Covid news live: Omicron found in one-third of US states but early reports on severity are ‘encouraging’, Fauci says

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid news live: Omicron found in one-third of US states but early reports on severity are ‘encouraging’, Fauci says” was written by Samantha Lock, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th December 2021 03.59 UTC

India has reported an additional 8,306 new Covid cases in the last 24 hours, according to recently released figures from the ministry of health.

The nation’s active caseload currently stands at 98,416 and is the lowest reported in 552 days.

On Sunday, Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s minister for health, announced over 50% of the eligible population had been fully vaccinated.

A school girl walks past a Covid-19 mural in Mumbai, India, on 1 December.
A school girl walks past a Covid-19 mural in Mumbai, India, on 1 December.
Photograph: Hemanshi Kamani/Reuters

Updated

US president Joe Biden has announced that health insurers in the US must cover the cost of at-home Covid testing from next month.

Private health insurers already cover the cost for PCR tests taken at a doctor’s office but will now cover tests taken at home, too.

For those Americans not covered by private health insurance, free tests will be made available at other locations across the country.

“The bottom line, this winter, you’ll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind,” Biden said.

New Zealand has purchased 60,000 courses of Pfizer’s oral antiviral medication to treat early infections of Covid-19, subject to Medsafe approval, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

“It’s a big step forward for the management of Covid-19 globally. That brings the suite of Covid medicine secured and managed by PHARMAC to six in total, three of which are already in use in our hospitals and the rest of which, subject to Medsafe approval, will arrive in New Zealand early in the new year,” Ardern said.

The prime minister said alongside vaccinations, hospital treatments were already reducing the likelihood of people needing intensive care, with rates in Auckland dropping from 5.7% seen early in the pandemic to 3%.

Health experts will provide a more extensive briefing at the end of the week about the treatments, Ardern said.

The country reported 135 new cases of the Delta variant in the community on Monday, bringing the total in the current outbreak to 9,171.

The nation’s eligible population – 12 years and older – is set to hit the 90% double-vaccinated goal by 15 December.

Updated

Germany has reported an additional 27,836 daily Covid cases and 81 deaths, according to recently released figures from the Robert Koch Institute.

The European nation is currently mulling compulsory vaccinations for some health care employees in order to curb the spread of the virus.

Germany has recorded a cumulative total of 103,121 deaths and 6,185,961 confirmed coronavirus cases.

The Johnson & Johnson booster shot may work well for those who originally had a Pfizer vaccine, a recent study has found.

Researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston studied 65 people who had received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. Six months after the second dose, the researchers gave 24 of the volunteers a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine and gave 41 the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Both vaccines boosted the number of Covid-fighting T-cells but the T-cell increase delivered by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was twice as high as that of Pfizer’s, according to the research.

Volunteers who received a third Pfizer dose saw their antibody levels jump after two weeks, and then decline by a quarter by the fourth week. The Johnson & Johnson booster more than doubled antibody levels between the second and fourth weeks where Pfizer’s antibodies were still about 50% higher than Johnson & Johnson’s. Both levels were well above the threshold scientists believe is needed for strong protection.

The results differ from earlier studies, including a “mix and match” clinical trial organised by the National Institutes of Health that reported that all three authorised vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — caused antibody levels to rise when used as a booster, with Johnson & Johnson’s shot providing a much smaller boost than the others.

The difference between the two studies might be explained by the length of delay between shots, the New York Times suggests. In the NIH. trial, many of the volunteers got their booster shots after three or four months, versus the new study’s wait of six months. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine therefore seems to have benefited more from the longer wait.

The study was funded in part by Johnson & Johnson and has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

A Johnson and Johnson booster vaccine is prepared in Cape Town, South Africa.
A Johnson and Johnson booster vaccine is prepared in Cape Town, South Africa.
Photograph: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP

Next pandemic could be more lethal, says Oxford jab creator

The coronavirus pandemic is far from over and the next one could be even more lethal, the creator of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has said.

Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert cautioned that while it was increasingly obvious that “this pandemic is not done with us”, the next one could be worse.

Delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby lecture, due to be broadcast on the BBC on Monday, Gilbert said that despite the destructive nature of a two-year pandemic that had already infected more than 265 million people, the next one might be more contagious and claim even more lives.

“This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods,” she said. “The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”

Read the full story by our reporters Andrew Gregory and Jessica Elgot here.

Updated

South Africa has reported a daily increase of 11,125 new Covid cases on Sunday, a slight decrease in number on previous days.

Just one death in the country was reported over the last 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 89,966.

US Senator Bernie Sanders has called upon pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccines, describing the current global vaccine inequality as “obscene”.

“This is obscene. Last week, 8 investors in Pfizer and Moderna became $10 billion richer as news about the Omicron variant spread,” Sanders tweeted on Sunday evening.

“It’s time for these pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccines with the world and start controlling their greed. Enough is enough!”

The global disparity in vaccination rates is evident in the map below.

Health experts continue to call for action to tackle the crisis of vaccine inequality between rich and poor countries.

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Failure to vaccinate the world against coronavirus created the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of the Omicron variant and should serve as a wake-up call to wealthy nations, campaigners have said.

