Germany to phase out restrictions; South Africa registers 2,364 new cases

Germany to phase out restrictions; South Africa registers 2,364 new cases
Hong Kong health workers wearing personal protective equipment outside the Accident and Emergency Department at Caritas Medical Centre on 15 February 2022 treat patients showing Covid-19 symptoms. (Photo: EPA-EFE/MIGUEL CANDELA)

South Africa registered 2,364 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,645,269. A further 181 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 97,431. A total of 30,701,325 vaccines have been administered.

Tyson Foods, one of the first big US employers to mandate vaccines for its workers, is easing mask requirements for some fully vaccinated employees. The state of Massachusetts also loosened its mask guidance.

Germany is set to join other European countries in phasing out Covid-19 restrictions over the coming weeks, even though infections are only slightly below recent records. France is also planning to ease some mask rules.

Hong Kong is trying to ride out the Omicron wave without a total lockdown like those in mainland Chinese cities. Tennis star Novak Djokovic said he’s willing to forgo trophies and the Wimbledon tournament if that’s the price for not getting a vaccine.

Key developments 

Massachusetts eases mask recommendations 

Massachusetts officials loosened their recommendation on masks indoors, saying they’re necessary only for those who are at high risk of being infected with Covid-19.

People should continue to protect themselves if they have a weakened immune system, underlying medical conditions or are unvaccinated, according to an updated advisory by the state Department of Public Health. Masks are still required on public transit and in healthcare facilities. Previously, the state had asked all residents to wear a mask indoors no matter their vaccination status.

The recommendation came as the number of new Covid cases eased. In Massachusetts, the seven-day moving average of daily infections dropped to 1,755 on Monday, compared with nearly 25,000 during the peak of the Omicron surge in early January, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Ecuador vaccinating children aged three and four

Ecuador started inoculating children aged three and four against Covid-19 with the Chinese Sinovac vaccines, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Vaccination started in Quito, Loja, Zamora and Machala, with a nationwide roll-out to begin on February 21. The government hopes to stave off the development of so-called long Covid in very young children where the disease often goes undetected, Health Minister Ximena Garzon said. Children will receive two doses with an interval of 28 to 42 days between shots.

Tyson to ease mask mandates for some 

Tyson Foods, one of the first national employers to mandate vaccines for its workers, is moving to ease mask requirements for some employees, a decision that comes as the number of coronavirus cases in the US falls.

The meatpacking giant said in a memo to employees on Tuesday that fully vaccinated workers at “some facilities” could begin to remove their masks at work.

Vaccines help prevent long Covid, UK says 

People vaccinated against the coronavirus are less likely to develop long Covid symptoms compared with those who are unvaccinated, a UK review of various studies on the condition has shown.

Following an examination of 15 studies, the UK Health Security concluded that getting two doses of a vaccine offered protection against severe illness and reduced the longer-term impact of the infection. The agency also found that getting vaccinated after a Covid infection helped reduce the duration of long Covid symptoms, which include fatigue, shortness of breath, and muscle or joint pain.

Japan may end quarantine for some 

The Japanese government is weighing plans to end quarantine and self-isolation requirements in March for fully vaccinated travellers coming from countries where Covid-19 cases are not rising rapidly, Nikkei reported.

Marriott up as vacationers shrug off virus 

Marriott International reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations as demand for leisure travel powered the hotel recovery.

The company reported adjusted earnings per share of $1.30, according to a statement on Tuesday. That beat the average analyst estimate of 99 cents.

France to drop mask mandate 

France plans to drop the mask requirement in public spaces where proof of vaccine is required, such as cinemas, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Tuesday. He confirmed that clubs will reopen on Wednesday.

Yet the vaccine requirement is here to stay for now. It will be lifted only when all postponed surgeries are rescheduled and no surgeries are postponed to treat Covid patients, he said.

Cyprus to start easing curbs 

Cyprus will begin relaxing coronavirus measures following a significant reduction in pressure on the country’s health system and stabilising epidemiological indicators, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said on Tuesday.

From 21 February, people who haven’t completed their vaccination programmes and who take a rapid test will be reallowed to enter restaurants, nightclubs, stadiums, theatres, cinemas and hotels. Other moves include an increase in the number of people allowed to attend weddings and entertainment venues, while the number of company staff required to work from home will be reduced to 25% of a company’s workforce from 50%.

