Covid-19 has infected more than 271M people and killed over 5.3M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:
Wednesday, December 15, 2021
EU: Omicron to be dominant variant by mid-January
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned that omicron is expected to be the dominant coronavirus variant in the 27-nation bloc by mid-January, amid concerns that a dramatic rise of in infections will leave Europe shrouded in gloom during the festive season.
The head of the EU’s executive branch, however, said that the bloc is well prepared to fight omicron, with 66.6 percent of the European population now fully vaccinated against the virus.
“There is a “very high” risk that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 will become dominant in Europe early next year and lead to a growing number of severe infections, the European Union’s public health body also said on Wednesday.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a report that Omicron variant of concern (VOC) was likely to take over from Delta as the dominant variant within the first two months of 2022.
Real Madrid’s Modric, Marcelo test positive
Spanish giant Real Madrid has announced that its stars Luka Modric and Marcelo have tested positive for Covid-19.
The Croatian midfielder and Brazilian defender are expected to miss the La Liga home fixture against Cadiz on Sunday.
Croatia, Slovenia confirm 1st cases of omicron variant
The fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Croatia and Slovenia, according to health authorities.
Health ministries of both countries said they are trying to detect the source of infections.
An epidemiologist, Bernard Kalic, earlier said they expect more omicron cases to emerge in the coming d ays and weeks.
Croatia has vaccinated around 54 percent of its population of 4.2 million, a much lower figure than the EU average. More than 11,000 people with Covid-19 have died in Croatia.
Meanwhile, Slovenia has announced that four samples of the omicron variant were detected in the last screening tests carried out at the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology.
Health Minister Janez Poklukar said the spread of omicron may cause another wave. The recent decline in the daily number of infections is also slowing down and the minister renewed his call to the people to get vaccinated.
Slovenia has vaccinated about 55.8 percent of its 2.76 million population. The country has so far registered over 5,436 fatalities from coronavirus.
The omicron variant is expected to spread also to Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, after the New Year holidays.
Canada to advise citizens against non-essential travel
Canada will advise citizens on Wednesday to avoid non-essential international travel to help reduce the threat from the Omicron variant of Covid-19, a government source has said.
The source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, did not give more details. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with the premiers of the 10 provinces on Tuesday to discuss ways of countering Omicron, which is spreading rapidly.
Morocco joins others by announcing 1st case of omicron
Moroccan health authorities has confirmed the country’s first case of the coronavirus omicron variant.
A statement by the Health Ministry on Wednesday said a Moroccan woman in Casablanca was infected with the variant, adding that the infected patient was in a stable condition.
Morocco has registered 951,763 virus infections, including 14,798 deaths.
According to the World Health Organization, the new variant, which it had declared a “variant of concern,” has been detected in 77 countries so far.
WHO: Vaccines may be less effective against Omicron
Preliminary evidence indicates that Covid-19 vaccines may be less effective against infection and transmission linked to the Omicron coronavirus variant, which also carries a higher risk of reinfection, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
The WHO, in its weekly epidemiological update, said that more data was needed to better understand the extent to which Omicron may evade immunity derived from either vaccines or previous infection.
“As a result of this, the overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high,” it said.
Rwanda detects six Omicron cases
Rwanda has detected its first six cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant, prompting the government to escalate pandemic measures, including shutting down nightclubs and extending quarantines for international travellers.
Visitors will now be required to quarantine for three days instead of the current 24 hours, the government announced, after recording six cases of the Omicron variant in travellers and their contacts.
“A Covid-19 PCR test will be taken upon arrival and an additional test, taken on day three and on day seven at own cost, from the arrival date,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
Italy tightens border rules for EU arrivals
Italy will tighten restrictions for arrivals from the rest of the EU from Thursday, requiring coronavirus tests of everyone and a five-day quarantine for those who are not vaccinated.
Previously, EU arrivals had to show proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative test.
The decree signed by Health Minister Roberto Speranza late on Tuesday “provides for the obligation of a negative test on departure for all arrivals from European Union countries”, a spokesperson said.
“For the unvaccinated, in addition to the negative test, a five-day quarantine is planned.”
Unvaccinated people arriving from outside the bloc must already quarantine, and tests are required of those with jabs.
The new measures, valid from December 16 to January 31, come as Europe battles a fresh wave of coronavirus infections sparked by the spread of the new Omicron variant.
Europe kicks off Covid vaccine drive for kids
Several European nations have started vaccinating children aged five to 11 against Covid-19 in an effort to contain a raging pandemic and keep schools open, while others are still deciding their approach.
Germany, Spain, Greece and Hungary are among those opening up their inoculation drives to younger kids, with doctors reporting strong initial demand from parents.
The EU’s medicines watchdog last month approved the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for five to 11-year-olds, an age group experiencing high coronavirus infection rates across the continent.
Kenya detects first cases of Omicron variant
Kenya has detected its first cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the country’s health minister said.
“We have detected the Omicron variant among passengers in airports,” said Mutahi Kagwe, without specifying when and where the variant was first identified.
Kagwe said those hospitalised with Covid-19 in Kenya were still suffering from the Delta variant of the disease, but cases of Omicron were expected to quickly rise.
“It is just a matter of time before Omicron becomes the dominant variant,” he told reporters in Mombasa.
S.Korea reports new highest daily Covid cases
South Korea has reported 7,850 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily total, as breakthrough infections among those already vaccinated continue to spike, with the number of patients in a serious condition also reaching a fresh high at 964.
Daily tallies of infections shot past 7,000 for the first time last week, just days after passing the 5,000 mark, putting ever greater strains on the country’s medical capacity.
Total infections in the pandemic so far have risen to 536,495, including 128 cases of the Omicron variant, with 4,456 deaths, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum warned that the government is considering reimposing strict distancing curbs including a ban on gatherings and a curfew on dining in eating establishments. An official announcement is expected on Friday.
South Korea has fully vaccinated more than 94 percent of its adults so far, and is accelerating its ongoing campaign promoting booster shots by shortening intervals for all ages.
Australia reopens borders to non-citizens
Australia has reopened borders to vaccinated skilled migrants and foreign students after a nearly two-year ban on their entry, in a bid to boost an economy hit by stop-start Covid-19 lockdowns and restart international travel.
The emergence of the new Omicron variant forced officials to delay the reopening by two weeks after health officials sought a temporary pause to get more information about the strain, which so far appears to show milder symptoms than other Covid-19 variants.
Australia has inoculated nearly 90 percent of its population above 16 with two doses and shortened the wait time for booster shots after the emergence of the Omicron cases.
Three US vaccines appear to be less protective without booster
All three US authorised Covid-19 vaccines appear to be significantly less protective against the newly-detected Omicron variant of the coronavirus in laboratory testing, but a booster dose likely restores most of the protection, according to a study.
The study from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard, and MIT that has not yet been peer-reviewed tested blood from people who received the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines against a pseudovirus engineered to resemble the Omicron variant.
The scientists also suggested that Omicron is more infectious than previous variants of concern, including about twice as transmissible as the currently dominant Delta variant, which may soon be overtaken by Omicron.
Google employees who don’t follow vaccination rules may be fired
Alphabet Inc’s Google has told its employees they would lose pay and eventually be fired if they do not follow its Covid-19 vaccination rules, CNBC reported, citing internal documents.
A memo circulated by Google’s leadership said employees had until Dec. 3 to declare their vaccination status and upload documentation showing proof or to apply for a medical or religious exemption, according to the report.
After that date, Google said it would start contacting employees who had not uploaded their status or were unvaccinated and those whose exemption requests were not approved, CNBC reported.
Earlier this month, Google delayed its return-to-office plan indefinitely amid Omicron variant fears and some resistance from its employees to company-mandated vaccinations.
India vaccine maker to pay $66.2 million to Oxford University
Vaccine maker Serum Institute of India (SII) has pledged $66.2 million to the University of Oxford for setting up a research campus that would also house the institute behind the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 shot.
The investment was made through the Indian company’s Serum Life Sciences unit, Oxford University said on Wednesday. The research building would be named after Serum’s billionaire owners, the Poonawalla family.
The pledge builds on the collaboration between Oxford University, AstraZeneca, and SII, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and the producer of a version of the British duo’s Covid-19 shot for low- and middle-income countries.
SII has also agreed with the Jenner Institute, which was behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, to produce and develop Jenner’s R21/Matrix-M malaria shot on a large scale. The shot is currently in late-stage trials.