Covid-19 has infected more than 366M people and killed over 5.6M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

Britain has ordered 2.75 million courses of Paxlovid, and the government said that people who are immunocompromised, cancer patients or those with Down’s Syndrome could be able to access it directly.
Britain has ordered 2.75 million courses of Paxlovid, and the government said that people who are immunocompromised, cancer patients or those with Down’s Syndrome could be able to access it directly. (Reuters)

Friday, January 28, 2022

Britain to start rolling out Pfizer pill next month

Britain will start rolling out Pfizer's Covid-19 pill to vulnerable people next month.

The health ministry said on Friday that it was targeting the treatment of people with compromised immune systems for whom the vaccine can be less effective.

The health ministry said that Pfizer's antiviral treatment Paxlovid, a combination of Pfizer's pill with an older antiviral ritonavir, will be made available to thousands of people from Feb10.

It is the second antiviral being rolled out in Britain after molnupiravir, a pill made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics which is being deployed to patients through the Panoramic trial.

Italy reports 143,898 new infections

Italy has reported 143,898 Covid-19 related cases against 155,697 the day before.

The health ministry said the number of deaths fell to 378 from 389.

Italy has registered 145,537 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth highest in the world. The country has reported 10.68 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 19,796 on Friday, down from 19,853 a day earlier.

Britain adds 89,176 new cases

Britain has reported a further 89,176 cases of Covid-19 and 277 more deaths, government statistics showed.

Cases and deaths are both down by 2.7% over the last seven days compared with the week before. 

Merck's Covid pill active against Omicron 

Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have said six lab studies showed their experimental oral Covid-19 drug molnupiravir was active against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The data evaluated the antiviral activity of molnupiravir and other Covid-19 antiviral agents against Covid-19 variants of concern. Molnupiravir is yet to be studied against Omicron in human studies, the companies said.

Molnupiravir and a rival oral pill from Pfizer Inc were authorized in the United States in December and are considered as important tools against Omicron.

Australia suffers deadliest day of pandemic

Australia has suffered its deadliest day of the Covid-19 pandemic with nearly 100 deaths, but several large states expect hospital admissions to fall amid hopes that the latest wave of infections would begin to subside.

Moreover, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the country's drug regulator, expanded the eligibility for boosters to 16- and 17-year-olds, joining the United States, Israel and Britain.

Fuelled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, infections in Australia exploded during the past four weeks, with around two million cases recorded.

Up until then, the country had counted just 400,000 cases since the pandemic first hit the country nearly two years ago.

But steady hospitalisation rates at around 5,000 in recent days have raised hopes that worst could be over.

"Generally the situation is stable ... and we're expecting further falls (in hospital cases)," Queensland state Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said, as hospital cases in the state fell for the third straight day to 818.

Omicron behind nearly all infections in Italy

The highly contagious Omicron variant now accounts for nearly all new infections in Italy, the National Health Institute (ISS) said, accounting for almost 96 percent of cases in a flash January 17 survey.

The previous survey from January 3 showed Omicron responsible for 81 percent of cases.

"In Italy on January 17, the Omicron variant was predominant, with an estimated prevalence of 95.8 percent, while Delta was at 4.2 percent of the sample tested", the Institute said in a statement.

The analysis is based on 2,486 swabs tested in 124 laboratories and collected in all 21 Italian regions and autonomous provinces, it said.

Worldwide, according to this week's World Health Organization report, the Omicron variant accounts for 89.1 percent of cases, while Delta accounts for 10.7 percent.

China quietly locks down area near Beijing

Chinese authorities have locked down an area neighbouring Beijing following a handful of Covid-19 cases just a week until the Winter Olympics, but made no public announcements about the restrictions.

The restrictions kicked in on Tuesday, they added and virus prevention staff "expect this (lockdown) to last around a week, but the exact timing is uncertain."

About 1.2 million people in Xiong'an New Area - a new economic zone 100 kilometres southwest of China's capital - are no longer allowed to enter or leave their residential compounds, local virus prevention staff confirmed.

While recent lockdowns in China are publicly announced and widely reported by state media, the Xiong'an restrictions appear to have been introduced without notice, sparking confusion among some residents.

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing.

Philippines set to lift ban on foreign tourists

The Philippines will lift a ban on the entry of foreign tourists and businesspeople next month, after nearly two years, to revive the battered tourism industry as the latest coronavirus outbreak started to ease.

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said the country will reopen its doors to travellers from more than 150 countries with visa-free privileges starting February 10.

Foreign travellers will no longer be required to quarantine in government-designated centres upon arrival if they have been fully vaccinated and tested negative prior to arrival, officials said.

The government had initially planned to lift the ban on December 1 but indefinitely postponed it as the more contagious Omicron variant spread, which also prompted authorities to reimpose tighter restrictions.

In other news, President Rodrigo Duterte warned that unvaccinated Filipinos who defy orders to stay at home could face arrest.

Thailand adopts guidelines for declaring Covid endemic

Thai health authorities have approved new guidelines outlining the parameters for declaring the coronavirus pandemic an endemic disease - an illness that is here to stay, like the flu or measles.

The criteria: there are fewer than 10,000 new cases per day; that the fatality rate is not over 0.1 percent of those who are hospitalised with an infection; and that more than 80 percent of at-risk people have had at least two jabs.

Official figures show that the country already meets the three criteria drawn up by the health ministry's National Communicable Disease Committee.

However, health ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati said it would still be between six months and a year before the government would be able to make the decision to start treating Covid-19 as an endemic.

Russia sees record cases for eighth day running

Russia's daily Covid-19 cases have surged to 98,040, a new record high for the eighth consecutive day as the Omicron variant continued to spread, the government's coronavirus task force said.

The number of new infections was a significant jump from the 88,816 reported the previous day. Officials also said that 673 people had died in the last 24 hours.

South Korea creates new daily record in Covid cases

South Korea has reported 16,096 new coronavirus cases, another daily record after posting 14,518 a day before, amid the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency has said.

US health agency has 'persistent deficiencies' in its crisis response 

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has "persistent deficiencies" in its ability to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies, the US congressional watchdog warned in a report released on Thursday, citing concerns raised by the Covid-19 pandemic.

HHS is at "high risk" of mismanaging a future crisis, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional auditing agency, said, noting that the department failed to implement some previously made recommendations to improve its pandemic response.

The GAO said in its report that well beyond the pandemic, there are various threats that underscore the need for being prepared.

"As devastating as the Covid-19 pandemic has been, more frequent extreme weather events, new viruses, and bad actors who threaten to cause intentional harm loom, making the deficiencies GAO has identified particularly concerning," the report said. 

"Not being sufficiently prepared for a range of public health emergencies can also negatively affect the time and resources needed to achieve full recovery."

Hundreds of new deaths in Mexico 

Mexico's Health Ministry has reported 495 more fatalities from Covid-19 and 49,150 new infections, bringing the overall death toll to 304,803 and the number of cases to 4,828,446.

Brazil reports 228,954 new cases of coronavirus, 672 deaths

Brazil has reported 228,954 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 672 Covid-19 deaths, the Health Ministry has said.

The South American country has now registered 24,764,838 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 625,085 according to ministry data. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies