CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE
Israel gives fourth doses as EU warns against frequent boosters; South Africa records 5,668 new cases
South Africa registered 5,668 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,534,131. A further 119 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 92,649. A total of 28,508,583 vaccines have been administered.
About 400,000 Israelis have received a fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday. At the same time, European Union regulators warned that frequent boosters could adversely affect the immune system and may not be feasible.
JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon warned that vaccine holdouts among the bank’s staff in New York to get vaccinated means losing the right to enter the office and get paid. New York City Covid rates are “plateauing”, Governor Kathy Hochul said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Europe should consider the possibility of treating Covid-19 as an endemic illness. The World Health Organization warned of a “west-to-east tidal wave” that may infect more than half of Europe’s population within the next six to eight weeks.
- Virus Tracker: Cases top 311 million; deaths pass 5.49 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.51 billion shots administered
- Tiny masks are scarce as unboosted kids return to classrooms
- Hong Kong political elite get taste of their own Covid policies
- Covid test makers struggle to cope with whiplash from Omicron
Israel gives fourth doses to 400,000
About 400,000 Israelis have received a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a press conference on Tuesday. Israel was the first to give the extra shot to people aged 60 and over, part of his government’s strategy to protect those most vulnerable to the virus.
European Union regulators on Tuesday warned that frequent Covid-19 booster shots could adversely affect the immune system and may not be feasible.
New York City cases ‘plateauing’, says governor
The Omicron-fuelled Covid surge in New York appears to be “cresting over that peak” as the rate of increase slows, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said on Tuesday.
She said the percentage of New Yorkers that tested positive had dropped to 18.6%, from more than 22% in recent days.
In New York City, Covid rates are “plateauing,” while upstate figures are tracking behind the city by a couple of weeks, Hochul said in a virus briefing.
Mexico’s president doing well after second infection
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is doing well after testing positive on Monday for Covid-19 for the second time in a year, he said during a video appearance at the daily press conference on Tuesday.
“My voice is hoarse – I’m aphonic – but I am fine,” Amlo, as the president is known, said. “A little bit of body aches at first, I’m taking paracetamol and I feel pretty good.”
The president measured his temperature and oxygen levels during the video broadcast: his temperature was a normal 36.1°C and his oxygen level a healthy 96%. Health Minister Jorge Alcocer said that Amlo could return to work next week if he’s feeling better.
Denmark may ease some restrictions
Denmark may end some restrictions next week after the number of new daily virus cases has stabilised, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke told broadcaster TV2. The government may ease restrictions for culture, which could reopen museums, concert venues and cinemas. The parties in Denmark’s Parliament will hold talks on Wednesday, the minister said.
Moscow braces for ‘significant’ increase
Infections by the Omicron variant are surging in Moscow after the New Year’s holidays and health officials in the Russian capital are reopening hospital beds in anticipation of a “significant” increase in sickness in the next seven to 10 days, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin warned on Tuesday at a video conference with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and other officials.
Russia may reach a record of more than 100,000 daily Covid cases soon, public health watchdog chief Anna Popova told the meeting, from fewer than 20,000 recorded cases now.
Omicron dominant in Brazil, says minister
Brazil is currently seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases and the Omicron strain is already predominant, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga told journalists.
Brazil’s strong vaccination campaign is still likely to prevent the variant from overburdening hospitals and pushing up deaths
JPMorgan chief warns unvaccinated New York City staff
Jamie Dimon issued a warning to the vaccine holdouts among JPMorgan Chase’s staff in New York.
“To go to the office you have to be vaxxed and if you aren’t going to get vaxxed you won’t be able to work in that office,” the JPMorgan Chase CEO said on Monday in an interview on CNBC. “And we’re not going to pay you not to work in the office.”
The warning comes after the lender implemented a vaccine mandate at nine Manhattan office buildings last month. Dimon said that 97% of the firm’s employees in New York are already vaccinated.
Omicron may hit half of Europeans, says WHO
More than half of Europe’s population may be infected with Omicron within weeks at current transmission rates, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said.
The fast-spreading variant represents a “west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region,” said Hans Kluge, the regional director of the WHO for Europe at a briefing on Tuesday. He cited forecasts by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that the majority of Europeans could catch it in the next six to eight weeks.
Indonesia to mix vaccine brands in boosters
Indonesia will start its booster programme on Wednesday as it braces for the spread of the Omicron variant.
The government will mix vaccine brands, using half-doses instead of full ones as recommended by the local drug regulator to ensure there’s enough supply for the country’s 270 million people.
The health ministry reported 802 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, the most since Oct. 23, with eight people dying from the disease.
Spain seeks debate to treat Covid as the flu
Spain is calling on Europe to debate the possibility that Covid-19 can now be treated as an endemic illness, setting a model to monitor its evolution akin to the one used for flu.
