries, to the list of destinations that are off limits to its citizens due to the prevalence of the Omicron variant.

If approved by the Cabinet, the restrictions would go into effect at midnight Tuesday. 

UK doesn’t rule out stronger curbs 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to rule out stronger UK Covid-19 rules before Christmas. When asked whether he could rule out a so-called circuit-breaker lockdown within days, he said that there are no guarantees in this pandemic and that everything needs to be kept under review. 

“It’s time to be more cautious. We know this thing is spreading more rapidly,” Javid told BBC News on Sunday. UK papers have been filled with speculation that tighter rules may be introduced right after Christmas.

South African minister gets Covid again

South African Minister of Minerals and Energy Gwede Mantashe tested positive for Covid-19 after experiencing mild symptoms, the second time he’s contracted the virus.

The minister is in good spirits and in self-isolation, the presidency said in a statement on Sunday. Mantashe (66) was hospitalised last year with Covid.

Spanish PM calls emergency meeting

In a televised address on Sunday, Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez said the leaders will analyze the evolution of the pandemic in an extraordinary online meeting scheduled for Wednesday. 

Spain’s 14-day average infection rate climbed to more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, with hospitalisations tripling to 6,667 patients over the past month, according to Health Ministry data released on Friday.

Italy weighs new restrictions 

Italy is reviewing a package of new measures to slow a surge in Covid cases during the Christmas holidays in a bid to avoid drastic measures taken by other European countries.

Mario Draghi’s government will meet on Dec. 23 to discuss possible options including requiring masks outdoors, shortening the validity of the Covid certificate and possibly also requiring vaccinated people as well as unvaccinated people to take Covid tests to access large events, according to people familiar with the matter. 

Iran reports first Omicron case

Iran has identified its first case of the Omicron strain, the country’s state TV reported, citing a health ministry official. The variant was detected in an Iranian man who had contracted the virus “in a neighbouring country”, the report said, without providing details.

China finds Omicron in travellers to Changsha

Two new cases of the Omicron variant were detected in the central Chinese city of Changsha from arrivals into the country, state-backed media Xinhua reported Saturday, citing the municipal government.

The provincial capital of Hunan is the latest place to discover the variant in incoming travellers, after the southern province of Guangdong and the northern metropolis of Tianjin reported cases earlier this month. Omicron has put China’s Covid Zero strategy under pressure, although no local transmissions of the variant have yet been reported. 

Cases surge in Australia’s largest state 

New South Wales, Australia’s largest state, reported a record 2,566 cases Sunday, amid reports that health experts and some members of the government support the reintroduction of mask mandates as the Omicron variant spreads.

Testing confirmed that 313 of the cases involved the Omicron strain, though state health officials said the majority of infections there are likely to be of that variant. New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet is under internal pressure to reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing for indoor settings and QR code check-ins, the Sydney Morning Herald reported late Saturday, citing ministers in his Cabinet. Just days earlier, measures were relaxed across the state of more than 8 million people.

Meanwhile, New Zealand reported 55 new Covid cases Sunday, confirming an additional five cases of Omicron cases in recent international arrivals, bringing the total number of new variant cases in managed quarantine to 13. No Omicron cases have been active in the community.

Hong Kong puts New Zealand, Qatar on high-risk list

Hong Kong will from Dec. 21 ban non-residents travelling from New Zealand, Egypt, Morocco and Qatar after Omicron cases were found there, according to a statement late Saturday. Hong Kong residents returning from those places must be fully vaccinated and undergo hotel quarantine for 21 days under the change.

Germany tightens UK travel rules

Germany declared the UK a virus-variant area, its highest-risk designation, and tightened the rules for travellers from Britain to include a mandatory 14-day quarantine after arrival.

The designation takes effect on Monday and stay in force at least until Jan. 3, the Robert Koch Institute, a national infectious-disease agency, said on its website. DM

– With assistance from Natalie Lung, Georgina Mckay, Corinne Gretler, Sara Marley, Alan Katz and Nathan Crooks.


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