Covid-19 has infected more than 308.4M people and killed over 5.5M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

The EU's
The EU's "emergency brake" travel ban on the seven African countries was imposed on November 26, days after the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus was first detected in southern Africa. (AP)

Monday, January 10, 2022

EU takes southern African countries off no-travel list

The EU has agreed to take southern African countries off its no-travel list, as Omicron cases in the European bloc soar.

Travellers coming from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will still have to show negative PCR tests taken no more than 72 hours earlier, in line with rules for most other countries.

"Member States have agreed this morning ... to lift the emergency brake to allow air travel to resume with southern African countries," the French presidency of the EU tweeted.

Zambia: one in every 3-4 infected

One out of every three to four people has been infected with Covid-19 in Zambia, the government announced.

The southern African country of 18 million now has a case positivity rate of 28 percent and cannot sustain mass testing due to limited kits.

Only highly symptomatic people will be prioritised for testing, along with healthcare workers and those in institutionalised settings, said Health Minister Sylvia Masebo.

Italy reports over 101,700 new infections

Italy has reported 101,762 new cases, against 155,659 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of deaths rose to 227 from 157.

Italy has registered 139,265 deaths linked to the virus since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, and has reported 7.55 million cases to date.

Sweden tightens restrictions as virus surges

Sweden has announced a slew of new virus curbs, including early closings for bars and restaurants and a cap of 500 people at public gatherings, as the country registers record numbers of cases fuelled by the Omicron variant.

Bars and restaurants will have to close at 11 pm (2200 GMT), a vaccine pass will be required for indoor public gatherings of more than 50 people, and indoor private gatherings will be capped at 20 people.

Israel reports surge in infections

Israel has reported a surge in infections, with 21,501 cases recorded in the past 24 hours, according to the country’s Health Ministry.

A ministry statement said that the total number of serious cases reached 222 and 8,269 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Israel's Health Ministry instructed people self-testing to swab their throat as well as their nose when using rapid antigen kits to increase the chances of detecting the Omicron variant.

Chile begins administering fourth vaccine doses

Chile is implementing a fourth vaccination dose for some citizens as the number of daily infections rises.

President Sebastián Pinera was present when two adults with immunosuppression problems received a fourth vaccination at a Santiago hospital.

Chile is applying a fourth dose early because the current daily infection rate of 4,000 cases could rise to 10,000 or more, Pinera said.

UK puts private health firms on high alert 

Britain has put the biggest private health companies on high alert to deliver crucial treatments such as cancer surgery should Omicron overwhelm National Health Service hospitals in England.

The United Kingdom's death toll from the pandemic stands at 150,154, the world's seventh worst official Covid-19 toll after the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has bet on refraining from lockdowns to deal with the Omicron variant which in recent weeks has swept across the United Kingdom, albeit with death rates significantly lower than previous waves.

In a sign of just how stretched the National Health Service could become, Health Secretary Sajid Javid ordered England's NHS to strike a 3-month deal with private health companies to allow patients to get treatments such as cancer surgery outside.

The agreement includes Practice Plus Group, Spire Healthcare, Nuffield Health, Circle Health Group, Ramsay Health Care UK, Healthcare Management Trust, One Healthcare, Horder Healthcare, Aspen Healthcare and KIMS Hospital, the NHS said.

There is still pressure on British hospitals and the country is not yet in a position to say it can live with Covid-19, Housing Secretary Michael Gove said on Monday.

Philippines logs record daily infections

The Philippines' health ministry has reported 33,169 new coronavirus cases, marking the third straight day of record-high infections.

In a bulletin on Monday, it said total cases had reached almost three million, while deaths were at 52,293, after confirming 145 more fatalities on Monday. 

The rising number of infections risked overwhelming the healthcare system, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosiario Vergeire told ANC news channel, calling on symptomatic people to immediately isolate and get tested.

Avacta pauses sales of antigen test 

British biotech firm Avacta Group has said it was halting sales of its Covid-19 antigen lateral flow test, AffiDX, to replace antibodies in the device and boost its ability to detect the Omicron coronavirus variant at lower viral loads.

