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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 7th Feb 2022

Lockdown Exit
Can the Technology Behind Covid Vaccines Cure Other Diseases?
Now scientists, governments and drugmakers are asking, what else can mRNA do? Many believe that mRNA could serve as the basis for a new generation of vaccines and drugs against a range of other diseases. Efforts in development include cancer therapies tailored to individual patients that can be assembled in a few weeks and HIV vaccines to be given periodically in lieu of current daily pills. Clinical trials for mRNA products are also under way for influenza, and vaccines are in development for malaria, tuberculosis and liver ailments. Questions remain about whether mRNA can be readily applied to other diseases. The technology has been especially effective against Covid-19 for reasons peculiar to the virus. Other diseases pose a series of new challenges, from whether mRNA can get to where it needs to go in the body to how long it needs to remain to be effective.
Poor Countries Affected by Covid Worst, Facing Pandemic Debt Crunch
The pandemic has taken its heaviest toll in some of the world’s poorest countries. Indebted governments from Latin America to Africa spent money they didn’t have to shore up rickety health systems and provide a safety net for citizens, pushing their finances further into the red. Creditor nations helped them by suspending debt repayments and lending them more. Now those waivers have ended and global borrowing costs are on the rise, raising the risk of disorderly defaults.
Britain's pandemic modellers say future large waves of COVID possible
There is a realistic possibility of large waves of COVID-19 infection in the future in Britain and such waves might even be considered likely, epidemiologists who model the COVID-19 pandemic to inform government advice have said. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ditched legal restrictions in England, saying that, while the pandemic was not over, Britain needs to learn to live with COVID. The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) said the emergence of new viral variants was the biggest unknown factor in the medium-to-long term, along with waning population immunity and changes in mixing patterns.
New Zealand PM Ardern urges unity on COVID on Waitangi Day
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged New Zealanders on Sunday to unite in their battle against COVID-19, as the pandemic forced the country to celebrate its national Waitangi Day online. A growing outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has pushed all commemorations online, prompting Ardern to urge vaccinations. "We all have a duty to do everything we can to protect our communities with all the tools that science and medicine have given us," Ardern said in a pre-recorded speech. "Togetherness is something we have shown throughout the last few years. I know it hasn't always been easy ... But together we have, and we continue to, overcome."
Some 50 Iranian MPs test positive for COVID as Omicran rages - lawmaker
Some 50 members of Iran’s 290-seat parliament have contracted COVID-19, a senior MP said on Saturday as the Omicron variant spreads unabated across the county. MP Alireza Salimi, speaking to YJC, a news agency linked to Iran’s state TV, said this week’s parliamentary session would be held in accordance with health regulations. Parliament was suspended for two weeks last April due to an outbreak among MPs. In the early days of the pandemic, several lawmakers died from the virus.
Turkey's President Erdogan tests positive for COVID-19
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he had tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19. "The result of COVID-19 tests done with my wife after showing mild symptoms came back positive," Erdogan said in a tweet, adding that both had the Omicron variant of the virus. "We will continue our work at home. We look forward to your prayers," he added. Officials of his AKP ruling party, ministers and opposition leaders wished him a speedy recovery.
What parents want to know about Covid-19 vaccines for children
Increasing numbers of children around the world are becoming infected with Covid-19 as the Omicron variant fuels a surge in cases. In many places this reflects the fact that children are less likely to be vaccinated, prompting many governments to redouble their efforts to boost vaccination rates. In Hong Kong, for example, the Sinovac and BioNTech vaccines will be made available to 400,000 children aged between five and 11. Some parents have questioned whether the vaccines will affect their children’s growth and development, or whether there are pros and cons to different types of vaccine. Here are some of the most common issues raised.
Health minister on gatherings, vaccine mandates and the end of masks in South Africa
In a media briefing on Friday (4 February), Phaahla said this is in line with previous trends, with vaccinations still seen as the country’s best form of protection. He added that the country could see an increase in cases earlier than expected should they be driven by a new Covid variant. South Africa has seen a plateau in the decline of new Covid-19 cases in the last two weeks, with an increase in infections reported in the Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Phaahla said this plateau can be linked to the opening of schools, with more people under 20 testing positive in recent weeks. It is also possible that increased movement after the December holidays has also contributed.
Malaysia’s Covid Cases May Hit 15,000 a Day as Omicron Spreads
Malaysia’s new coronavirus infections may hit 15,000 a day soon from the spread of the highly-contagious omicron variant, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said as he urged citizens to take their booster shots. The nation is “fully into omicron wave,” he said in a tweet after Sunday’s caseload topped 10,000 for the first time in four months. “There are still 1 million seniors who do not have a booster dose. Please inform your loved ones to get booster dose immediately.” Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a separate tweet that daily cases could reach 22,000 by the end of March if the reproduction factor of the virus remains at 1.2. Still, the nation’s wide vaccination coverage would ensure the severity of the infections and hospital admissions remain low, he said.
China’s Forever War Against Covid-19
First, thanks to the underreported prevalence of mild and symptomless cases in Wuhan, the disease was likely already present globally and in the U.S. Second, look for China’s Orwellian online and offline monitoring capabilities to be employed in an ...
No large fluctuations in Olympics COVID cases expected, organisers say
A sharp drop in COVID-19 cases on Feb. 5 among Beijing Olympics-related personnel was due to fewer arrivals at the airport and organisers said on Sunday that they did not expect any more large fluctuations in infection numbers. China detected 10 new COVID cases among Olympic Games-related personnel on Feb. 5, the organising committee of the Games said. That was down from Feb. 4's 45 cases - the second highest daily tally since arrivals commenced last month.
Some Virginia college students worried about end of coronavirus vaccine mandates
Coronavirus vaccines — and more specifically, vaccine mandates — have been an integral part of the reopening plans on college campuses throughout the country. At one point in Virginia, more than a dozen public universities were requiring students and employees to get their doses. But recent changes in the state’s government have complicated that strategy. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who took office last month, ordered state agencies, including public colleges and universities, to stop requiring employees to be vaccinated. Attorney General Jason S. Miyares later issued a legal opinion that public campuses are not authorized to impose vaccination mandates for students. The changes were a blow to students who have been pushing leaders to take additional safety precautions during the pandemic.
Exit Strategies
Record Covid cases in Russia and Ukraine complicate military plans
The Omicron variant is causing record numbers of new Covid infections in Russia and Ukraine, threatening to impact military calculations over Russia’s continued troop buildup. Analysts have cited various factors as possible contributors to whether and how Russia will launch an assault on Ukraine, ranging from Vladimir Putin’s psychological state to the strength of the western response and even the firmness of the ground during a mild winter in the region. Covid is emerging as another element that may complicate plans for the Russian and Ukrainian armies, as record case numbers in both societies are replicated among the troops. Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of the Ukrainian land forces, told the Guardian that from about 150,000 soldiers in his ranks, 2,400 were infected by Covid.
Russia eases COVID restrictions as daily cases hit record
Russia will ease some of its COVID-19 restrictions from Sunday, the consumer health watchdog announced on Saturday, despite reporting a record daily number of cases as the Omicron variant spreads across the country. The number of daily infections has been surging since January. But the highly transmissible Omicron variant has not led to a significant increase in deaths, and the Kremlin has recently dismissed concerns about the risk of new lockdowns. According to the latest order from the consumer health watchdog, from Sunday people will no longer need to self-isolate after contacting those infected with COVID-19.
US COVID death toll, sped by Omicron, surpasses 900,000
Propelled by the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant, the US COVID-19 death toll hit 900,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, less than two months after the country surpassed 800,000 fatalities. Friday’s sombre milestone comes 13 months into a US vaccination drive that has been beset by misinformation and political strife, though the jabs have proved safe and highly effective at preventing serious illness and death. “It is an astronomically high number,” said Dr Ashish K Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “If you had told most Americans two years ago as this pandemic was getting going that 900,000 Americans would die over the next few years, I think most people would not have believed it.”
Merck’s Covid Pill Fumble Gives Pfizer Potential $17 Billion Win
Almost as quickly as Covid-19 erupted in early 2020, so too did the rush to find drugs, either old or new, to treat the contagion spreading around the world. While researchers soon identified some that quelled late-stage symptoms or weakly restrained the virus, Paxlovid, a pill from Pfizer Inc. that prevents severe disease, appears poised to take a solid lead in the lucrative coronavirus treatment market. Yet an important component of Pfizer’s antiviral has links to a drug from rival Merck: boceprevir, developed decades ago to fight hepatitis C.
GoFundMe Boots Canada Trucker Fundraiser Opposing Vaccine Rules
GoFundMe has removed a fundraiser for Canadian truckers opposing vaccine mandates from its platform, saying the campaign violates terms prohibiting the promotion of violence. Protesters have occupied the streets of the Canadian capital, Ottawa, for nearly a week, demonstrating against Canadian and U.S. laws requiring truckers crossing the border to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Donations to “Freedom Convoy 2022” on GoFundMe surpassed more than C$10 million ($7.8 million) earlier this week.
Australia Eyes Return of Foreign Tourists After Two-Year Lockout
Australia plans to open its borders to international tourists as soon as possible, a government minister said Sunday, following a report that they will be allowed back by the end of February after a Covid-related hiatus of almost two years. “We are getting ready to open as soon as we can,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in an ABC TV interview. “We don’t have all the information we need to be able to take the decision, but we are very close.” Overseas tourists could be back within two or three weeks, the Herald Sun paper reported earlier on Sunday, citing an unnamed senior government source.
Austria passes Covid vaccine mandate, but question marks linger over enforcement
Austria has become the first country in the EU to make vaccinations against Covid-19 mandatory for all adults, but questions remain over whether it can sway those sceptical of taking the jab and how much the Alpine state’s government is willing to press those who won’t comply. The upper house of the Austrian parliament, the Bundesrat, on Thursday evening voted 47-12 in favour of a general vaccination mandate, formally approving a law that will see those over the age of 18 who decline to take a jab face penalties of up to 3,600 euros, unless they are pregnant or severely ill. The legislation, which was signed by Austria’s president Alexander Van der Bellen on Friday and will come into effect over the coming days, has been followed with great interest across Europe, where other nations have considered taking a similar step.
Increased COVID cases at Beijing Games no reason for concern, organisers say
COVID-19 cases inside Beijing's Winter Olympic Games bubble hit the second highest since arrivals began after 45 new cases were detected on Feb. 4, but organisers say the situation is under control and cases confined to the 'closed loop'. The cases among Olympics-related personnel were up from 21 a day earlier while cases in the bubble that restricts the movements of Games participants, reached 19, compared with seven a day earlier.
California tops 80,000 deaths as virus cases tumble
Coronavirus deaths in California have topped 80,000 and another 3,000 people are projected to die by month’s end even as infections, hospitalizations and intensive care cases are falling almost as fast as they climbed during the rapid-fire omicron wave of the pandemic. The toll reached 80,688 on Friday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. That is the highest in the U.S., but the nation’s most populous state has a per capita death rate that is among the lowest at 38th. Texas has only a few hundred fewer deaths than California but has 10 million fewer residents and therefore a higher per capita rate. “This milestone is a grim reminder of the real human toll of this pandemic,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan, who urged Californians to get vaccinated and boosted
Mark McGowan press conference: Four new mystery cases as local COVID infections rise by 25
WA’s active COVID case load has expanded by more than two dozen infections, the Premier has revealed, as the State prepares to welcome 6,000 interstate travellers on the first day of eased border restrictions. Twenty-five new local cases were recorded overnight, Mark McGowan said. Of those, 21 have been linked to current outbreaks. The source of the remaining four infections are under investigation. Some 7684 tests were undertaken in the past 24 hours.
Partisan Exits
Booster campaign stalls as ‘partygate’ undermines trust in official advice
The Covid booster campaign has stalled, and declining trust in the prime minister is part of the problem, say scientists. Only 26,875 people in England had a third dose or booster on 1 February, the latest complete figures available, and 6 million people are at least six weeks overdue for their shot. Behavioural scientists, including government advisers, and public health leaders say the huge drop in take-up in just one month is fuelled by the widespread belief that Boris Johnson flouted his own Covid rules. Although Omicron is less deadly than previous variants, it remains a significant health risk to the estimated 5.1 million unvaccinated people aged over 12 in the UK, and the rolling seven-day average of deaths in Britain is above 240.
Misinformation and distrust: behind Bolivia’s low Covid vaccination rates
South America, once the region most afflicted by the pandemic, is now the most vaccinated in the world. But this turnaround doesn’t extend to Bolivia, where roughly half the population is yet to receive a single dose – even though the state has had all the vaccines it needs since October. As it stands, 45% of the population has received two doses, and a further 12% have had a single dose. Less than 7% have received a booster dose. Data leaked from the Ministry of Health before Christmas gave a more detailed snapshot, revealing huge variations between municipalities. In general, departmental capitals had high levels of vaccination. Smaller cities were doing less well. But in many rural municipalities, particularly in the altiplano, less than 30% of the adult population had received a dose.
Ottawa Declares Emergency as Protests Spin 'Out of Control'
Canada’s capital declared a state of emergency Sunday as police struggled to rein in ongoing protests against vaccine mandates. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who declared the emergency, said in a statement that the increasingly rowdy demonstrations posed a “serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents.” Hundreds of trucks continued to occupy the downtown area near Canada’s parliament with no sign that the protesters planned to leave. The protests started in reaction to Canadian and U.S. laws that went into effect in January, requiring truckers crossing the border to be fully vaccinated. They have since morphed into a rally against Covid restrictions more broadly.
Beijing Winter Olympics’ Covid Cases Accelerate as Games Open
Beijing reported a pickup in new Covid-19 cases among those in China for the Winter Olympics on the day the games kicked off, highlighting challenges to contain the virus as more participants arrive.
Canadian cities brace for more anti vaccine mandate protests
Thousands of people demonstrated in Canadian cities, including the financial hub Toronto, on Saturday as mostly peaceful but noisy protests against vaccine mandates spread from Ottawa, the capital. The "Freedom Convoy" began as a movement against a Canadian vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a rallying point against public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government. “We're all sick and tired of the mandates, of the intimidation, of living in one big prison,” said Robert, a Toronto protester who did not give his last name. "We just want to go back to normal without having to take into our veins the poison which they call vaccines.”
Thousands protest vaccine mandates in Canada, further fraying nerves
Thousands of people demonstrated in Canadian cities, including the financial hub Toronto, on Saturday as mostly peaceful but noisy protests against vaccine mandates spread from Ottawa, the capital. The "Freedom Convoy" began as a movement against a Canadian vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a rallying point against public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government. “We're all sick and tired of the mandates, of the intimidation, of living in one big prison,” said Robert, a Toronto protester who did not give his last name. "We just want to go back to normal without having to take into our veins the poison which they call vaccines.”
WHO chief says discussed collaboration on COVID origins with Chinese premier
The head of the World Health Organization said on Saturday he had discussed with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the need for stronger collaboration on the origins of COVID-19, a subject of controversy that has strained Beijing's relations with the West. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has previously pressed China to be more forthcoming with data and information related to the origin of the virus. "Pleased to meet with Premier Li Keqiang," Tedros tweeted. "We discussed COVID-19 and the need for an aggressive effort on VaccinEquity this year to vaccinate 70% of all populations," he said, referrring to the WHO campaign for fair access to vaccines around the world.
Thousands of Covid mandate protestors rally across Canada
Thousands of Covid restriction protestors took to the streets on Saturday for demonstrations across Canada’s cities, continuing the “Freedom Convoy” rally which shut down Ottawa for days. The protests first started in late January as a demonstration against a Covid vaccine mandate for Canada’s truckers, but the movement has since shifted into a large-scale rally against Covid restrictions as a whole. “We're all sick and tired of the mandates, of the intimidation, of living in one big prison,” a demonstrator at a rally in Toronto, identified only as Robert, told Reuters.
Scientific Viewpoint
Three COVID-19 vaccine-infection combinations create quality antibodies
Three encounters with the coronavirus spike protein from varying infection-vaccine combinations grant the immune system a high-quality (and not just high quantity) antibody response, according to a newly published study written by scientists who tracked the antibodies of vaccinated and recovered individuals for two years. The scientists - Prof. Ulrike Protzer, Director of the Institute of Virology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM, Prof. Percy Knolle, Professor of Molecular Immunology at TUM, and Prof. Oliver Keppler (Max von Pettenkofer Institute and Gene Center Munich at LMU) - published their findings online in the peer-reviewed Nature Medicine journal on January 28.
Hong Kong logs record 351 Covid-19 cases as official warns of ‘exponential’ rise
Health chief Sophia Chan warns cross-family and social activities during Lunar New Year will trigger an ‘exponential’ rise in cases. Home quarantine will be arranged for asymptomatic patients or those with mild symptoms if case numbers continue to increase
COVID: What we know so far about the Omicron subvariant BA.2
As the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues its frenetic spread around the world, a new subvariant has been detected in dozens of countries. Omicron was first reported by South Africa in November and has since replaced the Delta variant in most countries as the most prevalent strain. The dominant form of Omicron, known as BA.1, continues to account for the vast majority of confirmed new COVID-19 infections globally, but another subvariant, known as BA.2, has begun to outcompete it in some places. Some early studies have shown BA.2 appears to be more transmissible than the dominant BA.1 subvariant – leading scientists to ramp up their investigations. The strain is being closely watched in countries including Denmark, India and Nepal where it has become dominant, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Omicron Subvariant BA.2 Is Gaining Ground. Should We Worry?
Two years into the pandemic, a mutated version of the omicron variant, known as BA.2, has become the latest challenge to taming Covid-19. The subvariant, detected in at least 57 countries, appears to spread even more easily than the original. But so far it doesn’t seem to cause more severe disease and booster shots remain an effective shield. Scientists are racing to answer a number of questions about this variant as they prepare for the next one.
U.S. CDC backs full approval of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signed off on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's full approval of Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine in those aged 18 and over, the agency said on Friday. The vaccine has been in use under the U.S Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization since December 2020, and is now the second fully approved vaccine for COVID-19 in the United States.
Approval of COVID vaccine made in South Africa could take 3 years, WHO says
The mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine produced at the World Health Organization-backed vaccine hub in South Africa could take up to three years to get approval if companies do not share their technology and data, a WHO official said on Friday. The WHO-backed tech transfer hub in South Africa was set up in June to give poorer nations the know-how to produce COVID-19 vaccines, after market leaders of the mRNA COVID vaccine, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna, declined a WHO request to share their technology and expertise.
UK scientists look to repurpose existing antiviral drugs for COVID
British researchers want to repurpose existing antiviral therapies to treat COVID-19, the University of Oxford said on Friday, in an attempt to sidestep lengthy development processes through readily available drugs. Scientists will initially screen 138 drugs with known antiviral activity against the COVID-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus to study and identify potent combinations, the university said in a statement on Friday. The rapid spread of Omicron across the world has also forced researchers to find options that work against the variant. Britain currently has the seventh-highest tally of COVID cases globally, according to Reuters.
U.S. considers lengthening gap between first 2 COVID shots to 8 weeks
U.S. health officials on Friday said they are considering lengthening the recommended interval between the first two doses of the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines to eight weeks to lower the risk of heart inflammation and improve their effectiveness. Dr. Sara Oliver, an official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the agency was considering making the recommendation for Moderna (MRNA.O) and Pfizer (PFE.N)/BioNTech shots during a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of outside advisers to the CDC. In the United States, the recommended interval between the first two shots of Pfizer's vaccine is three weeks and for Moderna's, four.
Coronavirus Resurgence
Fifty Iranian MPs contract Covid as Omicron spreads across country
Fifty members of Iran’s 290-seat parliament have contracted Covid, a senior MP said, as the Omicron variant spreads unabated across the country. Alireza Salimi, speaking to YJC, a news agency linked to Iran’s state TV, said this week’s parliamentary session would be held in accordance with health regulations. Parliament was suspended for two weeks last April due to an outbreak among MPs. In the early days of the pandemic, several lawmakers died from the virus.
Korea surpasses 1 million total COVID-19 cases
South Korea surpassed one million cumulative COVID-19 cases Sunday since the pandemic began as health officials reported a daily record of 38,691 new infections driven by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The country saw its first confirmed COVID-19 case Jan. 20, 2020, and soon became the first country outside China to battle a major outbreak. An aggressive strategy of tracking, tracing, masking and quarantining helped South Korea blunt that initial wave and keep overall cases and deaths low without widespread lockdowns, but the spread of the Omicron variant is driving case numbers to new highs. Deaths have remained low in the highly vaccinated country, however, 15 new fatalities were reported Saturday by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
India's COVID deaths cross 500000 but some analysts count millions more
The country, which has the fourth-highest tally of deaths globally, recorded 400,000 deaths by July 2021 after the devastating outbreak from the Delta variant of the coronavirus, according to official data. Some believe the figures were much higher. "Our study published in the journal Science estimates 3 million COVID deaths in India until mid-2021 using three different databases," Chinmay Tumbe, an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, who co-authored the study, told Reuters. Last month, the Indian government dismissed the study as baseless in a notification saying there is a robust system of birth and death reporting.
Hong Kong Daily Covid Cases Surge to 351, Double Previous Record
Hong Kong reported a record 351 daily coronavirus cases on Saturday, more than double its previous highest daily tally, as the city struggles to contain a fifth wave of infections. Locally transmitted infections accounted for 343 of the total, Hong Kong health officials said at press conference. The city’s previous highest number of cases was 164 reported on Jan. 27. The surge in infections followed Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s announcement on Friday of measures to provide “tens of millions” of home testing kits to the city’s 7.4 million residents. She also signaled that the government might tighten social-distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus, in a city that has pursued a Covid Zero strategy.
UK reports 254 more COVID deaths, 84053 cases
Britain reported 84,053 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and a further 254 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, as numbers drifted lower following a wave of Omicron cases at the turn of the year. The number of new cases in the past seven days was down 2.4% on a week before at 614,720, while the number of deaths was 3.4% down on the previous week at 1,766.
Singapore's daily local COVID-19 cases triple to more than 13,000
Singapore reported a record 13,046 local coronavirus infections on Friday, triple the previous day's tally. Singapore has recorded 85,357 cases of the virus over the last 28 days, but 99.7% of them had no or mild symptoms. The country has fully vaccinated 89% of the total population against COVID-19, while 59% have received boosters shots. Authorities have previously warned that daily cases could rise to as many 15,000 due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Hong Kong reports record daily high of 351 coronavirus cases
Hong Kong reported 351 cases of coronavirus on Saturday, a record daily high since the outbreak of the pandemic, further pressuring the government's "dynamic zero-COVID" strategy as other major cities opt to live with the virus. Health Secretary Sophia Chan said at a news conference she expects cases to rise "exponentially" following the Lunar New Year holiday due to an increase in family and social gatherings and appealed several times for people to stay indoors. "Stay at home, please," Chan said as she again urged people, especially the elderly, to get vaccinated.
U.S. coronavirus deaths surpass 900,000, driven in part by Omicron surge
The coronavirus pandemic reached a grim new milestone in the United States on Friday with the nation's cumulative death toll from COVID-19 surpassing 900,000, even as the daily number of lives lost has begun to level off, according to data collected by Reuters. The latest tally marks an increase of more than 100,000 U.S. COVID-19 fatalities since Dec. 12, coinciding with a surge of infections and hospitalizations driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus. Preliminary evidence has shown that Omicron, while far more infectious, generally causes less severe illness than earlier iterations of the virus, such as Delta. But the sheer volume of Omicron cases fueled a surge in hospitalizations that has strained many U.S. healthcare systems to their limits in recent weeks.
New Zealand reports record 243 new COVID cases
New Zealand reported a record 243 new COVID-19 community cases on Saturday, as officials warned more cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant are expected but urged people in the highly vaccinated nation not to panic. The country of five million people has kept its borders closed since early 2020. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday a full reopening will happen only by October. The border closure, combined with lockdowns and strict social distancing rules have limited the spread of the coronavirus, with just over 17,000 infections and 53 related deaths.
South Korea surpasses 1 million total COVID cases with daily record
South Korea on Sunday surpassed one million cumulative COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, as health officials reported a daily record of 38,691 new infections driven by an Omicron variant outbreak. South Korea saw its first confirmed COVID-19 case on January 20, 2020, and soon became the first country outside China to battle a major outbreak. An aggressive strategy of tracking, tracing, masking and quarantining helped South Korea to blunt that initial wave and keep overall cases and deaths low without widespread lockdowns, but the spread of the Omicron variant is driving case numbers to new highs.
Malaysia's daily COVID cases hit four-month high
Malaysia reported 9,117 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, the highest daily figure in four months, due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The new cases bring the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 2,904,131. Malaysia has also reported over 32,000 deaths. Noor Hisham Abdullah, the director general of health, has said Malaysia is expected to see a surge in COVID-19 infections and that the country's high vaccination rate has resulted in fewer number of severe cases.