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New coronavirus infections in South Korea have exceeded 7,000 for the third consecutive day, as the worst surge since the start of the pandemic overwhelmed hospitals and depleted health care workforce.
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Critics have blamed the spread on complacency by the government, which dramatically lowered social distancing rules at the start of November.
Officials issued administrative orders requiring hospitals around the country to designate 2,000 more beds combined for Covid-19 treatment.
The increased capacity will be used to ease the crush on hospitals in Seoul and the nearby metropolitan region, where around 90 percent of intensive care units are already occupied. Officials said more than 1,200 virus patients in the greater capital area who required hospitalization were being forced to wait at home as of Friday morning because of bed shortages.
Officials have revamped their medical response policy so that most mild cases can be treated at home. While around 20,500 are receiving home care, some doctors’ groups say the new approach puts lives at risk.
South Korea has reported a daily average of more than 5,800 infections while adding more than 41,000 cases in the past seven days alone, pushing the national caseload to 503,000.
The country’s death toll stood at 4,130 after 53 virus patients died in the past 24 hours.
Dutch give green light for Pfizer shots for children over 5
The Dutch government has cleared the way for children aged 5-11 to get vaccinated against Covid-19, extending its inoculation program to an age group that had the highest rate of infections in a recent surge.
The program is set to begin in mid-January, the health ministry said.
The children will get shots of the Pfizer vaccine with a lower dose than adults and it is up to their parents whether they are vaccinated.
The government stressed that most children infected with the coronavirus develop only mild symptoms, but a small number can become seriously ill.
The European Medicines Agency gave the green light last month for a smaller dose of the Pfizer vaccine to be used for children aged 5-11.
Dutch Covid-19 infections soared to record levels last month, straining the health care system and forcing the government to impose a partial lockdown that means bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters and shops selling non-essential goods have to close at 5 p.m.
Swiss eyes far-reaching restrictions
The Swiss government has presented proposals for broad new restrictions as Covid cases surge, including barring unvaccinated people from restaurants and cultural activities as well as home working requirements.
The government put forward two proposals for new measures aimed at reining in ballooning rates of transmission, and said a final decision would be announced on Tuesday.
“I would have liked to say enjoy the holidays,” President Guy Parmelin told a news conference, adding though that “unfortunately, the government must once again propose additional measures to stymie a new wave” of infections.
Currently, a so-called Covid certificate – attesting that the holder has either recovered from Covid, been vaccinated or tested negative – is required to enter restaurants and a wide range of venues.
But both government proposals would largely shut out unvaccinated people, regardless of whether they hold a negative test.
This week, Switzerland registered over 12,300 new cases in 24 hours – its highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.
Britain records 58,194 new cases, 120 deaths
Britain has recorded 58,194 new cases of Covid-19 and a further 120 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, official daily statistics showed.
Canada reports steady increase in cases
Cases of Covid-19 in Canada have started to increase again and severity trends could also rise, officials said, adding that the new Omicron variant had the potential to spread very quickly.
“As we head into the winter months with a strained health system in many areas … a high degree of caution is needed to minimize spread and impact, particularly during the upcoming holiday season,” chief medical officer Theresa Tam told reporters.
Japan confirms 8 more cases of new coronavirus variant
Health officials in Japan have confirmed eight more cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, bringing the country’s total to 12.
The eight tested positive for the virus when they arrived at Japanese airports from late November to earlier this month, the health ministry said in a statement.
Two of them, a woman in her 30s and a boy, arrived from Namibia on Nov. 28 on the same flight as a Namibian diplomat who was Japan’s first confirmed case of the omicron variant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said.
Japan eased border controls last month as it gradually expanded social and economic activities, but has since restored a ban on foreign entrants and limited daily arrivals to 3,500 people.
Japan’s Covid-19 infections have slowed since September.
It reported 165 new cases on Thursday for an accumulated total of nearly 1.72 million, including about 18,400 deaths. More than 77 percent of Japanese have been fully vaccinated, and booster shots began this month, starting with medical workers.
German MPs pass jab requirement for health workers
Germany’s lower house of parliament has passed a draft law requiring healthcare workers and soldiers to get inoculated against Covid-19, a first step toward possible mandatory jabs for all adults.
A large majority of Bundestag MPs voted for the measure requiring staff at hospitals, doctors’ offices and care homes to be fully vaccinated.
The Bundesrat or upper house is expected to pass the bill later on Friday following similar moves by France, Italy, Britain and Greece.
South Africa to offer vaccine boosters as Omicron spreads
South Africa will offer booster doses of the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines as the Omicron coronavirus variant drives daily infections towards record highs.
Pfizer boosters will be available to people six months after they receive their second dose, with the first people becoming eligible late this month, the South Africa health department’s deputy-director general, Nicholas Crisp, told a news conference.
J&J boosters, already available to health workers in a research study, will be rolled out to the general population soon, he added.
Jordan detects its first two cases of omicron variant
The Jordanian health ministry has identified its first two cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
The health ministry’s statement, announced by state-run Petra news agency, said the first case is a Jordanian national who recently returned from South Africa and is currently quarantining in a hotel in Jordan’s capital, Amman.
According to Petra, the second case is a Jordanian national who has not recently left the country, raising fears that the variant may be spreading within the kingdom’s communities. The second individual is also quarantining in a hotel in Amman.
Romania enforces new travel measures
Romania has introduced new travel restrictions and isolation measures for people entering the country as officials seek to avert another health care crisis following the emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Romania, a European Union country of about 19 million, faced its deadliest period of the pandemic through October and November and has so far confirmed three cases of Omicron, which is thought to be more contagious than the previous coronavirus variant.
All three of Romania’s Omicron cases have been detected in people connected with a government repatriation flight from South Africa to Bucharest at the end of November.
Ghana requires proof of vaccination for travellers
Public health authorities in Ghana have introduced new travel guidelines requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 from next week as the government tries to avert a fourth wave of infections.
Under new rules coming into effect from midnight on Sunday, travellers “will be required to provide evidence of full vaccination,” Ghana’s director-general of health services, Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said.
“All Ghanaians travelling out of the country are to be fully vaccinated,” he added in a statement late Thursday.
The West African nation has administered just over 5.7 million doses and virus cases are low.
Unvaccinated Ghanaians and residents currently outside the country who intend to return within 14 days of the deadline will still be allowed in.
South Korea to cut Covid-19 booster shot interval again
South Korea will further cut the interval for coronavirus booster vaccines for all adults from four to five months to three, officials said, as it struggles to fight record levels of infections amid concerns over the Omicron variant.
The move came three weeks after the government reduced the booster gap for people aged 60 and older and primary groups to four months from six. The interval for all other adults had been five months.
“The government has decided to shorten the gap so that all adults can receive an extra dose three months after initial vaccination,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told an intra-agency meeting.
Japan researchers use ostrich cells to make glowing virus detection masks
Japanese researchers have developed masks that use ostrich antibodies to detect Covid-19 by glowing under ultraviolet light.
The discovery by Yasuhiro Tsukamoto and his team at Kyoto Prefectural University in western Japan could provide for low-cost testing of the virus at home, they said in a press release.
The scientists started by creating a mask filter coated with ostrich antibodies targeting the coronavirus, based on previous research showing the birds have strong resistance to disease.
In a small study, test subjects wore the masks, and after eight hours, the filters were removed and sprayed with a chemical that glows under ultraviolet light if the virus is present.
The filters worn by people infected with Covid-19 glowed around the nose and mouth areas.
Curbs over Omicron threatens UN summit in China
A flagship UN conference in China next spring, where governments are set to ink a new global pact to protect nature, could be thwarted by stricter travel restrictions imposed to contain the Omicron coronavirus variant, environmentalists have warned.
About 195 countries are set to finalise an accord to safeguard plants, animals, and ecosystems – similar to the Paris climate agreement at the UN summit, known as COP15, scheduled for April 25-May 8 in the city of Kunming.
But the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 around the world could throw a spanner in the works of the talks, which have already been postponed three times due to the difficulties of meeting face to face during the pandemic.
The next round of in-person technical negotiations on the draft agreement and ways to put it into practice – planned for Geneva in January – was already delayed this month, possibly until March, because of Omicron concerns.
Australia to begin vaccinating children
Australia will begin administering Covid-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 from January 10, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said after the rollout cleared final regulatory hurdles.
Pfizer doses will be administered in the initial phase, while regulators assess the suitability of Moderna shots.
A decision is expected in the coming weeks.
The decision comes as Australia seeks to accelerate the rollout of booster shots after becoming one of the world’s most-vaccinated countries against Covid-19, inoculating nearly 90 percent of its population above 16 with two doses.
Some 70 percent of children aged 12 to 15 have been fully vaccinated.
US regulators expand booster eligibility
US President Joe Biden has said the United States was making progress in the battle against Covid-19 and it was good news regulators had expanded eligibility for Covid-19 vaccine booster shots to 16- and 17-year-olds.
Biden also said it was encouraging news that preliminary data shows three doses of Pfizer’s vaccine offer protection against the Omicron variant.
“My message is very straightforward and simple. If you got vaccinated six months ago … get your booster right away,” he said.
Infections, deaths keep increasing in Brazil and Mexico
Mexico has reported 293 more confirmed deaths from Covid-19 and 3,180 new cases, bringing the country’s official death toll since the pandemic began to 296,186 and the number of infections to 3,911,714.
Brazil saw 9,278 new cases of coronavirus and 206 new Covid-19 deaths.