The London-listed company's test can detect the Omicron variant when the virus is present in high concentrations, but tests carried out by Avacta found AffiDX is less sensitive to Omicron at lower viral loads when compared with other variants.

Scientists and governments are scrambling to bolster defences against Omicron with testing, shots, therapies, and by decoding genomes to try and measure how far it has spread as the variant threatens to become dominant globally.

Roche's newly acquired unit TIB Molbiol in December developed three new test kits to help researchers detect mutations in the Omicron variant.

Avacta and some other test makers also had to pull some of their Covid-19 tests from the British market after a new review system came into force, which has not yet granted approval for their previously accepted products. 

Hungary's daily infections could exceed 13,000

Hungary's daily tally of new Covid-19 infections could exceed 13,000 in the new wave of the pandemic caused by the Omicron variant of the virus, the minister for human resources has told local Inforadio.

On Sunday, Miklos Kasler, who is also in charge of healthcare, said daily deaths due to Covid-19 could reach 200 in the country of about 10 million people. He also said the government was considering the option of a fourth vaccine shot, but more assessments were needed.

Spanish PM suggests tracking pandemic differently 

The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said that it may be time to track the pandemic differently as Covid-19's lethality has fallen, confirming a report from El Pais newspaper that the government was mulling alternative monitoring methods.

"We have the conditions to gradually, with precaution, open the debate at a technical level and European level, to start evaluating the evolution of this disease with different parameters than we have until now," Sanchez said on Monday in an interview with radio station Cadena SER.

The Spanish government is considering changing how it tracks the pandemic's evolution to instead use a method similar to how it follows the flu, without recording every case and without testing all people presenting symptoms, El Pais reported on Monday.

India's new Covid-19 cases surge to 179,723

India has reported 179,723 new Covid-19 infections, the most since late May, health ministry data showed, taking the total to 35.71 million.

Deaths rose by 146 to 483,936.

Thousands protest vaccine mandates in Czech Republic

Thousands of people have marched through the Czech Republic’s capital, protesting against mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for certain groups and professions.

A large number of anti-vaccine protesters gathered in Prague’s Wenceslas Square at a demonstration organised by the non-governmental organisation Chcipl PES.

Afterward, they marched and chanted slogans against the necessity of vaccination in front of the parliament building.

They demanded the government to lift the vaccination requirement, which will be put into effect for citizens over 60 years old and those working in sectors such as health and security on March 1.

China reports 157 new Covid cases

China has reported 157 new confirmed coronavirus cases for January 9, down slightly from 165 a day earlier, its health authority said.

Of the new infections, 97 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 92 a day earlier. Most of the new local cases were in Henan, Tianjin and Shaanxi.

China reported 42 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, down from 46 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,6 36. Mainland China had 103,776 confirmed cases as of January 9.

Australia hits 1 million cases as Omicron surges

Australia has surpassed 1 million Covid-19 cases, with more than half of them recorded in the past week, as the Omicron variant ripped through most of the country driving up hospitalisation numbers and putting a strain on supply chains.

Having successfully kept a lid on its virus caseload through aggressive lockdowns and tough border controls earlier in the pandemic, Australia is now suffering record infections as the country begins to live with the virus after higher vaccinations.

Australia's strict border rules are again in focus after authorities cancelled tennis star Novak Djokovic's visa over questions about his vaccine exemption.

Brazil health regulator asks Bolsonaro to retract criticism over vaccines

The head of Brazil's health regulator Anvisa has asked the country's vaccine-skeptic President Jair Bolsonaro to retract statements he made criticising the agency for authorssing the vaccination of children against Covid-19.

In a letter to Bolsonaro made public late on Saturday, retired rear admiral Antonio Barra Torres asked the president to back up his statement that there were undisclosed "interests" behind the vaccine decision or else retract his words.

Bolsonaro criticised Anvisa on Thursday for approving the use for children aged 5 to 11 years of the pediatric vaccine made by Pfizer Inc, saying that he had not heard of children dying of Covid-19.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies