Covid-19 has infected more than 340M people and killed over 5.5M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

The number of cases across Russia has risen sharply in recent days, with authorities predicting an imminent surge in infections due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
The number of cases across Russia has risen sharply in recent days, with authorities predicting an imminent surge in infections due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant. (AFP)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Omicron-hit Moscow reports record daily cases

The Russian capital has reported a record pandemic high of 11,557 new cases in the last 24 hours and the daily nationwide number of new infections also rose sharply to 38,850, authorities said.

Moscow city mayor Sergei Sobyanin met President Vladimir Putin on Thursday in footage aired on state television and presented a report on the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Russia's government figures have reported 324,060 deaths since the start of the pandemic — the highest death toll in Europe.

Britain adds over 107,000 new cases

Britain has reported 107,364 new cases and 330 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test for the virus.

That compares with 108,069 cases and 359 deaths reported on Wednesday.

Study: Sputnik V shows higher Omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer

A small preliminary laboratory study has shown that levels of Omicron-neutralising antibodies of people vaccinated with Russia's Sputnik V vaccine did not decline as much as of those who had Pfizer shots.

Researchers said samples taken three to six months after the second dose of a vaccine have shown that the levels of antibodies in recipients of two doses of Sputnik V were more resistant to Omicron than in those vaccinated with Pfizer.

The preliminary study was conducted by scientists from the Spallanzani Institute in Italy and Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, the developer of Sputnik V vaccine.

Sweden eases quarantine rules 

Sweden will loosen quarantine rules and make it easier for employees with key jobs in sectors like healthcare and the police to go to work, the health agency said, as the Omicron variant of the virus raged across the country.

Sweden also set a new daily record for cases, registering 39,938 on Wednesday, health agency data showed.

The daily infection figures are typically revised somewhat as any delayed records of additional cases are added to the national total for a given day. The previous record of 39,321 cases was set on January18

Spain leads calls for Covid-19 to be treated like flu

Spain is spearheading calls for governments to start tackling Covid-19 as any other endemic respiratory virus like seasonal flu, despite WHO opposition and warnings that the approach is premature.

With governments and populations worldwide desperate for an end to the pandemic, discussion about when the virus might be reclassified has intensified.

"Spain wants to lead this debate because it is timely and necessary to do so," Health Minister Carolina Darias has said, adding that Spain asked the European Centre for Disease Prevention (ECDC) to "study new strategies" to deal with the virus.

Portugal draws fire with plan for positive voters

Portugal’s government has been under fire over its plans to let people infected with Covid-19 cast their ballots at polling stations in an upcoming election, as officials struggle to square the right to vote with the duty to protect public health.

Eligible voters who are infected and confined at home — as many as 600,000 people on the day of the January 30 election, officials estimate — are to be allowed to vote in person as an exceptional measure, the government announced Thursday.

However, it recommends that they vote only in a 1800 - 1900 GMT time slot, when polling stations are traditionally less busy, Justice and Interior Minister Francisca Van Dunem said after a Cabinet meeting

Japan’s daily infections smash another record

Japan’s daily tally has topped 46,000 to set a new record for the third consecutive day.

Japan is battling a “sixth wave” of infections driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

The capital Tokyo also saw a new peak of 8,638 daily coronavirus cases, smashing the previous record of 7,377 registered on Wednesday, Kyodo News reported.

Cheap version of Merck Covid pill to be made for poorer nations

UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) has struck a deal for nearly 30 generic drugmakers to make low-cost versions of Merck & Co's Covid-19 pill molnupiravir for poorer nations.

The antiviral drug, which in December received emergency approval in the United States, reduces hospitalisations and deaths of high-risk patients by around 30 percent, according to clinical trial results.

The agreement allows 27 generic drugmakers from India, China and other countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to produce ingredients and the finished drug.

The MPP said the deal stipulated the pill would be distributed to 105 less-developed nations.

Omicron has not increased hospitalisation of elderly in the UK

A wave of Omicron coronavirus cases has not led to an increase in the hospitalisation of the elderly that was expected, despite there being more cases in that age group.

"This may be due to higher vaccine levels of protection against hospitalisation," Britain's science advisers said in a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) meeting on January 13.

"Slower waning of vaccine protection, or the impact of precautionary behaviours amongst the most vulnerable and those around them," could have been effective as well, advisers added.

Austria introduces lottery as Covid vaccine incentive

Austria's government has introduced a national lottery to encourage holdouts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, and the parliament is expected to approve making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory.

Members of the public, whether already vaccinated or not, would get a ticket for each shot they have had - three tickets in total for those who have had their booster shot.

Every tenth ticket would win a $568 (500 euro) gift voucher, Chancellor Karl Nehammer said, without specifying what the vouchers were for.

Roughly 72 percent of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe, and new daily infections surged to a new record yesterday with the extremely contagious Omicron variant.

The lower house of parliament is due to pass a bill later today, making vaccines compulsory for all adults in Austria with initial fines of 600 euros, rising to up to 3,600 euros if the fine is challenged unsuccessfully.

Austria will be the first European Union country to introduce a Covid vaccine mandate for all adults when the measure takes effect on February.

Thailand to restart quarantine-free travel from February 1

Thailand is set to resume its quarantine-free travel scheme from February 1 after the programme was suspended due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Fully vaccinated travellers will now be able to enter under the "test and go" scheme as long as they take Covid tests on the first and fifth days after arriving, spokesman for the country's Covid-19 taskforce Taweesin Visanuyothin said.

Visitors will have to isolate at a hotel while waiting for their test results and will be required to download a tracking app to ensure they comply with the rules.

Pandemic travel curbs have hammered the kingdom's tourism-dominated economy, sending visitor numbers dwindling to a trickle.

Germany reports record daily Covid cases as Omicron surges

Germany has surpassed 130,000 daily coronavirus cases for the first time, as the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to surge across the country.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's disease control agency, confirmed 133,536 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, and 234 coronavirus-related fatalities.

It was the second day in a row the country saw record number of daily cases, as health authorities reported 112,323 infections on Wednesday.

Despite the worrying increase in new infections in recent weeks, most of the cases have been mild so far, not requiring hospitalisation.

Hong Kong to shut secondary schools over Covid fears

Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from Monday until after the approaching Lunar New Year due to a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools in the Chinese-ruled territory.

Schools will stay shut until February 7, after the Lunar New Year Holidays, the government said.

While sixth formers preparing for exams may have some face-to-face classes, all other levels must cancel or postpone exams and activities.

The government halted classes in primary schools and kindergartens early this month, and imposed curbs, such as a ban on restaurant dining after 6 p.m. and the closure of venues such as gyms, cinemas and beauty salons.

The stringent measures return the Asian financial hub to the situation that existed after it first took such steps in 2020.

Brazil reports record high of daily cases

Brazil has reported 204,854 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, breaking the country's previous record for the second day in a row, the Health Ministry said.

The ministry also reported 338 new Covid-19 deaths. 

The South American country has now registered 23,416,748 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 621,855.

South Africa opens vaccine manufacturing plant

South Africa's president and a US billionaire have inaugurated a new vaccine manufacturing facility in Cape Town that hopes to produce around one billion Covid-19 doses annually by 2025.

Cyril Ramaphosa and South African-born Patrick Soon-Shiong cut the ribbon at the new NantSA plant, which will also produce cancer vaccines and other pharmaceuticals.

The plant is South Africa’s third vaccine manufacturing facility but will be the first in Africa to fully produce Covid-19 vaccines instead of manufacturing them from semi-finished batches.

Mexico reports daily high record

Mexico's new Covid-19 cases have hit a daily record above 60,000, official figures showed, as the hard-hit country faces the fourth wave of infections linked to the Omicron variant.

The Health Ministry reported 60,552 new coronavirus infections –– the most yet for a 24-hour period –– taking the total number since the pandemic began to nearly 4.5 million.

Mexico's official Covid-19 death toll –– the fifth highest in the world –– reached 302,112, up 323 from the previous day.

New Zealand to tighten curbs

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that restrictions will be tightened across the country if there is a community transmission of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus but ruled out any lockdowns.

Ardern said at a news conference that the country would move into a 'red' traffic light setting within 24 to 48 hours of Omicron arriving in the community, which would mean masks would be mandated and there would be limits on public gatherings.

There are currently no Omicron cases in the community.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies