US faces ‘tough’ weeks ahead; South Africa registers 4,597 new cases

US faces ‘tough’ weeks ahead; South Africa registers 4,597 new cases
Indian health workers wearing personal protective equipment suits carry the medical waste for disposal in Chennai, India, on 16 January 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / IDREES MOHAMMED)

South Africa registered 4,597 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,559,230. A further 86 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 93,364. A total of 28,903,010 vaccines have been administered.

US Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy defended the Biden administration’s response to the Omicron surge, conceding though that health officials need to “close that gap” in the severe shortage of testing. He said the outbreak is likely to worsen, that “a tough few weeks” are ahead.

Austria will impose fines on those without vaccinations from mid-March. England will start giving boosters to those as young as 16, while Saudi Arabia will allow shots for children from the age of five. 

Novak Djokovic has left Melbourne after his entry permit was revoked and will miss the Australian Open.

Key developments

  • Virus Tracker: Cases pass 326.6 million; deaths pass 5.5 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.69 billion shots administered
  • From pandemic to endemic: Can 2022 succeed where 2021 failed?
  • US parents and retirees teach class as Omicron sidelines faculty
  • Omicron surge gives bosses reason to order shots Biden now can’t
  • Should I be wearing an N95 mask? The evolving advice: QuickTake

US Surgeon-General Murthy defends Biden Omicron response 

US Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy defended the Biden administration’s response to the surge of infections caused by the Omicron variant, conceding though that health officials need to “close that gap” in the severe shortage of testing. 

“We have more to do,” Murthy said on ABC’s This Week, adding that the spike in infections outstripped what he said was an eight-fold increase in testing over the last month.

President Joe Biden and his top health officials are coming under increasing criticism, from the lack of tests to overcrowded hospitals around the nation. A new CBS News poll shows that a majority of Americans find coronavirus information from health officials confusing, with changing guidelines on masking and isolation periods for those who are infected. 

He said the outbreak is likely to worsen, that “a tough few weeks” are ahead.

England to give boosters to 16- and 17-year-olds 

England lowered the age threshold for Covid booster shots to 16, expanding access after the health service delivered more than 30 million of the shots to people over 18. 

Austria to start fines for unvaccinated in March 

Austria will impose fines on those without Covid-19 vaccinations from mid-March after a transition phase that starts in February, said Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

Djokovic departs Australia 

Novak Djokovic has left Australia after his anti-vaccination stance cost him a potential payday of A$2.875-million ($2.1-million) and a shot at tennis history.

Omicron is denting French support for Macron 

French President Emmanuel Macron, who’s expected to seek re-election in April, is losing support following the nation’s latest spike in Covid cases, Journal du Dimanche reported, citing an Ifop poll.

Germany reports record infections over seven days  

Germany’s health institute RKI reported a record in the seven-day incidence on Sunday, reaching 515.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Earlier, Germany reported 52,504 new cases.

Chinese city lifts some restrictions 

The Chinese city of Xi’an has gradually begun lifting restrictions after over three weeks of lockdown as authorities sought to stamp out a local outbreak, AP reported, citing state media. 

State-owned broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday that certain counties and development zones in Xi’an had begun restoring production, citing a news conference by Xi’an officials.

Covax deliveries reach one billion 

A cargo of vaccines that arrived in Rwanda pushed Covax, the programme created to deliver Covid-19 inoculations more equitably, over the one billion mark in shots delivered so far, the World Health Organization said.  

Of 194 member states, 36 countries have vaccinated less than 10% of their population, even as richer nations have moved on to provide citizens with their third or even fourth shots. 

Indonesia expects current wave to peak by early March 

The current wave of cases in Indonesia could peak in mid-February or early March, said Luhut Panjaitan, the minister who is overseeing the pandemic response.

The government has no plans to impose tighter restrictions despite daily new cases exceeding 1,000 on January 15 for the first time since October. People should limit gatherings and avoid in-person meetings unless necessary to curb the spread of the virus, Panjaitan said. 

Saudi Arabia starts vaccinating children from five years old  

Saudi Arabia will begin vaccinating children aged from five to 11 against coronavirus, the Ministry of Health said in a tweet.

People in Saudi Arabia can now take the third vaccine dose, or booster, three months after the second dose. In December, Saudi Arabia advised citizens to avoid “unnecessary” travel outside the country amid rising coronavirus cases and the new Omicron variant.

Highest number of Russian cases since mid-December 

Russia reported 29,230 new cases in the past day, the highest daily figure since mid-December, according to the government’s reporting centre. While the number of new cases has risen for six days, the number of deaths fell to 686 in the past day, the lowest since the start of July.

Greek seniors face monthly fine for failure to get Covid shot 

Greece from Monday intends to fine all people ages 60 and over who aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19 as a way to boost lagging inoculation levels and reduce pressure on health care.  

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has told seniors the simplest way to avoid the levy is to get vaccinated. Greek authorities say the non-vaccinated remain at high risk for hospitalisation from the coronavirus. Some nine in 10 Covid-related deaths in Greece have been among people 60 and above, while seven in 10 of those hospitalised from the virus are over 60. And of those, eight in 10 are unvaccinated.

China reports decline in local cases for a second day  

China reported 65 new local transmissions, dropping for a second day to the lowest level since January 4. The new cases include Beijing’s first confirmed Omicron variant infection, and 33 spotted in the northern port city of Tianjin that borders Beijing, according to a statement of National Health Commission.

Singapore booster rate passes 51% 

Singapore’s rate for vaccination boosters has reached 51%, with about 42,000 people a day getting the additional shots. That’s an acceleration from the 25,000-per-day pace of late December, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post.

Mexico reports record rise in infections 

Mexico registered a record rise of 47,113 Covid-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the total to 4,349,182, according to Health Ministry data.

Deaths increased by 227 to 301,334. DM/MC 

– With assistance from Andrew Davis, Albertina Torsoli, Olga Tanas, Reema Alothman, Matthew Burgess, Loni Prinsloo, Marton Eder, Adeola Eribake and Mariajose Vera.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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