Indonesia exceeds Delta peak 

Indonesia added the most Covid-19 cases since the pandemic started, as the virus’s spread driven by the Omicron variant outpaces the previous Delta wave.

The government reported 57,049 new infections on Tuesday, with 134 people dying from the disease. Fatalities are lower than during the peak of the Delta wave, when more than 2,000 people died in a day, leading the government to ease some restrictions in cities while still warning people against gathering.

Hong Kong doesn’t plan full lockdown 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the city had no plans for a citywide lockdown to help bring cases back to zero, even as she acknowledged that a growing Omicron outbreak has exceeded its capacity to respond.

“The scale and speed of the spread of the virus has overwhelmed our capacity in the fight against the pandemic,” Lam said. “The situation is very serious.”

She said Hong Kong would continue with district-based lockdowns of specific buildings or neighbourhoods to launch targeted Covid testing blitzes. Hong Kong reported 1,619 new infections on Tuesday.

Indian carrier rebounds from Covid hit 

SpiceJet delivered a surprise profit after making losses for seven straight quarters as ebbing Covid cases boosted domestic travel.

Chairman Ajay Singh in October flagged that the no-frills carrier had a “reasonable chance” of returning to profit in the December quarter. The company has cut costs and renegotiated aircraft leases to prune expenses.

Germany set to ease curbs 

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach backed a plan that would see most pandemic restrictions lifted by 20 March, justifying the rollback by saying the peak of the latest coronavirus wave has now passed.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz will hold talks with regional leaders on Wednesday. The draft prepared for the meeting includes immediately removing the requirement for people to be vaccinated or recovered to enter non-essential stores and allowing private gatherings of as many as 20 people, German public broadcaster ARD and other media reported.

In a second step from 4 March, nightclubs will be allowed to reopen for those who are vaccinated or recovered or have a valid negative test, and major events will be allowed to host more people. In the third phase, employers would no longer be required to allow employees to work from home, while mask-wearing would remain compulsory on public transport and in most indoor public spaces.

Djokovic ready to skip Wimbledon 

The world’s top tennis player said he’s willing to sacrifice trophies and skip Wimbledon to avoid a Covid-19 shot. Novak Djokovic is at the heart of a contentious global debate over vaccine mandates. Last month, the 20-time Grand Slam winner was deported from Australia after a protracted dispute over his vaccine status.

“The principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title, or anything else,” Djokovic said in an interview with the BBC.

Protesters defy Trudeau’s emergency powers 

Demonstrators against vaccine mandates halted traffic at two major border crossings in western Canada and some vowed to stay even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used a law giving his government emergency powers to end blockades.

The main border posts in Alberta and Manitoba were closed on Monday, with commercial traffic to the US blocked by semi-trailers and farm equipment driven there by people opposed to Covid-19 vaccine rules.

One Chinese city locks down, another lifts  

China continues to battle Covid flare-ups as Manzhouli, a city of 300,000 people in Inner Mongolia bordering Russia, said it would enter lockdown after five people tested positive for Covid.

Suzhou, a city near Shanghai in eastern China, also found 12 Covid infections, mostly at the city’s industrial park. A wafer factory run by Taiwan’s United Microelectronics had to suspend production in the city after employees tested positive.

Meanwhile, the southwestern border city of Baise began to lift lockdown restrictions on Tuesday after its Omicron-led cluster outbreak appeared to come under control. The city of 3.6 million residents near Vietnam entered lockdown last week. China reported 47 Covid infections overall on Tuesday, with 28 of them in the northeastern coastal city of Huludao.

Biden’s global vaccine push falters 

US President Joe Biden’s effort to vaccinate the world against Covid-19 is falling short, with the globe not on pace to meet a 2021 goal of vaccinating 70% of the world population by later this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged at a virtual meeting with other countries. Only about 54% of the global population is vaccinated so far.

Singapore eyes easing, commits to reopening 

Singapore will be able to ease virus restrictions more once the current Omicron wave has peaked and starts to subside, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday in a response to questions in Parliament.

Separately, the Southeast Asian nation remains committed to reopening its borders and extending its vaccinated travel lane arrangements with other countries, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday at the Singapore Airshow. DM/MC

— With assistance from Paul Tugwell, Ania Nussbaum, Rieka Rahadiana, Dong Lyu, Michael Hirtzer, Joyce Koh, Phila Siu, Gearoid Reidy, Kai Schultz, Kari Lindberg, Alexander Weber, Ragini Saxenaand Mumbi Gitau.


"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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