Covid-19 has infected more than 275M people and killed over 5.3M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

German Hospital Federation chairman Gerald Gass said hospitals were already strained due to the fourth wave of the pandemic.
German Hospital Federation chairman Gerald Gass said hospitals were already strained due to the fourth wave of the pandemic. (AFP)

Monday, December 20, 2021

German doctors warn omicron may push hospitals to limit

The rapid growth of the omicron variant of coronavirus is threatening to cripple already overwhelmed hospitals in Germany, a hospital union has warned.

German Hospital Federation chairman Gerald Gass on Monday said hospitals were already strained due to the fourth wave of the pandemic, and would be pushed to their limits if the omicron variant spurs a more aggressive fifth wave in the coming weeks. 

There were 4,621 seriously ill coronavirus patients in intensive care units across the country on Sunday, with 2,634 of them on ventilators, according to the DIVI association for emergency medicine.

Germany’s fourth wave have stabilised over the past week, with daily cases falling to nearly 40,000 on average, after the government imposed tougher restrictions.

But authorities were alarmed this time by the rapid spread of the omicron variant in European and neighboring countries.

Germany declared the UK an “area of variants of concern” on Monday and tightened rules for travelers from this country.

Only German citizens and residents with a negative PCR test will be allowed to enter the country from the UK, according to the new rules. 

With Christmas in the balance, nations eye UK omicron surge

Britain’s main nurses’ union has warned that exhaustion and surging coronavirus cases among medical staff are pushing them to the breaking point, adding to pressure on the government for new restrictions to curb record numbers of infections driven by the omicron variant.

The warning throws into stark relief the unpalatable choice Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces: wreck holiday plans for millions for a second year running, or face a potential tidal wave of cases and disruption.

Many governments in Europe and the US are confronting similar dilemmas over how hard to come down in the face of omicron, which appears more transmissible than the previous delta variant that itself led to surges in many parts of the world.

Early evidence suggests omicron may also produce less serious illness — though scientists caution it is too soon to say — and that it could better evade vaccine protection.

Even if it is milder, the new variant could still overwhelm health systems because of the sheer number of infections. Confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK have surged by 50 percent in a week as omicron overtook delta as the dominant variant.

Rafael Nadal tests Covid positive

Rafael Nadal has announced that he has tested positive for Covid-19.

Spanish tennis legend on Monday tweeted that he tested positive after his return from the exhibition event in Abu Dhabi.

35-year-old added that he tested negative in his previous two tests in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi before the last one which resulted positive on Saturday.

He stated that he was at home and having some unpleasant moments, hoping to improve soon.

Nadal thanked his supporters and said he would announce the possible changes in his calendar.

Rafael Nadal won 13 French Open titles, four at the US Open, two at Wimbledon, an Australian Open as well as a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics through his stellar career.

Cuba soars to near top of vaccination charts

Cuba has vaccinated more of its citizens against Covid-19 than most of the world's largest and richest nations, a milestone that will make the poor, communist-run country a test case as the highly contagious Omicron variant begins to circle the globe.

The Caribbean island has vaccinated over 90 percent of its population with at least one dose, and 83 percent of the population is now fully inoculated, placing it second globally behind only the United Arab Emirates among countries of at least 1 million people, according to official statistics compiled by 'Our World in Data.'

What is Cuba's secret? While many of its neighbours in Latin America, as well as emerging economies globally, have competed for vaccines produced by wealthier nations, health officials say Cuba vaulted ahead by developing its own.

Infections and deaths from Covid-19 have plunged on the island in recent weeks, falling to less than 1 percent of their peak on August 22, when fewer than half its citizens were vaccinated.

Nearly all of Cuba's children aged 2 to 18 have now been vaccinated with home-grown vaccines.

Kuwait to make vaccine booster compulsory

Kuwait will require anyone who has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 for nine months to get a booster shot, the government communication centre has tweeted.

Kuwait will also require incoming travellers to quarantine at home for 10 days unless they receive a negative PCR test for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their arrival. 

Netherlands takes additional measures to curb new variant

The Dutch government has announced additional measures, including a 10-day mandatory quarantine for passengers traveling from the UK, as well as certain other restrictions for EU and Schengen countries’ people to prevent the spread of the Covid-19’s omicron strain.

Passengers arriving from very-high-risk countries, including the UK, will have to complete the 10-day mandatory quarantine period, which will be effective from Wednesday through January 14, said an official statement on Monday.

The new restrictions will remain effective during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Even if they have a vaccine passport, passengers from the listed countries will be placed in isolation. If they test negative after the fifth day of the quarantine, isolation will terminate before the total of 10 days has elapsed, the statement said.

EU approves 5th Covid-19 vaccine for bloc, one by Novavax

The European Union’s drugs regulator has given the green light to a fifth Covid-19 vaccine for use in the 27-nation bloc, granting conditional marketing authorisation to the two-dose vaccine made by US biotech company Novavax.

The European Medicines Agency decision to grant conditional marketing authorisation for the vaccine for people aged 18 and over, which must be confirmed by the EU’s executive commission, comes as many European nations are battling surges in infections and amid concerns about the spread of the new omicron variant.

Novavax says it currently is testing how its shots will hold up against the Omicron variant, and like other manufacturers has begun formulating an updated version to better match that variant in case in case it’s eventually needed.

Israel to ban travel to the US, Canada over omicron variant

Israeli ministers have agreed to ban travel to the United States, Canada, and eight other countries amid the rapid, global spread of the omicron variant. 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office announced the decision following a Cabinet vote.

The rare move to red-list the US comes amid rising coronavirus infections in Israel and marks a change to pandemic practices between the two nations with close diplomatic relations. 

The US will join a growing list of European countries and other destinations to which Israelis are barred from traveling, and from which returning travelers must remain in quarantine.

UK's Omicron deaths rise to 12, no guarantees on Christmas restrictions

Twelve people in Britain have died with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said, refusing to rule out a tightening of social restrictions before Christmas.

Britain has reported record levels of Covid-19 cases, with officials and ministers warning that the full effects of the latest wave are still yet to be seen.

Cluster linked to US base in Japan grows to at least 180

A cluster of coronavirus infections linked to a US military base in Japan has grown to at least 180, Japan's government said, raising fears over the spread of the virus in the community.

A Japanese worker at Camp Hansen on the southern island of Okinawa was found positive with the Omicron variant last Friday, Japanese officials said.

The cluster linked to the base now had 180 cases, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a regular news conference, though it was not clear how many were of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Thai agency approves Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged 5-11

Thailand's Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children between the age of five and 11.

The Comirnaty vaccine, which is the first to be approved in Thailand for the age group, will be given in two 10 microgram doses, 21 days apart, the drug regulator said in a statement. 

Swiss order more Covid-19 jabs, tighten pandemic measures

Switzerland is ordering more Covid-19 vaccination doses, the government said on Friday, as it tightened pandemic curbs while opting not to embrace – for now – an even stricter limited lockdown.

It is ordering 7 million doses each from Moderna and from Pfizer and BioNTech for the second half of next year, it said, bringing to 34 million doses its stockpile for 2022 and ensuring anyone who wants a jab will get it.

After consulting regional authorities, the federal government said it will expand from Monday the requirement for people to show proof of vaccination or recovery from the coronavirus to access many indoor venues like restaurants.

US advisor says Omicron might cause a bleak winter

Top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci has warned of a bleak winter ahead as the Covid-19 Omicron variant spurs a new wave of infections globally, sparking restrictions and concerns over hospital capacity.

"One thing that's very clear... is (Omicron's) extraordinary capability of spreading," Fauci told NBC News. "It is just... raging through to the world."

Since it was first reported in South Africa in November, Omicron has been identified in dozens of countries, prompting many to reimpose travel restrictions and other measures.

Fauci also cautioned against too much optimism over Omicron's severity, noting that in South Africa, while the hospitalisation-to-case ratio is lower than with Delta, this could be due to underlying immunity from widespread previous infections.

While a little over 70 percent of the US population has had at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, another 50 million eligible people remain unprotected, Fauci said.

"It's never too late to get vaccinated, and if you're vaccinated, go get boosted," Fauci told US broadcaster CNN, adding that continuing to wear masks and get regular testing – another area the Biden administration is investing in – are also key to avoiding infection.

"With Omicron... it is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter."

Israel set to ban travel to the US

Israel's Health Ministry has recommended banning Israelis from travelling to the United States, and added several European countries to its Covid "red list", aimed at containing the Omicron variant's spread. 

Barring US travel for Israeli citizens and residents would mark a significant step for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government, given the hundreds of thousands of dual nationals and close ties between the countries.

He said Israel had gained "precious time" by curbing travel immediately after the Omicron variant was detected in South Africa last month.

US Senators Warren, Booker test positive 

US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have tested positive for Covid-19 and were experiencing mild symptoms amid a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases.

Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, 72, said on Twitter she is vaccinated and boosted and regularly tested for Covid-19, and "while I tested negative earlier this week, today I tested positive with a breakthrough case."

Booker, 52, a New Jersey Democrat, said on Twitter he had learned Sunday of his positive test "after first feeling symptoms on Saturday."

Other senators who previously tested positive and recovered include Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

NHL puts Beijing Olympics participation in doubt

The National Hockey League has suspended all games involving cross border travel between Canada and the United States, putting in doubt the players ability to participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

The league was scheduled to take a three-week break in February so the NHL could take part in the Winter Games for the first time since 2014 in Sochi, but with close to 40 games postponed due to Covid-19 outbreaks, the league might now have to use that time to get the regular season schedule back on track.

The league said it is expected to make a decision on the Olympics in the coming days.

Asia's stock and oil prices suffer as Omicron spreads

Asian share markets fell and oil prices slid as surging Omicron cases triggered tighter restrictions in Europe and threatened to drag on the global economy into the new year.

A seasonal lack of liquidity made for a bumpy start and S&P 500 futures led the way with a 0.7 percent drop, while Nasdaq futures shed 0.6 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.4 percent and Japan's Nikkei 0.7 percent.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies