Covid news live: Omicron carries lower hospitalisation risk, studies suggest; China locks down city of 13 million

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid news live: Omicron carries lower hospitalisation risk, studies suggest; China locks down city of 13 million” was written by Samantha Lock, for theguardian.com on Thursday 23rd December 2021 02.59 UTC

Thailand is reporting another 2,940 new coronavirus cases and 30 deaths.

This is an increase on the 2,532 new coronavirus cases and 31 deaths on Wednesday, according to the ministry of health.

Thai dancers wear face mask and face shield as country reports another 2,940 new coronavirus cases and 30 deaths.
Thai dancers wear face mask and face shield as country reports another 2,940 new coronavirus cases and 30 deaths.
Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

Thailand has also reinstated mandatory Covid quarantine for foreign visitors and scrapped a quarantine waiver. The move was confirmed by the government, which said the action was being taken due to concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant.

Malaysia is also reporting another 3,419 locally-transmitted Covid cases and 29 deaths, according to the ministry of health.

Updated

South Korea reports new high in critical Covid patients

South Korea has just released its daily Covid report.

The east Asian nation reported another 6,919 new coronavirus cases for Wednesday and 109 deaths, according to data released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

A record number of 1,083 people have been admitted to hospital with serious symptoms and in critical condition.

The previous record high of critically ill patients was 1,063 recorded earlier this week.

The number of deaths has also just surpassed 5,000 with 5,015 cumulative deaths reported.

Pedestrians walk on a pavement as it snows in Seoul on 18 December as South Korea reports a record number of people admitted to hospital with serious Covid-19 symptoms and in critical condition.
Pedestrians walk on a pavement as it snows in Seoul on 18 December as South Korea reports a record number of people admitted to hospital with serious Covid-19 symptoms and in critical condition.
Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea is struggling to contain a surge in Covid-19 cases that is placing intense pressure on medical services, prompting the prime minister, Kim Boo-kyum, to commit to securing an additional 10,000 hospital beds for patients with moderate to serious symptoms by the middle of next month, the Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea now requires citizens over 18 to present a quarantine pass, proof of Covid vaccination or negative PCR test to access indoor sports events, cinemas and concert halls. Other new restrictions include social distancing measures that will last until at least 2 January, limiting gatherings to no more than four people and forcing restaurants, cafes and bars to close by 9pm.

Emergency Covid testing sites are being set up in hard-hit areas across the US.

The first site opened in New York City on Wednesday, with more set to open next week.

Sites such as the one just opened in NYC hopes to provide 25,000 free PCR tests a week.

The new testing sites follow criticism of a widespread Covid testing shortage before the holidays. A surging demand for tests, driven by the new variant and the winter holidays, has led to long lines and shortages around the country.

Pressed about US testing shortages amid the Omicron surge, US president Joe Biden conceded in an interview with ABC that “nothing’s been good enough”.

“We’re nearly two years into the pandemic and a year into your presidency. Empty shelves and no test kits in some places, three days before Christmas … is that good enough?” asked ABC’s David Muir.

“No, nothing’s been good enough,” said Biden. “I wish I had thought about ordering” the 500m at-home tests two months ago, the president later added.

Fauci advises Americans against large holiday gatherings

Americans vaccinated and boosted who choose to attend large gatherings over the holidays may not be safe, even for those who received a booster dose, top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday.

Fauci told a White House briefing:

There are many of these parties that have 30, 40, 50 people in which you do not know the vaccination status of individuals. Those are the kind of functions in the context of Omicron that you do not want to go to.”

The seven-day average of Covid-19 cases in the United States rose 25% from the previous week to about 149,300 cases per day, said US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, with average daily deaths up 3.5% at 1,200.

Over in Canada, Quebec’s premier has just announced that beginning the day after Christmas, gatherings inside homes will be limited to six people or two family bubbles.

Restaurants are already operating at half capacity and need to close their doors at 10pm. Now they will also have to limit groups at tables to six people or two families from 26 December.

People wear face masks as they walk along Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal, as Quebec prepares to limit gatherings inside homes to six people or two family bubbles.
People wear face masks as they walk along Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal, as Quebec prepares to limit gatherings inside homes to six people or two family bubbles.
Photograph: Graham Hughes/AP

Premier Francois Legault said the “exponential” increase in coronavirus infections over the past week is continuing. He said Quebec will report about 9,000 news cases for Wednesday.

“For the past week, the number of cases has increased very rapidly,” Legault said.

Earlier this week, the French-speaking Canadian province abruptly closed bars, gyms and schools and warned that further restrictions could be coming while awaiting projections on the spread of the virus and its impact on hospitalisations.

Omicron carries lower hospitalisation risk, studies suggest

If you missed our earlier stories detailing the results of two recent studies out of the UK and South Africa, here’s a brief run-down on what it all means.

An Imperial College study analysed hospitalisations and vaccine records among both Omicron and Delta Covid cases in England between 1 and 14 December.

Researchers found the Omicron variant appears to be milder, with a 20%-25% reduced chance of a hospital visit and at least a 40% lower risk of being admitted overnight.

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A separate, preliminary analysis of Omicron cases in Scotland pointed to an even greater reduction in the risk of hospitalisation compared with Delta. Scientists on the Eave II study, using hospital data from 23 November to 19 December, concluded that the risk of hospitalisation may be 70% lower with Omicron than Delta.

South Africa has also reported data on Covid cases driven by the Omicron variant that appears to give added impetus to claims Omicron carries a lower severity of disease.

“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” said Prof Cheryl Cohen of the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), one of the authors of the 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 on Wednesday.

Updated

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog as we near the end of the week and the countdown to the holiday break really begins.

I’ll be bringing you all the latest Covid developments from across the world.

Let’s start with some promising news that the Omicron variant – which has so far been detected in 106 countries – may be less severe than other coronavirus strains such as Delta.

The latest data suggest Omicron does not cause more severe illness than previous variants, but soaring infection numbers could still cause more deaths.

“We do have some data suggesting that rates of hospitalisation are lower,” said WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, while cautioning against drawing conclusions from early data.

Kerkhove’s statement seems to be backed by two studies out of South Africa and the UK. Researchers from the Imperial College in London found the Omicron variant appears to be milder, with a 20%-25% reduced chance of a hospital visit and at least a 40% lower risk of being admitted overnight.

The findings follow a study from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) which found “reduced severity” of Omicron compared to other variants.

“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” said NICD professor Cheryl Cohen.

As Covid numbers continue to increase throughout practically all regions of the world, China is continuing to pursue it’s strict Covid-zero policy.

Authorities in the northern city of Xi’an have imposed a stringent lockdown after 52 new reported infections were recorded.

More than 13 million people will be ordered to stay at home except to buy necessities once every two days or in emergencies from midnight on Thursday.

Here’s a run-down of all the Covid news you may have missed:

Europe

  • Covid booster drives are likely to prolong the pandemic, head of the World Health Organization has said.
  • The WHO’s European chief has warned countries to brace for a “significant surge” in cases as Omicron spreads across the continent.
  • The WHO also cautioned there is not enough data on Omicron severity yet.
  • European countries including Germany, Sweden, Finland and Portugal announced they will reimpose Covid curbs just before or after Christmas.
  • Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi said the government is preparing new Covid restrictions, including the return to mandatory mask-wearing outdoors and the use of more protective FFP2 masks indoors.
  • Wales will impose a rule of six in pubs, cinemas and restaurants from 26 December.
  • France could soon have around 100,000 new Covid cases a day, health minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday, up from around 70,000 currently as the country battles a fifth wave of the epidemic.
  • France on Wednesday also opened vaccinations to children aged between five and 11.
  • The UK recorded 106,122 new Covid cases on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since the beginning of the pandemic and the first time cases have passed 100,000.
  • Britain has signed contracts to buy a further 4.25m courses of antivirals for its health service to help combat the Omicron variant.
  • England cuts Covid self-isolation to seven days with a negative test.
  • Denmark will tighten restrictions in schools from 5 January with pupils and staff taking two weekly tests, staff and parents urged to wear facemasks.
  • Belgium is set to close cinemas and theatres close from this weekend in tightening of Covid measures.
  • Face masks will once again be compulsory at all times outdoors in Spain.
  • Germany’s new health minister Karl Lauterbach suggested a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose would be required in order to protect against the Omicron variant.

United States

  • US regulators approve the first Covid antiviral pill.
  • The US recorded the lowest rate of population growth in its history in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the US Census Bureau.

Asia

  • Japan has confirmed its first known local transmissions of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Osaka.
  • In northern China, the city of Xi’an has entered lockdown, ordering all 13 million residents to stay home from midnight on Thursday. Households may only “send one household member outside once every two days to purchase necessities” while everyone else must remain indoors except in the case of an emergency.
  • Singapore will freeze the sale of tickets for arriving flights and buses under its quarantine-free travel programme for four weeks from Thursday.

Africa

  • A study from South Africa suggests Omicron carries a lower risk of hospitalisation and severe disease. Scientists from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) found the risk of hospital admission was roughly 80% lower for those infected with Omicron compared with Delta though high population immunity may also be a factor.
  • Unvaccinated people in Kenya will be banned from public places, the health ministry said.

Middle East

  • Israel will offer a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine to people over the age of 60 or with compromised immune systems, and to health workers.
  • In Nigeria, around a million AstraZeneca Covid doses donated by developed countries were destroyed Wednesday after they expired.
  • AstraZeneca has said it is working with Oxford University to produce a vaccine for the Omicron variant.

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