WHO warns world cannot ‘boost its way out’ of pandemic: Live | Coronavirus pandemic News

The World Health Organization chief warned Wednesday that the rush in wealthy countries to roll out additional COVID vaccine doses was deepening the inequity in access to jabs that is prolonging the pandemic.

“No country can boost its way out of the pandemic,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Meanwhile, a new South African study, along with data on hospitalisations and deaths in the country’s fourth wave of COVID infections, suggest that the risk of severe disease is lower with Omicron than with previous variants, a top scientist has said.

South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic Omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts said earlier.

Here are the latest updates:

Omicron complicates holiday travel plans across the US

Americans are facing a second Christmas of upended holiday plans, with a surge in COVID-19 infections fueled by the now-dominant Omicron variant forcing some people to cancel their travel and fret about whether it is safe to visit loved ones.

Carmen Rivera and her fiancee Jasmine Maisonet made the painful decision to cancel their flights to visit family in Florida and Puerto Rico after Maisonet was exposed to an infected co-worker and tested positive for COVID-19.

Read more here.

People queue for coronavirus tests on East 14th Street in Manhattan, New York City, US, December 22, 2021 [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

Biden says he was tested virus, no results yet

US President Joe Biden said he received another COVID-19 test on Wednesday, five days after exposure to the virus from a member of his staff, but has not received the results yet.

Biden tested negative for the virus three days after he was exposed. The president made the comments to reporters after public remarks during a meeting on the status of the U.S. supply chain.

Pfizer oral COVID pill gets US authorisation for at-home use

Pfizer Inc said the US Food and Drug Administration authorized its antiviral COVID-19 pill, making it the first at-home treatment for the coronavirus that is expected to become an important tool in the fight against the fast spreading Omicron variant.

Data from Pfizer’s clinical trial showed its two-drug antiviral regimen was 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness.

Blanket booster drives risk prolonging pandemic: WHO chief

The head of the World Health Organization warned that blanket booster programs in rich countries risk prolonging the world’s battle with COVID-19 and said that “no country can boost its way out of the pandemic.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the priority must be to reduce deaths and help all countries meet minimum vaccination targets that many still haven’t reached.

Moreover, he noted that “the vast majority of hospitalisations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, not unboosted people”.

Italy reports more than 36,000 new cases

Italy reported 146 coronavirus-related deaths against 153 on Tuesday, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 36,293 from 30,798.

Italy has registered 136,077 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 5.5 million cases to date.

Britain reports record 106,122 new infections

The United Kingdom reported more than 100,000 new daily coronavirus cases for the first time since widespread testing was introduced, with 106,122 compared with 90,629 on Tuesday.

There were 140 deaths within 28 days of a positive case, down from 172 the previous day, according to government data.

The UK has recorded over 11.5 million cases since the pandemic began in March 2020 [File: Andy Rain/EPA]

Too soon to say if Omicron more transmissible than Delta: WHO

The World Health Organization does not yet have enough data on the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus to say if it is more transmissible than the Delta variant, an official said, almost a month after South Africa first raised the alarm about its emergence.

“We do have some data suggesting that rates of hospitalisation are lower,” WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing with media.

Advisor: Omicron doubles or triples infection risk while flying

Aircraft passengers are twice or even three times more likely to catch Covid-19 during a flight since the emergence of the omicron variant, according to the top medical adviser to the world’s airlines.

The new strain is highly transmissible and has become dominant in a matter of weeks, accounting for more than 70 percent of all new cases in the US alone.

Read more here.

Business class may be safer than more densely packed economy cabins, said David Powell, physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, which represents almost 300 carriers worldwide [File: Bloomberg]

NHL says players will not participate in Beijing Winter Games

The National Hockey League said it will not send its players to compete in the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics after the regular season schedule was disrupted due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events – 50 games already have been postponed through December 23 – Olympic participation is no longer feasible,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

Britain to vaccinate vulnerable younger children

Britain said it would start vaccinating vulnerable children aged five to 11 against COVID-19 after the country’s medicines regulator approved the use of a lower dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in that age group.

The children will receive two 10-microgram doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – a third of the adult dose – with an interval of eight weeks between the first and second doses, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said.