Scientists and global health experts have called for action to tackle the crisis of vaccine inequality between rich and poor countries. The longer large parts of the world remained unvaccinated, they said, the more likely the virus was to mutate significantly.

The emergence of such a variant threatens to derail efforts to end the pandemic. The World Health Organization says the heavily mutated Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that may have severe consequences in some places.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAids and co-chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a campaign group, said:

Omicron is with us because we have failed to vaccinate the world. This should be a wake-up call.

“Business as usual has led to huge profits for pharmaceutical firms, but many people left unvaccinated means that this virus continues to mutate. It is the definition of madness to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. We need to press reset.”

Read the fully story from our reporter Andrew Gregory here.

Early reports on Omicron severity are ‘encouraging’, Fauci says

Dr Anthony Fauci said on Sunday the threat to the US from the Omicron variant remained to be determined – but that signs from South Africa, where the variant emerged, were encouraging.

“Clearly in South Africa Omicron has a transmission advantage,” Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union, “because … they were very much at a low level then they had almost a vertical spike upwards, which is almost exclusively Omicron.

Thus far – though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it – it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it.

“But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that [Omicron] is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to Delta. But, thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging regarding the severity. But, again, you got to hold judgment until we get more experience.”

Germany plans vaccine mandates for some health jobs

The incoming German government wants to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory from 16 March for people working in hospitals, nursing homes and other medical practices, according to a copy of draft legislation seen by Reuters on Sunday.

The European nation is currently battling a surge in Covid infections as officials propose more drastic measures to curb the spread before Christmas.

The Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, which are set to form the new German government on Wednesday, are set to present the legislation to parliament in the coming week.

The draft seen by Reuters said staff working in these areas would have to prove that they are vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 or present a medical certificate to show they cannot be vaccinated by 15 March.

The draft legislation also grants permission for dentists, veterinarians and pharmacists to be allowed to give shots for a temporary period with the appropriate training.

The proposed legislation extends until 15 February temporary measures that would allow Germany’s federal states to introduce more drastic lockdown measures if needed, the news agency reports.

People visit a stall at a Christmas market near Alexanderplatz in Berlin on 5 December as Germany battles a surge in Covid-19 infections ahead of the holiday season.
People visit a stall at a Christmas market near Alexanderplatz in Berlin on 5 December as Germany battles a surge in Covid-19 infections ahead of the holiday season.
Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

Omicron found in one-third of US states

The Omicron variant has been found in at least 16 US states so far, with the number of cases “likely to rise”, Dr Rochelle Walensky, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Sunday.

Walensky told ABC News:

“We know we have several dozen cases and we’re following them closely. And we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise.”

California was the first US state to confirm the presence of the variant. Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin have also followed suit, according to a Reuters tally.

Many of the cases were among fully vaccinated individuals with mild symptoms, although the booster shot status of some patients was not reported.

The Delta variant continues to account for 99.9% of new Covid cases in the United States, Walensky added.

Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s coronavirus live blog.

I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be bringing you all the latest developments from around the world. Let’s dive right in.

The Omicron variant has been found in at least 15 US states so far, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.

“We know we have several dozen cases and we’re following them closely. And we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC News in an interview, adding that the Delta variant remains the majority in cases nationwide.

Omicron has been detected in the Northeast, the South, the Great Plains and the West Coast. Wisconsin, Missouri and Louisiana are among the latest states to confirm cases.

Germany’s incoming new government is set to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for workers of hospitals, nursing homes and other medical staff by 16 March, according to draft legislation seen by Reuters.

The Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, which are set to form the new German government on Wednesday, are set to present the legislation to parliament in the coming week.

Here is a snapshot of the key developments:

  • Protests in Brussels, Belgium, against government restrictions to suppress Covid turned violent on Sunday, with police firing teargas and water cannon at demonstrators who threw cobblestones and fireworks.
  • There has been a “concerning” jump to 183 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Denmark, local health authorities said.
  • Five senior health officers in Jordan were sentenced to three years in prison on Sunday, for causing the deaths of ten Covid patients in March following an oxygen outage.
  • Russia recorded 32,602 infections and 1,206 deaths.
  • Poland confirmed 22,389 cases and 45 deaths.
  • Italy reported 15,021 new Covid cases and 43 deaths on Sunday, 16% up from 12,927 on the same day last week.
  • The UK detected 43,992 positive Covid infections in the past 24 hours, up 21% from 36,507 cases on Sunday last week. A further 54 deaths were reported.
  • France recorded 42,252 new Covid infections in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said, a percentage change of 188% from the 14,646 cases recorded on Sunday three weeks ago.
  • Singapore detected 552 Covid infections and 13 deaths on Sunday, taking the seven-day average to 971 cases a day.
  • The UK’s NHS will be in a “very, very difficult position” if the Omicron variant were to lead to a surge in hospital admissions in the UK, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has warned.
  • The Omicron variant is highly transmissible, but has a less than 1% chance of re-infection and typically results in “milder” disease, a South African researcher as said.
  • Covid is not over and the next pandemic could be more lethal, the creator of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert has said.
  • The World Health Organization continues to reject travel bans against southern African countries, with Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeting it is “disappointing” and “dismaying” to see bans on flights.

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