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COVID-19

US braces as Omicron ‘almost definitely here’

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(Last Updated On: November 29, 2021)

Americans have been advised to prepare to eventually encounter the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, but US health officials on Sunday said the travel ban starting Monday on most travelers from southern Africa should help buy time to assess any new risk.

“Well, it’s almost definitely here already, just looking at the number of cases coming off planes this weekend. It’s almost a certainty that there have been cases that have gotten into the United States.”

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday that while much is not known about the variant, vaccination remains key, Reuters reported.

“If you talk to people in vaccine circles, people who are working on a vaccine, they have a pretty good degree of confidence that a booster vaccine, so three full doses of vaccine, is going to be fairly protective against this new variant.”

Thirty percent of the US population remains unvaccinated – possibly undermining the nation’s recovery nearly two years after COVID-19’s emergence.

Rising cases as colder weather forces more people indoors have already overwhelmed some hospital systems and led some US states, including New York, to declare emergencies.

Omicron was first detected in southern Africa, igniting a flurry of travel bans restricting passengers from several southern African countries – something South African President Cyril Ramaphosa strongly pushed back against in a speech on Sunday.

“These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries.”

The variant has now also been confirmed in Australia, Hong Kong, the U.K., Europe and the middle east.

COVID-19

Germany reports new daily record for COVID-19 infections

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2022)

Germany reported another record number of daily new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, crossing the 200,000 threshold for the first time, as the country debates whether to impose compulsory vaccinations, Reuters reported.

The Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases reported 203,136 positive tests in the last 24 hours, 69,600 cases more than the same day a week ago.

According to Reuters the seven-day incidence per 100,000 people rose to 1,017 from 941 the previous day, while another 188 people died, bringing the death toll since the start of the pandemic to 117,314.

German lawmakers debated on Wednesday whether to impose compulsory COVID-19 shots, while protesters gathered outside the parliament building.

According Reuters around 75% of the German population have received at least one dose of a vaccine – less than in western European peers such as France, Italy or Spain, where the equivalent figures are 80%, 83% and 86%.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz backs compulsory vaccines for over-18s but his coalition government is divided on the issue and he has told lawmakers to vote according to their conscience.

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COVID-19

COVID is less severe with Omicron than Delta, U.S. study suggests

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(Last Updated On: January 26, 2022)

The Omicron variant appears to result in less severe COVID-19 than seen during previous periods of high coronavirus transmission including the Delta wave, with shorter hospital stays, less need for intensive care and fewer deaths, according to a new U.S. study, Reuters reported.

However, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has led to record numbers of infections and hospitalizations, straining the U.S. healthcare system.

Despite the steep spike in COVID cases, the percentage of hospitalized patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU) during the current Omicron wave was about 29% lower than during last winter’s surge and some 26% lower than during the Delta wave, the study published on Tuesday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found.

According to the report the lower COVID-19 disease severity during the Omicron period is likely related to higher vaccination coverage, booster use among those eligible for the extra shots, as well as prior infections providing some immune protection, the study said.

Deaths in the period from Dec. 19 to Jan. 15, when Omicron infections were at a peak, averaged 9 per 1,000 COVID cases, compared to 16 per 1,000 in the previous winter peak and 13 during the Delta wave, the study showed, Reuters reported.

The findings were consistent with previous data analyses from South Africa, England and Scotland, where infections from Omicron peaked earlier than in the United States, the CDC said.

Relatively high hospitalizations among children during the Omicron period may be related to lower vaccination rates compared with adults, the agency said. Children under age 5 are not yet eligible for vaccines in the United States and the rate of vaccination among older children lags that of adults.

The study involved analysis of data from a large healthcare database and three surveillance systems to assess U.S. COVID-19 characteristics from Dec. 1, 2020 to Jan. 15, 2022.

The authors said one limitation of the study was that it was unable to exclude incidental infections in which patients admitted for other reasons test positive for COVID while in the hospital. That may inflate hospitalization-to-case ratios and affect severity indicators, read the report.

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COVID-19

S.Korea’s daily COVID count tops 8,000 for first time as Omicron spreads

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(Last Updated On: January 25, 2022)

South Korea’s daily count of new coronavirus cases topped 8,000 for the first time on Tuesday, as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads rapidly despite the recent extension of strict social-distancing rules to slow infection.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 8,571 cases for Monday, exceeding the previous peak posted in mid-December of 7,848, Reuters reported.

The new record came amid the spread of the more transmissible but less deadly Omicron variant, which became dominant in the country last week, and despite less testing over the weekend.

Daily tallies had almost halved to around 4,000 this month but began rebounding last week because of Omicron infections, logging their second-highest level on Saturday.

The surge fuelled worries about a potentially bigger wave ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays when tens of millions of Koreans usually travel across the country for family visits.

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