“Science has given us the answer to protect ourselves,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in an interview on Monday with radio station Cadena Ser, adding that the virus’s lethality has been dropping since the beginning of the pandemic. “We have to evaluate the evolution of Covid from pandemic to an endemic illness,” he said.
Vietnam approves $15.3bn in aid
Vietnam’s parliament approved a stimulus package worth about 347 trillion dong ($15.3-billion) to revive an economy battered by Covid-19 and harsh lockdowns with a focus on assisting virus-hit businesses, workers and increasing infrastructure spending.
The National Assembly voted on a plan that had been significantly reduced over concerns it would spur inflation.
Covid hit Heathrow traffic harder in 2021
London Heathrow Airport passenger traffic fell 12% in 2021 after successive waves of Covid-19 disrupted travel in the second year of the pandemic.
The UK hub, the busiest in Europe in normal times, catered to 19.4 million passengers in 2021, it said on Tuesday in a statement. Long-distance services were particularly hard-hit, with passenger counts falling 40% to the Asia-Pacific region, where Covid-zero policies have led to extended lockdowns.
Poland’s death toll exceeds 100,000
Poland has registered 11,400 new Covid-19 cases and 493 deaths over the past 24 hours, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on TVN24.
The death toll from the pandemic has now exceeded 100,000, according to the minister.
Indonesia to provide free vaccine boosters
Indonesia will prioritise elderly and at-risk people to receive booster shots in a programme scheduled to start on January 12, President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, said in a statement broadcast on YouTube on Tuesday.
Thailand opens three regions to tourists
Thailand added three popular beach destinations to a visa programme that allows foreign visitors to bypass mandatory isolation, throwing a lifeline to its Covid-hit tourism industry seen as key to a nascent economic recovery.
Starting on Tuesday, vaccinated foreign tourists can enter Krabi, Phang Nga, and Koh Samui in addition to Phuket under the so-called sandbox programme that won’t require them to go through quarantine, provided they spend at least a week in these destinations.
Germany records 45,690 new cases
Germany recorded a total of 45,690 new cases, compared with 25,255 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI.
Reported new deaths associated with the virus rose by 322, bringing the total to 114,351. The seven-day incidence rate rose to 387.9 per 100,000 people.
Chicago schools set to open after deal
Chicago Public Schools are poised to reopen for students on Wednesday after the teachers’ union leadership voted to approve a deal with city officials to restart in-person classes in the nation’s third-largest school district.
Schools have been closed since January 5 after Chicago teachers voted to shift back to remote learning, demanding that the district put in place more stringent protections amid a Covid-19 surge driven by the Omicron variant. On Monday, the House of Delegates voted to suspend the union’s remote action, and the members must now ratify the agreement. The district said classes are cancelled on Tuesday but that the district’s 330,000 students can return on Wednesday.
Hong Kong to roll out new round of relief funds
Hong Kong will announce details on a new round of anti-epidemic funding to support businesses affected by the latest round of social distancing rules on Friday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing.
Hong Kong has about HK$4-billion remaining in the fund after previous rounds.
Chinese city imposes lockdown after Omicron cases
Authorities in Anyang city, in the central Chinese province of Henan, asked people to stay at home and banned most vehicles from roads, the Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a government notice.
On Monday, two coronavirus infections in Anyang were confirmed as the Omicron variant, according to local media.
Hong Kong airport to ban high-risk transits
Air passengers from Group A, or designated high-risk countries, are set to be banned from transiting through Hong Kong International Airport, according to people familiar with the matter, another move in the financial hub’s aggressive effort to shield itself from Omicron.
Airport officials recently briefed carriers about the plan, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t yet public. The suspension will start on January 15 and run through February 14, though the end date will be subject to review, one of the people said. Procedures for how the ban will operate are still to be laid out, another person said.
China reports 110 local infections
Pressure mounted on Chinese authorities to contain a nationwide outbreak of both the Delta and Omicron variants after reporting 110 locally transmitted infections.
With Hunan province turning into the virus epicentre, the port city of Tianjin, adjacent to the Olympic venues in Beijing and Hebei province, confirmed 10 new locally transmitted cases and a further 11 asymptomatic cases after mass testing. CCTV later reported Tianjin had 49 local confirmed cases.
Henan’s Xuchang, a city of more than four million, found 74 cases, while the provincial capital, Zhengzhou, reported 11, two of which were confirmed as Omicron by local authorities.
The outbreak in the northwestern city of Xi’an, the previous epicentre, slowed from its peak, with 13 infections reported on Tuesday. DM/MC
– With assistance from Tony Halpin, Christian Wienberg and Yaacov Benmeleh.
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