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Covid-19 global virus update

Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

France issues work-from-home mandate; South Africa registers 3,782 new cases

A resident registers for the Covid-19 vaccine at the Protea Glen Secondary School pop-up vaccination site on 10 December 2021 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)
By Bloomberg
27 Dec 2021 0

South Africa registered 3,782 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,417,318. A further 15 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,829. A total of 27,807,355 vaccines have been administered.

Anthony Fauci, U.S. President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, indicated support for making vaccinations a requirement for domestic flights. Biden acknowledged that test availability hasn’t kept up with heavy demand.

New York state plans to send millions of Covid testing kits to school districts to ensure children can attend in person during the Omicron wave.

France will make working from home compulsory three days a week. The U.K. government won’t introduce stricter Covid-19 restrictions in England before the end of the year despite the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

In China, authorities began widespread disinfection measures in the western city of Xi’an, where an outbreak presents one of the country’s biggest challenges yet to its Zero Covid policy. 

Key developments: 

France issues work-from-home mandate

France will make working from home compulsory three days a week to contain the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Workers that have the option to stay away from the office must do so a minimum of three days and if possible four days to help reduce social contacts, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Monday. 

He announced the measures – which are due to enter into force on Jan. 3 for three weeks – after a special cabinet meeting convened by President Emmanuel Macron amid skyrocketing coronavirus infections in the country.

Biden seeks to expand testing

President Joe Biden acknowledged that Covid-19 test availability hasn’t kept up with heavy demand, saying his administration is seeking to expand pop-up sites and the availability of at-home test kits.

“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do and we’re doing it,” Biden said Monday from the White House in a conference call with governors.

He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already set up some temporary testing sites, including in New York City, and that more are coming. He said there aren’t enough at-home tests and that his administration will continue to use the wartime Defense Production Act to produce “as many tests as possible.”

New York sending millions of test kits to schools

New York state plans to send millions of Covid testing kits to school districts to ensure children can attend in person amid the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state expects to distribute 3 million to 3.5 million take-home kits, each containing two Covid tests, with priority given to districts that have the highest transmission rates, New York officials said Monday. About 2 million kits are going to schools in New York City.

Newark requires vaccination proof to enter restaurants, bars

New Jersey’s largest city will require vaccination proof at New Year’s Eve events and will expand the order to most public places in January. 

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka will enact the rule Monday, according to a statement from his office. Starting Jan. 10, patrons must show proof of at least one shot to enter most establishments, and on Jan. 31 they must show full vaccination. The order includes restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bowling alleys, movie theaters, gyms and concert halls. 

Exemptions apply to houses of worship, grocery stores, hospitals, and stores “where people tend to be in motion and not standing or seated in close proximity for long periods of time,” according to the statement.

New Jersey, the most densely populated U.S. state, has no such broad order. 

Greece reinstates work-from-home mandate

Greece reintroduced measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic amid concern that rising cases will pile pressure on the nation’s healthcare system.

As much as 50% of all private and public-sector employees will have to work from home between Jan. 3 and Jan. 16, Health Minister Athanasios Plevris said Monday. The government also ordered restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs to close at midnight.

The Omicron variant now seems to be in Greece to a large extent “and especially in the region of Attica,” which encompasses the capital city of Athens, Plevris said. Authorities expect that the highly transmissible variant will become dominant over the following 15 days.

UAE clears Sinopharm shot 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has allowed for the emergency use of the Sinopharm CNBG’s protein-based vaccine after study done in the Gulf nation, state-run WAM news agency reported.

The Chinese vaccine showed improved capability against emerging variants of the coronavirus and immunity for those who had received two shots, the news agency reported, citing the study.

The new vaccine will be produced and distributed by Hayat Biotech, a joint venture between G42 and Sinopharm CNBG. It will be available to the public as a booster shot at the start of 2022.

Fauci says domestic travel vaccination reasonable 

Anthony Fauci said it’s “reasonable to consider” a requirement to be vaccinated for coronavirus before getting on a domestic flight. Speaking on MSNBC, he also said that shortening isolation and quarantine time for essential workers is being “seriously discussed.”

On Sunday, Fauci warned Americans against being complacent despite evidence Omicron may be less severe, because the volume of cases can still overwhelm hospitals. 

No new curbs in England 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not expected to announce further restrictions to control Omicron in England after being briefed on the impact of Christmas on infections and hospital pressures, according to the Press Association.

The U.K. reported more than 122,000 new virus cases on Christmas Eve, the last day that government data is available. 

Italy accelerates boosters 

Italy will offer booster shots four months after completing the initial vaccine cycle, the country’s Covid Emergency Czar, Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, said Monday. The change, from five months previously, takes place Jan 10. 

