Covid-19 has infected more than 321M people and killed over 5.5M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:
Friday, January 14, 2022
Omicron surges in Japan
Amid a steady surge driven by the omicron variant, Japan has reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily figure in more than four months.
In the capital Tokyo, the area worst hit in the latest wave, infection numbers have jumped by more than 1,000 every day over the past three days.
The figure topped 4,000 in the last 24 hours for the first time since late August.
Brazil reels as cases soar
Brazil is suffering a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases as the Omicron variant spreads through the country, putting pressure on health services and weighing on an already sputtering economy.
Insufficient testing and a data blackout caused by hackers have made it harder for experts to track the spread of the highly contagious variant in Brazil, but there are increasingly clear signs it is hitting Latin America's largest nation hard.
Confirmed cases have almost doubled since last week, with the rolling average for the past seven days surging to 52,500, from 27,267 last Wednesday.
Experts believe the actual number is much higher, due to a shortage of tests and patchy systems for reporting and public disclosure of data.
With more than 620,000 dead, Brazil has the third-highest death toll from Covid-19, behind the United States and Russia.
Philippines adds 37,207 new cases
Philippines has witnessed a record surge in cases, registering 37,207 new infections – the highest single day tally since the pandemic began two years ago.
The new cases brought the country’s total caseload to 3.129 million, with the death toll rising by 81 to 52,815.
To counter the surge, blamed on the highly contagious omicron variant, the government extended Alert Level 3 in Metro Manila and several other regions until the end of January.
Polish Covid advisers quit in protest
Thirteen of the 17 members of Poland's Medical Council advising the prime minister on Covid-19 resigned, condemning what they said was a lack of scientific influence on policy.
Even with one of the world's highest per capita death rates, Poland has introduced much more limited measures than many other European countries to curb the spread of the coronavirus during the latest wave of infections.
Poland's government said it often had to deal with opposing opinions from various bodies, not just those of the advisers.
Some Dutch restaurants reopen defying ban
Restaurants in one Dutch city have reopened and others said they would open on Saturday regardless of whether they are included in plans by the government to ease the country's lockdown.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to order the reopening of most stores, hairdressers and gyms at a nationally televised press conference on Friday evening, as popular support for the month-long lockdown evaporates despite the strain on hospitals and record new infections.
National broadcaster NOS reported that restaurants and bars would be excluded from the reopening, citing government sources.
The government's plans "are clearly unacceptable to us, because there's no sound argumentation for it," said Dirk Beljaarts, chief executive of KHN which represents the hospitality industry.
He urged the government to consider the examples of Britain and Spain, and to listen to Dutch public opinion, which endorses a more aggressive loosening of rules.
Norway opens Covid jabs to 5-11 year-olds
Norway said it would open Covid vaccinations to 5-11 year-olds on a voluntary basis but stopped short of issuing an official recommendation.
In addition, children aged 12 to 15, who have until now been offered a single dose of the vaccine, may now receive a second dose if their parents wish, the health ministry said.
"Children rarely fall severely ill (from Covid) and knowledge about rare side effects and long-term consequences remains limited for now", Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said in a statement.
Hong Kong suspends transit flights from most of the world
Hong Kong International Airport has banned passengers from over 150 countries and territories from transiting in the city for a month.
Passengers who have stayed in over 150 places deemed “high risk” in the last 21 days, including the United States and Britain, will be banned from transiting in Hong Kong from January 16 to February 15.
The measure was taken by the airport in an effort to to stem the transmission of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Hong Kong is currently grappling with an Omicron outbreak, with most of the cases traced to two crew members of Cathay Pacific Airways who had broken isolation rules before testing positive.
Swedish PM tests positive for Covid as fourth wave surges
Swedish Social Democratic Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has tested positive for Covid-19 as a growing wave of infections driven by the Omicron variant sweeps the country.
Andersson is one of several party leaders to have tested positive for the virus in the wake of a debate in parliament earlier this week while Sweden's king, queen and crown princess have all been hit with infections this month.
The Nordic country has repeatedly set new daily records for Covid cases this month amid a mounting fourth wave of the virus, raising pressure on the healthcare system and triggering the reimposition of many restrictions.
The health agency expects cases, currently hitting highs of around 25,000 per day, to peak later this month when Sweden could reach almost 70,000 daily cases.
Anti-coronavirus measures tightened across China
China has further tightened its anti-pandemic measures in Beijing and across the country as scattered outbreaks continue ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics in a little over two weeks.
The actions appear to reflect nervousness about a possible surge in cases ahead of the Beijing Games.
Beijing has ordered children at international schools to be tested starting next week and is barring air passengers who transited via a third point.
Citizens are being told only to travel if absolutely necessary, with no guarantee they will be permitted to return if found to have visited a city or region where an outbreak occurred.
Masks rules get tighter in Europe in winter’s Covid wave
To mask or not to mask is a question Italy settled early in the Covid-19 outbreak with a vigorous “yes." Now the onetime epicentre of the pandemic in Europe hopes stricter mask rules will help beat the latest infection surge.
Other countries are taking similar action as the more transmissible — yet, apparently, less virulent — Omicron variant spreads through the continent.
Greece has restored its outdoor mask mandate, while requiring an FFP2 or double surgical mask on public transport and in indoor public spaces.
In France, the outdoor mask mandate was partially reinstated in December in many cities, including Paris. The age for children to start wearing masks in public places was lowered to 6 from 11.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced last week that people must wear FFP2 masks outdoors if they can’t keep at least two metres (6.5 feet) apart.
Philippines bans unvaccinated from public transport as infections spike
The Philippines will push through with its plan to ban people who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 from public transportation next week as the country grapples to quell a surge in infections.
The ban applies to the notoriously congested capital region of about 13 million people, where most new cases have emerged.
The new measure has faced stiff opposition from the country's human rights commission, which called it restrictive and discriminatory.
But the transport ministry said there would be no stopping the plan, which was necessary to curb the spread and prevent the healthcare system from getting overwhelmed.
Pressure on Boris Johnson mounts as more lockdown parties revealed
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under fire again due to two more parties held at Downing Street last year.
The parties, one of which was held on the eve before the funeral of the Queen’s husband in April 2020, have added on the pressure Johnson is already suffering.
The parties came to light with an exclusive report from The Telegraph.
The daily reported that “Downing Street staff drank alcohol into the early hours at two leaving events the night before Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral.”
On April 16, 2021, the country was in public mourning because of the passing of the prince and flags on government buildings flew half-mast.
WHO approves two new Covid treatments
The World Health Organization has approved two new Covid-19 treatments, growing the arsenal of tools along with vaccines to stave off severe illness and death from the virus.
In their recommendation in British medical journal The BMJ, WHO experts said arthritis drug baricitinib used with corticosteroids to treat severe or critical Covid patients led to better survival rates and reduced need for ventilators.
Experts also recommended synthetic antibody treatment Sotrovimab for people with non-serious Covid at highest risk of hospitalisation, such as the elderly, people with immunodeficiencies or chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Australia vows to enforce Covid vaccine border rule
Australia has vowed to enforce its Covid-19 vaccine border rules "rigorously" as a decision loomed on the deportation of unvaccinated tennis superstar Novak Djokovic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government has come under fire for not taking a decision sooner on whether to eject the 34-year-old tennis ace, an avowed vaccine sceptic.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham insisted Friday that Australia only lets in foreign nationals who are fully Covid-19 vaccinated or have an acceptable medical exemption.
Mexico president says pandemic 'on the way out'
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he believed the pandemic was "on the way out" because the Omicron variant was less severe, even as the country faces record infections from the highly contagious strain.
Lopez Obrador drew on his own experience battling a second bout of Covid-19, saying he had experienced only mild symptoms similar to those of influenza.
On Wednesday, the country counted a record of 44,187 new cases in one day, according to official figures.
Biden to double free Covid tests
President Joe Biden has announced that the government will double to 1 billion the rapid, at-home Covid-19 tests to be distributed free to Americans, along with "high-quality masks," as he highlighted his efforts to "surge" resources to help the country weather the spike in coronavirus cases.
Biden also announced that starting next week 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Speaking at the White House, he said six additional military medical teams will be deployed to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.
Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in Covid-19 cases.
The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.