Covid-19 has infected more than 342M people and killed over 5.5M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

Omicron variant now accounts for 89 percent of sequenced coronavirus cases in Germany.
Omicron variant now accounts for 89 percent of sequenced coronavirus cases in Germany. (AP)

Friday, January 21, 2022

Germany breaks new daily record 

Germany has reported a record number of daily coronavirus cases, with more than 140,000 new infections. 

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's disease control agency, confirmed 140,160 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, and 170 coronavirus-related fatalities. 

The highly contagious omicron variant has been the driving force behind the new surge, according to the RKI, and the variant now accounts for 89 percent of sequenced coronavirus cases in the country. 

Health authorities estimate that currently 1,166,100 people are sick with Covid-19. 

Despite the surge in new cases, hospital admissions for COVID-19 remained relatively low, and authorities reported an average of 3.77 hospitalisations per 100,000 residents.

Japan widens virus restrictions 

Restaurants and bars will close early in Tokyo and a dozen other areas across Japan beginning Friday as the country widens Covid-19 restrictions due to the omicron variant, which has caused cases to surge to new highs in metropolitan areas. 

The restraint, which is something of a pre-state of emergency, is the first since September and is scheduled to last through Feb. 13. 

With three other prefectures — Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi — under similar measures since early January, the state of restraint now covers 16 areas, or one-third of the country. 

While many Japanese adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, few have gotten a booster shot, which has been a vital protection from the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus. 

The Health Ministry on Friday approved Pfizer vaccinations for children aged 5-11, who are increasingly vulnerable to infection. 

Romania hits new pandemic record  

Romania has seen a new pandemic record of 19,649 Covid-19 infections amid a rapid rise of cases, but hospitalisations and deaths remain significantly lower compared to the previous wave, official data shows. 

Just a month ago Romania was registering fewer than a thousand coronavirus infections a day. But daily cases have skyrocketed since the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant. 

Despite the record case number, only 49 deaths were reported, compared with several hundred a day during October and November.  

Bangladesh shuts schools 

Bangladesh has closed all schools and colleges for two weeks to counter an "alarming" rise in Covid-19 infections, just four months after ending a 1-1/2 year school closure imposed due to coronavirus. 

The south Asian country reported 11,434 new cases on Friday, the biggest single-day jump since Aug. 9, pushing the positivity rate to 28.5 percent. 

"We are seeing an uptick in infections in schools and colleges. This is really alarming," Health Minister Zahid Maleque told reporters. 

He added that public gatherings like political rallies and religious functions involving more than 100 people had been prohibited, although the duration of the ban was not immediately clear. 

UK designates Omicron sub-lineage a variant under investigation 

The UK Health Security Agency has said it had designated a sub-lineage of the dominant and highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant as a variant under investigation. 

BA.2, which does not have the specific mutation seen with Omicron that can be used as a proxy to easily distinguish it from Delta, is being investigated but has not been designated a variant of concern. 

"It is the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it's to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge," Dr Meera Chand, incident director at the UKHSA, said. 

"Our continued genomic surveillance allows us to detect them and assess whether they are significant." 

New Delhi to stay under weekend, overnight curfew 

India's capital Delhi will remain under curfew over the weekend and overnight to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the city's disaster management authority has said on Friday.

The authorities, however, said private offices will be allowed to be partially staffed but people are advised to work from home as much as possible. 

"It is also clarified that 'Night Curfew' from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m . everyday and 'Weekend Curfew'...shall also remain in force...till further order," the authority said. 

Exemptions include people needing to travel for medical reasons including getting vaccinations, going to and from train stations and airports, or delivering food. 

Earlier on Friday, New Delhi's deputy chief minister said the local government had proposed easing restrictions as cases in the sprawling capital of some 20 million people were "declining considerably".

Pakistan records most daily cases since pandemic began

Pakistan has reported over 7,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day, its highest daily number of infections since the pandemic began, as the south Asian nation imposes new restrictions to curb the spread of Omicron.

At least 7,678 cases in the past 24 hours pushed the positivity ratio to 12.93 percent according to data from the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC) overseeing the pandemic response.

The new nationwide positivity ratio is the highest ever in the last two years. 23 deaths were also reported in the last 24 hours.

Karachi, the country’s largest city, recorded its highest ever positivity ratio of 46.58 percent in the last 24 hours.

“Amid rising trend of disease across the country a ban on indoor dinning in cities/districts with positivity above 10 percent has been imposed with effect from January 21,” said a notification issued by (NCOC).

The government authorised booster shots for citizens over the age of 30. Vaccination of children over 12 has been made mandatory to attend schools and children under 12 will attend schools with 50% attendance.

Beijing Olympic torch relay closed to public

The already scaled back Beijing Winter Olympics torch relay will be cordoned off from the general public because of Covid measures.

The relay involving 1,200 torchbearers will take place across the Games' three sites and also travel to tourist attractions such as the Great Wall from February 2 to 4, when the Olympics open.

"Safety will always be prioritised for this torch relay," said Yang Haibin, a Games organising committee official responsible for the torch relay.

"Given epidemic control considerations... the torch relay and ceremonial activities will be arranged in safe and controllable closed venues."

In a break with tradition, there was no torch relay on Greek soil because of Covid before the flame arrived in China.

Covid-19 cases cross 10M mark in Africa

Covid-19 infections in Africa have reached 10.4 million while the death toll stands at 235,507, according to the latest update by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The update stated that to date 9.3 million people have recovered from the infection on the continent of an estimated 1.37 billion people.

The total tests conducted stand at 93 million.

On the continent, 15.45 percent of the population are partially vaccinated, while 10.41 percent are fully vaccinated, the center said.

Israel's defence chief isolates at home after positive test

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz has been isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 and is in good health.

"I feel good because I am vaccinated. In the coming days I will manage security affairs from my home," Gantz wrote on Twitter.

Israel has shortened its mandatory isolation period for confirmed carriers to five days.

Other senior Israeli cabinet members, including the foreign and finance ministers, have recently tested positive to Covid-19 as well.

Get back to the office, Britain's business minister says

People should get back to the office to benefit from in-person collaboration as the world must learn to live with Covid-19 after a pandemic, Britain's business minister said.

"We should get back to work," British Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told LBC radio. "We've got to get back to some degree of normality."

"People working in the office do get benefits from working with colleagues, ... and I want to get back to a sense that, you know, that the pandemic is turning from a pandemic into an endemic," he said.

Kwarteng said he was trying to increase the number of people working back in government departments. He said around 50% of his department was back to work in person, though he cautioned he didn't have exact data.

Poland sees new daily record of cases

Poland will see a record of 36,665 new daily Covid-19 infections, Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska said ahead of the release of official figures.

He added that cases will continue to be very high in the coming days, climbing over 50,000 next week. 

Russia reports record daily cases

Russia reported a new record number of Covid-19 infections confirmed in the past 24 hours as the Omicron variant of the virus spread across the country, the government coronavirus task force said.

Daily new cases jumped to 49,513, from 38,850 a day earlier. The task force also reported 692 deaths.

Staffers contract Covid in Argentina's Antarctica base

For the first time since the start of the pandemic the coronavirus has reached an Argentine research base in Antarctica, causing the evacuation of nine unvaccinated staff who tested positive for Covid-19, an official said.

Twenty-four of the 43 scientists and military personnel resident at Argentina's La Esperanza base have been infected, Patricia Ortuzar of the government's National Directorate of the Antarctic told AFP news agency.

Nine of the 24, who have no symptoms, were evacuated to capital Buenos Aires by helicopter as a precaution.

France to lift face-masks requirement 

France will lift its requirement for wearing masks outdoors and enforce the use of vaccine passes for accessing public places to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced in a televised address.

The vaccine pass is likely to come into effect on Monday if cleared by the Constitutional Council, Castex said.

The bill, approved by parliament, is currently being examined by the judicial council for final validation.

Western Australia state to stay shut

The state of Western Australia has cancelled plans to reopen its borders on February 5 citing health risks from a surge in Omicron cases elsewhere in the country, as the tally of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began topped 2 million.

WA Premier Mark McGowan made the shock announcement saying it would be "reckless and irresponsible" to open up now given the rapid spread of the variant.

Instead, re-opening would be delayed indefinitely or at least until the percentage of triple dose vaccinations reached 80 percent, which is currently around 26 percent.

Mexico reports more Covid deaths

Mexico has reported 278 more deaths from Covid-19, bringing the official death toll since the coronavirus pandemic began to 302,390.

The country also reported 50,373 new confirmed cases, bringing the total number to 4,545,683, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil reports more Covid cases and deaths

Brazil has had 168,495 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 350 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

The South American country has now registered 23,585,243 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 622,205, according to ministry data.

Brazil's Covid-19 toll is the world's third deadliest after the United States and Russia, according to a Reuters news agency tally.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies