This article titled “Coronavirus live: Japan and Poland log record cases; Germany seven-day rate at new high” was written by Jedidajah Otte, for theguardian.com on Saturday 22nd January 2022 15.34 UTC
This from my colleague Jason Rodrigues on anti-vaccine protests in London today:
Risk related to Omicron remains ‘very high’, WHO says
The World Health Organization issued a statement on Saturday on the Omicron variant. In an updated press briefing containing further data and study results, the WHO said:
Based on the currently available evidence, the overall risk related to Omicron remains very high.
Omicron has a significant growth advantage over Delta, leading to rapid spread in the community with higher levels of incidence than previously seen in this pandemic.
Despite a lower risk of severe disease and death following infection than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, the very high levels of transmission nevertheless have resulted in significant increases in hospitalisation, continue to pose overwhelming demands on health care systems in most countries, and may lead to significant morbidity, particularly in vulnerable populations.
The WHO said epidemiological trends continue to show “a decoupling” between recorded case numbers, hospital admissions and deaths, compared with previous waves driven by other variants, which is likely to be the result of a combination of Omicron being milder, and the fact the vaccines are more effective at protecting against serious illness than they are against infection.
But the brief added:
However, high levels of hospital and ICU admission are nevertheless being reported in most countries, given that levels of transmission are higher than ever seen before during the pandemic.
Moreover, more data are needed to better understand how clinical markers of severity – such as the use of oxygen, mechanical ventilation, and number of deaths are associated with Omicron.
This is particularly important given that current evidence about severity and hospitalisation has largely been shared from countries with high levels of population immunity, and there remains uncertainty about the severity of Omicron in populations with both lower vaccination coverage and lower prior exposure to other variants.
A further five people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has said.
Another 3,476 confirmed cases of the virus have also been logged in the last 24-hour reporting period.
Infections are on an overall upward trend in Romania, with 13,985 new cases reported on average each day. That’s 93% of the peak — the highest daily average reported on 20 October, according to the Reuters Covid-19 tracker.
On Saturday, 19,371 new Covid cases were registered, 278 less than the previous day. On Friday, the country reported a record 19,649 new daily cases.
Covid-19 vaccinations for children aged between 5 and 11 years are scheduled to start on 26 January, according to Valeriu Gheorghita, the coordinator of the national vaccination campaign.
The government is trying to combat vaccine hesitancy in the population by posting personal accounts of people who have taken up the vaccine offer on social media.
As of Friday, 7.9 million people out of a population of around 19 million have been fully vaccinated, according to the government’s vaccine task force.
In the UK, vaccines have been administered in a vast array of locations, including sports stadiums, a nightclub, and even a hot tub.
Describing how NHS teams “stop at nothing to make sure that our country is protected”, Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and deputy lead for the NHS Covid vaccination programme, told reporters about a person with additional learning needs who was given a jab at home in a hot tub.
Kanani said there had been “incredible stories” of people taking up a dose after being given “an approach that is just much more tailored for them”. She said that while most people were able to get vaccinated at their local pharmacy, at centre or by their general practice team, “for others it’s a little bit more complicated”.
“I’m so proud of our teams, for example in Portsmouth where they’ve gone out and vaccinated people with quite complex health needs,” the GP said. “One individual was vaccinated at home in his hot tub because he has additional learning needs and it was a way of making sure that he felt safe and secure as he got his vaccination. Our teams stop at nothing to make sure that our country is protected.”
In the week that the UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, told the nation that “we must learn to live with Covid in the same way we have to live with flu”, our science correspondent Hannah Devlin reports on the fears clinically vulnerable people feel.
About 3.7 million people in England are classified as clinically extremely vulnerable, many of whom feel like a “forgotten minority” as the country axes plan B restrictions.
Read the full report here:
Greece has detected two cases of an offshoot of the Omicron variant in passengers arriving at Athens international airport.
The travellers, who have the BA.2 sub-variant, are in isolation.
The news comes as the country reported 20,507 Covid new cases, 108 deathsand 467 patients admitted to hospital with the virus.
The BA.2 sub-variant, of which 426 cases have been sequenced in the UK, may have an “increased growth rate” over the earlier form of Omicron, officially designated as BA.1, according to UKHSA. The public health body stressed, however, that there is a “low level of certainty early in the emergence of a variant”.
The deputy lead for England’s NHS Covid vaccination programme, Dr Nikki Kanani, said on Saturday that healthcare professionals have a duty to make sure they are protected against Covid-19.
All NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients must have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine by 3 February, and have had two jabs by 1 April, or risk losing their job at the end of March – a government policy unions fear will worsen the health service’s staffing crisis.
Kanani was asked if the NHS could cope with the possibility of losing thousands of staff over mandatory vaccination.
She told reporters:
Mandatory vaccination is a government policy but as healthcare professionals we all have a duty to make sure that we are protected, to make sure that our colleagues and our patients are protected.
I know that our teams will be doing everything they can to continue to have vaccine confidence building conversations and offering that all important vaccination to staff who are yet to have their first, second or their booster dose.
Our NHS staff have been utterly incredible. The last 24 months have been the most difficult that any of us have ever experienced and they have worked through the pandemic, they’ve delivered the most incredible vaccination programme.
I know some people are still trying to make that really important decision.
Pressed on whether patients would suffer if the NHS were to lose staff over vaccine mandate, she said:
As we’ve seen through the pandemic, and of course those days before the pandemic that we don’t even think of very often, our NHS continues to deliver.
What I want to say is to our patients who are listening – we will keep looking after you.
That’s what we do in the NHS. Our general practice teams, our pharmacy teams, our healthcare services.
We’re here for you, so don’t ever worry. The NHS is open. The NHS is there for you.
England’s public health body is investigating an offshoot of the Omicron variant known as BA.2 amid concerns that it may be even more contagious than the original.
The Financial Times reported:
The UK Health Security Agency said it was designating the Omicron offshoot a ‘variant under investigation’ because of “increasing numbers of BA.2 sequences identified both domestically and internationally”.
Early analysis suggests the BA.2 sub-variant may have an “increased growth rate” over the earlier form of Omicron, officially designated as BA.1, according to UKHSA, which stressed that there is a “low level of certainty early in the emergence of a variant”.
Moreover, BA.2 has not been named a ‘variant of concern’ — the highest risk ranking for new strains.
About 426 cases of the Omicron offshoot have been sequenced in the UK, with the first found in early December.
The daily average of reported Covid-19 infections in France is at its peak, with 320,068 newcases reported each day, according to Reuters.
The country’s constitutional council approved strict new restrictions for unvaccinated people on Friday.
The new law will exclude them from large parts of public life via a “vaccine pass” that will be introduced from Monday.
People in France have to show proof of vaccination or recovery if they want to gain entry to hospitality venues, cultural sites and sporting events or use long-distance public transport.
Other measures are to be gradually relaxed from February, however, because the French prime minister, Jean Castex, believes the country’s high vaccination rate will protect hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Germany reports record seven-day incidence rate
Germany’s seven-day incidence rate has risen to a high of 772.7 infections per 100,000 people, up from 706.3.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 135,461 new infections on Saturday, an increase of 57,439 on the same day a week ago, when 78,022 positive tests were reported.
It also reported a further 179 deaths, bringing the country’s total to 116,664.
At least half of the population, or about 41.7 million people, had received a Covid booster shot and at least 75.4% had received at least one vaccine dose, the RKI said. At least 73.3% have been fully vaccinated, and 24.6% remain unvaccinated.
The federal government has set a target for 80% of the population to receive at least one vaccine dose by the end of January.
The Philippines recorded 30,552 new Covid-19 infections on Saturday, as well as 97 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 53,406.
The department of health said it was still too early to say whether Metro Manila could lower its Covid alert level from 3 to 2 next month, CNN Philippines reports.
“I think it’s too early to declare and to say to people that we will shift or deescalate to alert level 2,” health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a briefing on Saturday.
Vergeire said she was still working with earlier projections that cases might peak by the end of the month or by the middle of February.
Hong Kong health officials warned on Saturday of a significantly worsening Covid-19 outbreak as suspected infection numbers rose in a congested residential area.
Health authorities said on Saturday they had detected at least 130 preliminary-positive Covid-19 cases and 26 confirmed cases at a public housing estate in the Kwai Chung district north of the Kowloon peninsula.
On Friday, authorities ordered 2,700 residents of the housing block into an unprecedented 5-day lockdown.
“It’s not easy for us to control the spread because we cannot trace all their whereabouts,” senior health department official Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said, referring to the 2,700 residents as well as workers and visitors linked to the building at the centre of the outbreak.
She urged people across the city to limit their social engagements and avoid large gatherings.
Local media reports on Saturday said that officials were considering tighter city-wide restrictions but none have yet been confirmed.
Earlier this week, officials announced traces of the virus had been found on 11 hamsters, and ordered the killing of more than 2,000 of the imported animals, including any pets bought since 22 December, causing a backlash in the population.
Thousands of people have offered to hide or adopt unwanted hamsters, as local media was flooded with footage and images of crying children saying goodbye to their pets.
Unlike many other cities, Hong Kong has maintained a “zero Covid” strategy focused on eliminating the disease, with schools and gyms shut, restaurants closing at 6 pm and air travel with many major hubs severed or severely disrupted.
Poland reports record number of new infections
Poland reported a record 40,876 new daily infections on Saturday, the health ministry said, as the country’s fifth wave gathers pace.
On Friday Poland logged a record high of 36,665 new infections, with at least 1,390 cases of the Omicron variant.
Authorities have said the latest wave of the pandemic will drive case numbers to levels not yet seen in Poland, with estimates of the peak ranging from 60,000 to as many as 140,000 daily infections.
Officials are expecting the number of cases to reach more than 50,000 a day next week, a number that could begin to put unsustainable strain on the health system.
Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned on Friday that the healthcare system will find itself under “unprecedented” pressure.
“The fifth wave of the pandemic has become a fact,” Morawiecki said. “In recent days we’ve been seeing over 30,000 new [daily] infections. These numbers must be making an impression even on those who disregarded the pandemic.”
About 57% of the 38 million strong population have been vaccinated, and circa 9 million people have received booster shots.
Russia reported a new record number of confirmed daily Covid-19 infections on Saturday, the government coronavirus taskforce said.
Daily new cases jumped to 57,212, from the previous record of 49,513 a day earlier, as the Omicron variant continues to spread.
The taskforce also reported 681 deaths.
Russia’s infections are now at about 85% of the country’s peak and rising, according to the Reuters Covid-19 tracker, with 34,378 new infections reported on average each day.
An order for UK civil servants to return to work as soon as possible has more to do with deflecting attention from prime minister Boris Johnson’s own political troubles, the head of a trade union representing senior civil servants has claimed.
Dave Penman, the FDA’s general secretary, said:
All the evidence shows that across the economy, hybrid working is being embraced, delivering efficiencies for employers and flexibility for employees.
Despite this, ministers are clinging to an ideology of presenteeism that demonstrates they are out of touch with how the world of work has changed since the pandemic began.
The Cabinet Office said measures had been put in place in government buildings to reassure staff and allow the transition back to office working, including increased ventilation and improved cleaning routines.
It added that there was no government requirement or recommendation for employers to limit capacity in the workplace.
Taiwan’s government said on Saturday restrictions would be tightened after a rare surge in domestic transmission of the Omicron variant, saying it needed to act now to prevent being overwhelmed, even though overall numbers remain quite low.
After months of no or few community infections, Taiwan has seen a small rise in local Covid-19 cases since the beginning of January, mainly linked to workers at the main international airport in the northern city of Taoyuan who were infected by arriving passengers, Reuters reports.
On Friday evening the government announced 60 new cases at a factory near the airport after testing 1,000 workers.
There have been no deaths and most of the cases have had only mild or no symptoms.
In a statement, premier Su Tseng-chang said that, even though this outbreak has brought no serious illness, steps needed to be taken. “If the pandemic cannot be contained, it will still cause a burden on the medical system,” he said.
New restrictions will include a ban on eating and drinking on public transport and limits on the number of people visiting temples, ahead of the week-long lunar new year holiday, which starts at the end of this month.
Testing will be expanded to reach the largest number of possible contacts, said the health minister, Chen Shih-chung.
“Of course we think this pandemic is threatening, so we must raise our vigilance,” he said.
Taiwan has been highly successful at controlling the pandemic due to early and strict border checks and an effective tracing system.
More than 70% of people in Taiwan have received two vaccine doses and booster shots are currently being rolled out, with about 15% of residents having received a third shot so far.
UK government civil servants have been ordered to return to the office, with government departments told to rapidly get back to “full occupancy” after the lifting of plan B Covid-19 restrictions in England.
The announcement on Friday night sets up a clash between the government and unions, who have warned against a “headlong rush” back to workplaces with coronavirus cases still high. Across the UK, 95,787 positive tests were reported on Friday.
My colleague Ben Quinn has the full story.
Ireland lifts majority of Covid restrictions
Ireland has taken a significant stride back to normality after the majority of pandemic-related curbs on society were lifted as of 6am Saturday – sooner than some had expected.
The government announced the sweeping relaxations on Friday evening, with an 8pm hospitality curfew lifted, as well as the scrapping of Covid passes that previously had to be shown in order to enter hospitality, entertainment and leisure venues.
Live events and sporting events can return to full-capacity audiences and guidance advising limits on household visits has been removed, while workers will return to offices on a staggered basis from Monday, Reuters reports.
Only a small number of restrictions remain in place: Masks still have to be worn in public places such as shops, schools and on public transport, and self-isolation rules and the use of Covid passes for international travel continue to apply.
Protective measures will remain in place in schools until at least the end of February, when they will be reviewed.
The taoiseach, Micheál Martin, stressed the pandemic was not over but that the “emergency” phase had passed.
“I want to be clear that the pandemic isn’t over – it will still require all of us to be vigilant,” he said on Friday.
But he added:
Spring is coming. I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to one as much as I’m looking forward to this one.
Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most.
As we look forward to this spring, we need to see each other again. We need to see each other smile. We need to sing again.
As we navigate this new phase of Covid, it is time to be ourselves again.
Tokyo logs record daily cases for fourth consecutive day
Hello everyone, I’m Jedidajah Otte and will be bringing you the latest developments in all things pandemic over the next few hours.
Tokyo on Saturday recorded 11,227 new daily Covid-19 infections, the highest daily tally for the fourth consecutive day amid a continued rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
The local government has reinstated restrictions that are due to run until 13 February.
On Friday, the number of severely ill Covid-19 patients in Japan reached 404, up by 117 from a day before, the health ministry said, as it issued fast-track approval for the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, with the government preparing to kick-start the rollout in March, the Japan Times reported.
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