UK Schools Remain Open To Support Children Of Key Workers During Coronavirus LockdownBritain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it had approved the new age-appropriate Pfizer-BioNTech after finding it was ‘safe and effective’ for children aged five to 11 [File: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

Nigeria destroys 1 million expired vaccine shots

Authorities in Nigeria have publicly destroyed over one million expired doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine even as the West African country’s vaccination rate has almost doubled in the last one week amid a spike in confirmed infections.

The expired doses – numbering 1,066,214 – were destroyed in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, a week after the nation said it will no longer accept donated COVID-19 vaccines with short shelf lives.

Al Jazeera’s Fidelis Mbah reported from Abuja that the government’s very public display of destroying the vaccines was to assure citizens whatever jabs were administered, were of “good quality” – amid conspiracies and false information against vaccines in the country.

Rea more here.

Unless poor nations vaccinated, new variants will keep coming: Academic

Bharat Pankhania of the The University of Exeter Medical School told Al Jazeera THAT unless poor nations are fully vaccinated, richer nations immunising their populations multiple times will not stop variants emerging.

“Again, the richer nations can do whatever they like, because they’ve got the vaccines, supplies, and they can immunise their population once, twice, thrice,” he said from Bath, UK.

However, he said: “If you do not suppress infections in vulnerable countries where you have a lot of immune suppressed people, then you will get the drive for variants to emerge. And Omicron is one such example. And we can definitely get other variants which will again be a setback.”

World’s children bearing brunt of pandemic, Vatican studies say

The world’s children are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, with marked increases in violence, abuse, child labour, lost schooling, and malnutrition, two Vatican studies said on Wednesday.

The studies, based on academic, scientific, United Nations data and other source material, were produced by the Vatican’s development office and the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“Reports of violence, abuse, and exploitation of children have sharply increased since the pandemic began. Poorer communities disproportionately bear these adversities,” one of the studies said.

France cancels order for Merck’s antiviral drug

France has cancelled its order for Merck & Co’s COVID-19 antiviral drug following disappointing trial data and hopes instead to receive Pfizer’s competing drug before the end of January, the health minister said.

France is the first country to publicly say it has cancelled an order for the Merck treatment after the company released data in late November suggesting its drug was markedly less effective than previously thought, reducing hospitalisations and deaths in its clinical trial of high-risk individuals by about 30 percent.

“The latest studies weren’t good,” Olivier Veran told BFM TV.

France had placed an early order for 50,000 doses of the drug molnupiravir developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. [File: Seth Wenig/AP Photo]

Player welfare not taken seriously enough: Liverpool’s captain

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said player welfare is not being taken seriously enough following the Premier League’s decision to continue playing despite a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I am worried about player welfare and I don’t think anybody takes that seriously enough, especially in this period, when COVID is here,” Henderson told BBC Sport.

Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders said it was “absurd” to play twice in four days while missing a number of key players due to COVID-19 and injuries, while Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said players’ health and safety was at risk.

Gerrard says Villa player ‘reluctant to get out of car’ due to virus fears

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard said fear of the coronavirus is so heightened that one of his players was reluctant to get out of his car.

An outbreak at Villa saw their match against Burnley last Saturday postponed at short notice, with Gerrard warning that it will be a “nightmare” if the Midlands club have to tackle two matches in two days with just 14 players available.

“We had a situation at the weekend where one of the players was reluctant to get out of his car because he had some symptoms and he’s got a young family, and you can totally understand his view in his situation,” Gerrard said.

The Premier League announced on Monday its intention to continue with scheduled matches over the traditionally busy Christmas and New Year period [Rui Vieira/AP Photo]

Finland begins vaccinating children aged 5-11

Finland will from Thursday start offering coronavirus vaccines to children between 5-11 years of age, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said.

The Finnish Health Institute earlier this month recommended that children aged five and over should be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they or someone in their household were at high risk of severe infection.

Sweden to require negative virus test for all foreigners on entry

All foreigners seeking to enter Sweden will have to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours, the government said as cases surged.

The requirement will come into force on December 28 and will apply to all non-citizens and non-residents over the age of 12, including travellers from the European Union and neighbouring Nordic countries.

“All travellers will need to be able to present a negative test for an ongoing infection of COVID-19 upon arrival to Sweden, regardless of which country you are travelling from,” the government said in a statement.

