CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE
Paris mandates outdoor masks; South Africa registers 9,020 new cases
South Africa registered 9,020 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,433,554. A further 81 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,935. A total of 27,913,197 vaccines have been administered.
The virus that causes Covid-19 is unlikely to go away completely and will probably settle into a pattern of transmission at low levels, the World Health Organization said, warning of a “bumpy road” until then.
Virus deaths in the U.S. are declining even as cases rise, according to federal health officials who suggested the surging Omicron variant may cause less suffering than other strains.
Rapid tests that are widely used to detect infections may miss some Omicron cases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.
The Netherlands will require travellers arriving from the U.S. to self-quarantine for up to 10 days.
Chinese officials renewed their commitment to a zero tolerance approach as they battle what is becoming the biggest and most protracted outbreak since the virus ignited the pandemic in Wuhan two years ago.
- Virus Tracker: Cases top 283.4 million; deaths pass 5.4 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.09 billion shots given
- Errors, inaction sent a deadly Covid variant around the world
- As Omicron spreads, so does demand to ‘up your mask game’
- Pfizer, Merck pills hinge on Biden plan to expand testing
- What Covid therapies exist, and what Omicron changes: QuickTake
Paris to require masks outdoors
People in Paris will be required to wear masks outside beginning Dec. 31 in an effort to slow the spread of new Covid-19 infections, the French police said on Wednesday.
The order, which applies to everyone over the age of 11, was needed because of the surge in cases in the city of the Omicron variant, the police said in a statement.
There are exceptions to the rule, including for cyclists, people in cars and those practicing a sport.
France reported a record 208,099 new infections on Wednesday.
Ohio deploys more National Guard members
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is deploying an additional 1,250 National Guard members to aid hospitals in northern Ohio unable to cope with depleted staffing amid record Covid-19 hospitalisations.
The Cleveland Clinic, a world-renowned medical research institute and one of Ohio’s largest employers, is down 2,700 staff—roughly 10% of its medical caregiving workforce—due to quarantines, Robert Wyllie, the clinic’s chief medical officer said during a news conference. And the remaining staff must take care of more patients than ever.
The Cleveland Clinic is running roughly 2,000 tests daily, and 30% of those tests are coming back positive, Wyllie said. The positivity rate for the state overall neared 25% Wednesday, Ohio Department of Health Director Bruch Vanderhoff said.
There are already more than 500 Guard members deployed from Cleveland to Dayton.
Italy to ease isolation rules
Italy’s government is set to ease quarantine rules in a bid to keep essential services running.
Ministers are discussing whether to lift the quarantine requirement completely for people who come into contact with a Covid-19 case if they have had three vaccine doses, according to a government official. The isolation time would also be cut to five days from seven for vaccinated people whose most recent dose was more than 120 days before exposure, the official said.
Non-vaccinated people will still need to isolate for 10 days, the official said.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that anyone who has Covid-19 can leave isolation after five days if they are no longer experiencing symptoms, cutting the recommended period in half.
U.S. deaths decline despite a surge in Omicron infections
Virus deaths in the U.S. are declining even as Covid-19 cases rise, according to federal health officials who suggested the surging Omicron variant may cause less suffering than other strains.
Cases jumped 60% from the prior week, in large part due to the Omicron variant, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing. In the same period, deaths fell 7% to a seven-day average of about 1,100 per day.
WHO predicts a ‘bumpy road’ to low Covid levels
Vaccine equity and making use of health and social measures can help bring the acute phase of death and hospitalisation to an end in 2022, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said.
“The virus itself is very unlikely to go away completely and will probably settle down into a pattern of transmission at low levels, causing occasional outbreaks in undervaccinated populations,” said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies programme. “But we’re certainly not there yet. This is going to be a bumpy road to low levels of Covid.”
It underlines the importance of getting people everywhere vaccinated as much as possible. Some 92 of 194 member states missed the WHO’s target to inoculate at least 40% of the population in each country, due to limited supplies to low-income countries and vaccines arriving close to expiration dates or without key parts like syringes, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“Forty percent was doable” he said. “It’s not only a moral shame; it cost lives and provided the virus with opportunities to circulate unchecked and mutate.”
Greece brings forward new curbs
Greece will implement a host of new measures designed to slow the spread of Omicron on Thursday, rather than Jan. 3 as originally planned.
“The Omicron variant is now the predominant variant in the community,” Health Minister Athanasios Plevris said in a televised address. Restaurants, bars, cafes and night clubs must close at midnight, can operate only with a maximum of six people seated at tables and can no longer play music, Plevris said. These establishments will be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. for the New Year.
CDC director predicts more hospitalisation cases of children
The U.S. is seeing a higher number of kids in hospitals as Omicron spreads across the country, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told MSNBC.
“Most of those children are not yet vaccinated,” Walensky said Wednesday. “So the message here is: Get the children vaccinated.”
Walensky spoke amid concerns that the return of U.S. children to school after the holiday break may further spread infections, already at record levels.
UAE cases top 2,000 amid resurgence
Coronavirus cases in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) rose above 2,000 for the first time in six months, prompting Abu Dhabi and Dubai to tighten rules to curb the spread of infections.
The Gulf nation, which has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, reported 2,234 cases on Wednesday. Daily cases had fallen to below 50 at the start of December.
Abu Dhabi on Tuesday tightened requirements to enter the sheikdom and decided to opt for distance learning in schools and colleges during the first two weeks of January. Organisers of the Dubai Expo 2020 exhibition, one of the biggest in-person events since the pandemic started, said they may close some venues temporarily for deep cleaning and sanitation.
Netherlands to quarantine U.S. travellers
The Netherlands will require travellers from the U.S. to self-quarantine for up to ten days upon arrival starting Dec. 30, according to an updated travel advisory that now classifies the country as a “very high risk area”. Travellers will still have to provide a negative test.
Home carrier KLM, which offers about 50 weekly flights to the U.S., told Dutch financial daily Het Financieele Dagblad that it’s “too early” to gauge the impact on bookings. Several U.S. carriers including Delta, United, and American Airlines also operate frequent flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
China says 86% of population fully vaccinated
More than 1.2 billion Chinese people, or about 86% of the country’s population, were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 28, an official at the National Health Commission said at a briefing. Some 465 million doses were administered to youngsters aged 3 to 17.
South Korea may extend virus curbs
South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party and the government share a view that extending strengthened social distancing rules would be needed, a ruling party spokesperson said. It will take time for indicators, such as the intensive-care beds utilisation rate and critical cases, to improve.
South Korea reimposed tighter virus curbs, including cutting business hours of restaurants, movie theaters and coffee shops, on Dec. 18. The government will decide on Friday whether to extend the rules, which are set to end on Jan. 2.
Vietnam to limit initial Japan, U.S. flights
Vietnam plans to initially limit the resumption of regular international flights to routes between the Southeast Asian country and Japan and the U.S. in early January, Tien Phong newspaper reported, citing the civil aviation authority.
Earlier this month, the government said it would resume some international flights beginning Jan. 1 under a pilot program. The aviation authority is in discussions with counterparts in other countries about reopening Vietnam further by establishing quick Covid tests at foreign airports, the newspaper reported.
China’s Covid rules led fugitive to surrender
A Chinese man sought by the police for three years turned himself in after being unable to withstand the government’s stark Covid curbs.
The 42-year-old man gave himself up to the local police in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou on Dec. 24 after he suffered severe travel restrictions because he didn’t have a health code, according to a report posted on Hangzhou police’s WeChat account. The man was involved in a racketeering case, the report said, without giving his name.
Confined to a hiding place, the man experienced increased mental stress and deteriorating health, the report said.
Rapid tests may not detect Omicron – FDA
Rapid tests that are being widely used to detect Covid-19 infections in minutes may miss some cases caused by the Omicron variant, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.
Early laboratory data suggest antigen tests do detect infections caused by Omicron but they may have a reduced sensitivity, the agency said. The results come from an examination of the tests by the National Institutes of Health that used live virus samples, the best way to evaluate their true performance.
Previous work showed the antigen tests were just as accurate when finding Omicron as earlier strains, though the researchers used heat-inactivated samples that yield less precise results.
A line outside a Covid-19 mobile testing site in the Midtown neighborhood of New York, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered that private employers mandate vaccines starting Dec. 27, a first for a major U.S. city, and the city is also strengthening rules for indoor dining, entertainment and fitness to permit access only for those 12 and older who are fully vaccinated.
China’s Xi’an sees dip in infections
Cases in the western Chinese city of Xi’an eased after hitting a record high a day earlier. Xi’an reported 151 infections on Wednesday, down from 175 on Tuesday. The outbreak spread from a few dozen cases in early December to roughly 150 a day after the city was locked down last Thursday, the most dramatic curb China has enacted to stymie Covid since closing off Wuhan and the broader Hubei province in January 2020.
Shot safe for children, pregnant women – Sinovac
Sinovac Biotech Ltd. said a clinical study of its inactivated vaccine CoronaVac in South Africa indicated that the shot is safe for children from six months to 17 years. The Chinese company also said that the shot showed good safety in pregnant and postpartum women.
The results are part of a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial being held in South Africa, Chile, Malaysia, the Philippines and Kenya.
Hospitalisation data show mixed picture
Hospitalisations are spiking from New South Wales to New York state, but the larger picture shows the Omicron variant appears to be triggering less severe reactions than earlier outbreaks.
Hospitalisation due to coronavirus in Australia’s most populous state hit the highest level since mid-October. New South Wales on Wednesday recorded 11,201 new Covid cases, up 87% from the previous day’s figure. A total of 625 people in the state, which includes Sydney, are in the hospital, including 61 in intensive-care units.
In New York state, Covid hospitalisations are accelerating at a rate that hasn’t been seen since the early days of the pandemic. On Tuesday the state said hospitalisations rose by 647 to 6,173, marking the largest daily increase since early April 2020, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
But the total number of New Yorkers hospitalized with the virus remains far below last year’s peak of almost 19,000. And overall, hospitalisation rates across the U.S. are lower than earlier waves.
China’s plane-cleaning rule spurs U.S. talks
Talks are under way between the U.S. and China on possible changes to new Chinese aircraft-cleaning requirements that prompted a Delta Air Lines Inc. flight to turn back to Seattle and that could trigger the cancellation of some flights to the Asian nation.
The discussions were confirmed Tuesday by a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The new sanitation mandates – spurred by the spread of Covid-19 – significantly extend the time planes are on the ground and largely copy steps that U.S. airlines already take to clean between flights, representatives for the industry said. There also is a shortage of available workers to carry out the added steps, they said.
The new requirements are part of the changes that countries and industries are making to try to slow Omicron’s spread. DM
– With assistance from Michelle Fay Cortez, Jeff Sutherland, Li Liu, Cagan Koc, Shaji Mathew, Chris Reiter, Farah Elbahrawy, Kasia Klimasinska, Paul Tugwell, Sonia Sirletti, Alexander Ebert and Alan Katz.
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