ChemRar drug works against Omicron

Russia’s ChemRar Group said its Avifavir drug is effective against Covid-19, including the Omicron strain. Taking Avifavir in the first 3–5 days after infection leads to a milder disease in most cases and prevents hospitalisation, according to a statement. 

Avifavir is based on a generic version of Fujifilm Holdings Corp.’s drug Avigan.

Chinese city starts disinfection measures 

The western Chinese city of Xi’an has started widespread disinfection measures to counter a rise in Covid infections that forced the lockdown of 13 million residents.

Authorities are spraying disinfectants across the city and asking residents to close windows. Private cars are not allowed on roads. The move came as daily infections spiked to around 150 on Sunday and Monday, as health authorities seek to uncover more cases with a fourth round of mass testing.

Bangladesh to start booster doses

People aged 60 and above and frontline workers will receive vaccine booster doses starting Tuesday. Bangladesh will limit the booster dose program to the capital Dhaka for now.

U.K. consumers avoid shop visits

British consumers largely stayed away from the traditional Boxing Day sales on Sunday amid concern over Omicron, the Guardian reported. Visits to high streets, shopping malls and retail parks were down more than 45% on pre-pandemic levels, it said, citing figures from Springboard. The situation was also affected by some major retailers keeping their stores closed. 

South Korea to buy Covid-19 pills 

South Korea signed deals to buy Merck & Co.’s and Pfizer’s pills to treat Covid-19, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The Pfizer pills could be imported as early as mid-January.

Separately, South Korea reported 4,207 new cases Monday, the fewest since Nov. 29, as the country tightened social-distancing rules and limited public activities of unvaccinated people. 

Australia daily cases exceed 10,000

Australia reported more than 10,000 daily Covid-19 cases amid the rapid spread of the Omicron strain.

New South Wales on Monday recorded 6,324 cases, with 55 people in intensive care among 520 who were hospitalised. The most populous state also reported its first known death from Omicron – a man in his 80s with underlying health issues who had received two doses of vaccine and became infected in his nursing home.

In NSW, mandatory QR code check-ins and density limits in hospitality venues including pubs and restaurants were reinstated from Monday.

India infection rate climbs in key provinces

Adjusted daily infection growth rates exceed 5% in Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, researchers at Cambridge Judge Business School said Dec. 24. 

India added 6,531 new cases and 315 Covid-related deaths in a day, according to data released by the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced last week India will start vaccinating teenagers from the ages of 15 to 18 and administering booster shots for health care workers next month.

New York City trains to run less often this week

New York City trains will run less frequently than usual Monday through Thursday as the recent surge in cases impacts crews, the MTA said in a tweet. 

The agency is reducing service to reallocate crews where they’re needed and working to implement New York State’s revised quarantine guidelines for essential workers to help with staff shortages.

Singapore adjusts vaccination approach 

Singapore will require foreigners seeking to work, study or reside in the country to be vaccinated, as the business hub tightens some restrictions.

From Feb. 1, applicants who wish to work on a long-term basis or permanently live in the city-state, as well as those looking to renew existing employment visas, will have to be inoculated against Covid-19, the health ministry said.

Thailand’s daily cases drop

Thailand reported 2,437 new Covid cases, the lowest daily tally since June 16, as the Southeast Asian nation ramps up vaccination efforts. The country also reported 18 Covid deaths on Monday, the least since June 14.

U.S. college football team pulls out of Sun Bowl

The Miami Hurricanes football team has pulled out of the Sun Bowl, citing a Covid outbreak within the team that left them without enough players to safely compete.

Several games have been canceled as Omicron spreads around the U.S., including the Fenway Bowl in Boston, Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland, and Hawaii Bowl. Texas A&M pulled out of the Gator Bowl in Florida last week, though that game found a replacement team in Rutgers. 

New York State sets new record 

New cases of coronavirus in New York State surged to an all-time high Dec. 24 before retreating on Christmas Day.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s office reported 49,708 new cases as the Omicron variant extends its spread worldwide. The number of new cases in New York slowed to 36,454 Dec. 25, probably because of the holiday.

A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 test at a testing site in Farragut Square in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. President Biden said that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus will result in more “breakthrough” infections among vaccinated Americans, “potentially in large numbers”, but that they are unlikely to be severely ill.

Germany hits interim vaccination target

Germany has reached a target of administering 30 million Covid-19 vaccines between mid November and the end of the year as it tries to ward off the fast-spreading Omicron strain, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said .

“We’re now going into the second round,” Lauterbach, who wants 30 million booster shots to be given in January, told news agency DPA. DM 

– With assistance from Yuliya Fedorinova, Kasia Klimasinska, Dana Khraiche and Elise Young.

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