Sweden has recorded more than 1.2 million cases to date [File: Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency vai Reuters]

South Africa’s study suggests Omicron less severe than other variants

A new South African study, along with data on hospitalisations and deaths in the country’s fourth wave of COVID infections, suggest that the risk of severe disease is lower with Omicron than with previous variants, a top scientist has said.

“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” said Professor Cheryl Cohen of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), one of the authors of the new study.

“Compellingly, together our data really suggest a positive story of a reduced severity of Omicron compared to other variants,” she said during a news conference by a group of NICD scientists.

Read more here.

Turkey’s domestic COVID-19 vaccine receives emergency use authorisation

A nurse prepares a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Ankara City Hospital in Ankara, Turkey, April 2, 2021. [File: Cagla Gurdogan/Reuters]

Turkey’s domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine, Turkovac, has received emergency use authorisation by Turkish authorities and will be open to use from next weekend, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Turkey began developing Turkovac this year, but the launch date for the vaccine has been beset by delays. President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey would make the shot available globally.

Turkey has already administered more than 125 million doses of vaccines using shots developed by China’s Sinovac and by Pfizer/BioNTech, with more than 51 million having received two doses of the vaccines. It has also begun administering booster shots.

AstraZeneca, Oxford team up to develop Omicron-targeted vaccine

AstraZeneca is working with Oxford University to develop a better coronavirus vaccine that will exclusively target the Omicron variant.

“Together with Oxford University, we have taken preliminary steps in producing an Omicron variant vaccine, in case it is needed, and will be informed by emerging data,” said the British-Swedish pharmaceutical in a statement provided to local media.

Sandy Douglas, head of a research group at Oxford University, told The Financial Times that updated vaccines are a must when dealing with logistical challenges posed by the rapid spread of variants such as Omicron, and that they could help alleviate pressures on healthcare services and systems.

“Adenovirus-based vaccines (such as made by Oxford/AstraZeneca’s) could in principle be used to respond to any new variant more rapidly than some may previously have realised,” she said.

China orders 13 million Xi’an residents to stay home over COVID outbreak

The northern Chinese city of Xi’an on Wednesday ordered all 13 million residents to stay home, in a strict lockdown as concern grows over a fresh outbreak of COVID-19.

With Beijing preparing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in February, China is on high alert as it fights local outbreaks in several cities.

All households may only “send one household member outside once every two days to purchase necessities,” with all others ordered to remain indoors except for emergencies, the city government said in a statement on its official Weibo social media account.

Philippines halves COVID-19 booster wait time to three months

People queue at a vaccination centre amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Juan City, Metro Manila, Philippines, November 29, 2021. [Peter Blaza/Reuters]

The Philippines has halved to three months the waiting time for a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine in its battle to rein in the more infectious Omicron variant of coronavirus, which has forced a global tightening of curbs.

From Wednesday, adults can receive a booster dose at least three months after taking the second complement of a two-dose vaccine, versus six months earlier, acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said.

Single-dose vaccine recipients are eligible for a booster after two months, he told a regular news conference.

Poland reports highest number of COVID-related deaths in fourth wave

A man receives a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the University Hospital in Wroclaw, Poland, January 25, 2021. [File: Tomasz Pietrzyk/Agencja Gazeta via Reuters]

Poland reported 775 COVID-related deaths on Friday, the highest daily number in the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the data from the health ministry showed, with total number of infections since the start of the pandemic crossing 4 million.

Poland has been dealing with persistently high daily case numbers in a fourth wave that has forced authorities to tighten restrictions.

“Unfortunately, (deaths) dominate among the elderly and the unvaccinated… we do not get vaccinated and we go to hospitals too late,” ministry’s spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz told reporters.

Israel to offer fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose in bid to outpace Omicron

Israel has announced it will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to health workers and people older than 60, amid concern about the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

A health ministry expert panel recommended the fourth shot late on Tuesday, a decision that was swiftly welcomed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as “great news that will help us overcome the Omicron wave that is spreading around the world”.

Read more here.

Japan confirms first known local Omicron transmissions

Japan confirmed its first known local transmissions of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Osaka on Wednesday, a sign it is already making its way in the country.

The family of three in Osaka had no record of traveling overseas and their infections could not be traced, Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said.

The three are the first known cases of community transmission of the highly infectious Omicron variant in Japan, Yoshimura said. “I believe they only happened to be detected and we must take steps on the assumption that there already are other cases of community transmission,” he said.

South Africa’s case drop may show Omicron peak has passed

A boy receives a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at Discovery vaccination site in Sandton, Johannesburg, on December 15, 2021. [Luca Sola/AFP]

South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic Omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.

After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide last Thursday, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on Tuesday. In Gauteng province – South Africa’s most populous with 16 million people, including the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria – the decrease started earlier and has continued.

“The drop in new cases nationally combined with the sustained drop in new cases seen here in Gauteng province, which for weeks has been the center of this wave, indicates that we are past the peak,” Marta Nunes, senior researcher at the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics department of the University of Witwatersrand, told The Associated Press.

UK says 14 deaths and 129 hospitalised by Omicron

There are currently 129 people in hospital with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and so far 14 people have died with it, junior health minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News.

She also said the UK government would not hesitate to bring in further COVID-19 restrictions if the data showed it was necessary.

Finland aims to tackle rising COVID cases by curbing bars’ opening hours

Finland will restrict restaurants’ opening hours to curb rising COVID-19 infections and the spread of the new Omicron variant, the government said.

Starting on Christmas eve, bars will have to stop serving alcohol at 9pm and close at 10pm. From December 28 onwards, alcohol can only be served until 5pm and bars need to close by 6pm  and restaurants by 8pm, the government said in a statement.

The government also decided university and other adult students would shift to remote schooling after the Christmas holidays and foreign travellers coming to Finland would need a proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 and a recent negative test result.

France could soon have 100,000 COVID cases a day

France could have around 100,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, health minister Olivier Veran said, up from around 70,000 currently as the country battles a fifth wave of the epidemic.

Veran said no new restrictions were on the table for now, although nothing could be ruled out, with authorities hoping an increase in the numbers of people having vaccinations will allow them to keep the virus in check.

Malaysia suspends ticket sales for quarantine-free travel to Singapore

Malaysia has temporarily suspended sales of tickets for air and land travel under a vaccinated travel lane scheme with Singapore until January 20, the health ministry said, amid concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The action followed a similar move by Singapore to freeze all new ticket sales over the same period.

Under the vaccinated travel lane programme, both countries allow quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travellers, who have to do multiple screenings.

California says health care workers must get booster shots

California health care workers will be required to have coronavirus booster shots to ensure that hospitals are ready to deal with a surge in cases as the more-transmissible Omicron variant spreads throughout the state.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the order on Tuesday on his personal Twitter account and planned to provide more details at a Wednesday news conference.

California already requires health care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, a directive that took effect in September and has since led to the firing or suspension of thousands of people. Now it will join New Mexico as at least the second state to require booster shots for health care workers.

Australia PM meets with state leaders as virus cases surge

New COVID-19 cases in Australia’s most populous state surged to a pandemic record on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with state leaders to discuss preventive measures.

Morrison emerged from the national cabinet meeting again rejecting lockdowns and mask mandates imposed by the federal government. He said policies on mask-wearing were best left to state governments and to Australians who should follow “commonsense behavioural measures.”

“Despite these rising cases, hospitals and health systems remain in a strong position but of course, they will be tested,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra after the emergency meeting.

Singapore suspends quarantine-free travel ticket sales

Singapore has said it will freeze all new ticket sales for flights and buses under its programme for quarantine-free travel into the city-state from December 23 to January 20, the government said, citing the risk from the fast-spreading Omicron.

“Our border measures will help to buy us time to study and understand the Omicron variant, and to strengthen our defences, including enhancing our healthcare capacity, and getting more people vaccinated and boosted,” Singapore’s health ministry said in a statement.

Under the vaccinated travel lane programme, Singapore allows quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travellers, who have to take multiple COVID-19 tests.

About two dozen countries are listed in the programme including Australia, India, Malaysia, Britain and the United States.

Travellers already holding tickets on flights or buses and who meet all other requirements can still travel under the programme.

Singapore has confirmed imported Omicron cases and several local infections.

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