Coronavirus live | Case drop may show South Africa’s Omicron peak has passed

Amid fresh concerns caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a meeting on the COVID-19 situation in the country on Thursday.The head of the World Health Organization is warning that blanket booster programmes in rich countries risk prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic and says that “no country can boost its way out of the pandemic.” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that while vaccines have saved many lives this year, their unequal sharing “has cost many lives.” Read | COVID-19 deaths undercounted in Chennai: studyEditorial | Warning bells: On Omicron cases in IndiaAmid the rise in cases of the Omicron variant in India, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria on Wednesday emphasised on adhering to Covid-appropriate behaviour while observing that people have become lax in following these norms.You can track coronavirus cases, deaths and testing rates at the national and State levels here. A list of State Helpline numbers is available as well.Here are the updates:National

India’s Omicron tally at 236

India has recorded 236 cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus across 16 States and UTs so far out of which 104 people have recovered or migrated, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Thursday.  Maharashtra has recorded the maximum 65 cases of the Omicron variant followed by Delhi at 64, Telangana 24, Karnataka 19, Rajasthan 21 and Kerala 15.The Ministry data updated at 8 am also showed that India recorded 7,495 new coronavirus infections taking the total tally of cases to 3,47,65,976, while the active cases increased to 78,291. The death toll has climbed to 4,78,759 with 434 fresh fatalities, the data stated.The daily rise in new coronavirus infections has been recorded below 15,000 for the last 56 days now.The active cases comprise 0.23% of the total infections, the lowest since March 2020, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate has further improved to 98.40%, the highest since March 2020, the Ministry said. -PTIInternational

Omicron less likely to put you in the hospital, studies say

Two new British studies provide some early hints that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus may be milder than the Delta version.Scientists stress that even if the findings of these early studies hold up, any reductions in severity need to be weighed against the fact Omicron spreads much faster than Delta and is more able to evade vaccines. Sheer numbers of infections could still overwhelm hospitals.Still, the new studies released December 22 seem to bolster earlier research that suggests Omicron may not be as harmful as the Delta variant, said Manuel Ascano Jr., a Vanderbilt University biochemist who studies viruses.

Australian States reinstate COVID-19 curbs as Omicron cases jump

Australia’s two most populous States re-introduced COVID-19 curbs on Thursday as daily infections hit their highest amid an outbreak of the highly infectious Omicron variant and a rush on already-stretched testing clinics.New South Wales State, home to a third of Australia’s 25 million population, said it was again making it mandatory to wear masks indoors in public places, while venues were told to limit visitors and re-activate customer check-in via QR code.Victoria State, which has nearly the same population, also re-introduced a mask mandate, citing the need to reduce the stress on the health system. -ReutersSouth Africa

Case drop may show South Africa’s Omicron peak has passed

South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic Omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.Daily virus case counts are notoriously unreliable, as they can be affected by uneven testing, reporting delays and other fluctuations. But they are offering one tantalizing hint — far from conclusive yet — that Omicron infections may recede quickly after a ferocious spike.South Africa has been at the forefront of the Omicron wave and the world is watching for any signs of how it may play out there to try to understand what may be in store.After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on December 16, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on December 21. In Gauteng province — South Africa’s most populous with 16 million people, including the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria — the decrease started earlier and has continued.

Australian State sees major spike in cases, hospitalization

Australia on December 23 reported a major spike in coronavirus infections, a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected lockdowns or mask mandates to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.The most populous State, New South Wales, recorded 5,715 new cases, up from 3,763 and almost as many as were recorded across all of Australia on December 22. New South Wales also reported one death.

Xi’an locks down as China races to zero-Covid for Olympics

Thirteen million people in a major Chinese city were under strict stay-at-home orders starting Thursday to stop the spread of Covid-19, as authorities scramble to keep their zero-case strategy six weeks ahead of the Winter Olympics.Xi’an — home to the world-famous Terracotta Warriors — sharply tightened travel restrictions and told residents to stay home, after several hundred recently reported infections were linked to an initial case at a university in the city.With Beijing preparing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in February, China is on high alert as it fights local outbreaks in several cities.
 New Delhi

Prohibition on gatherings continues in Capital: Govt.

In the wake of rising COVID-19 cases, the Delhi Government on Wednesday said that gatherings continue to be banned in the city, including the ones related to Christmas and New Year.“As per the DDMA (Delhi Disaster Management Authority) order dated December 15, 2021, all social, political, sports, entertainment, cultural, religious and festival-related gatherings and congregations are completely prohibited in Delhi. Hence, all District Magistrates (DM) and District DCPs shall ensure that no cultural event, gatherings and congregations take place for celebrating Christmas or New Year in NCT of Delhi,” an order issued on Wednesday said.
 South Africa

Omicron impact less severe than previous Covid variants: South African study

The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 appears to be having a less severe impact than the earlier variants, a study in South Africa has found.The Omicron variant was first identified by South African scientists last month and it has sparked extensive research into its impact.”In South Africa, Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” said Cheryl Cohen, professor in epidemiology at the University of the Witwatersrand, who shared results of a research titled ‘Early Assessment of the Severity of the Omicron variant in South Africa’ on Wednesday in an online briefing by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). -PTIIsrael

Israel set to offer fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to people over 60

Israel announced on Tuesday that it will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people older than 60, amid concern over the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.A Health Ministry expert panel recommended the fourth shot, a decision that was swiftly welcomed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as “great news that will help us overcome the Omicron wave that is spreading around the world.” -ReutersUK

U.K.’s daily COVID-19 infections cross 100,000 for first time

The UK on Wednesday crossed another COVID-19 record as its daily coronavirus infections crossed the 100,000 mark for the first time since the pandemic began, overtaking the previous daily high of 93,045 last week, driven by the rapidly transmissible Omicron variant.The official tally reports 106,122 COVID cases, with 8,008 people in hospital with coronavirus as of Tuesday, up 4 per cent from a week ago. Meanwhile, there were 140 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive COVID test, which have so far maintained a downward trend.The figures also include a record number of boosters and third doses of COVID vaccines as of Tuesday, with 968,665 delivered and taking the overall total to more than 30.8 million. -PTIWest Bengal

International travellers who test COVID-19 positive at the airport will not be allowed to go to their destinations

International travellers who test positive for COVID-19 after their RT PCR tests at the airport on their arrival to the city will not be allowed to progress to their destinations, the state health department said on Wednesday.“These passengers must be put in separate isolation in any of the health facilities identified for this purpose. Any traveller testing positive for COVID-19 on a later date, who has a history of travel in the last 14 days to a country at risk for Omicron will be subjected to a similar isolation measure as above,” the health department directed.The department said that the airport authorities must ensure that the specimens of the tests are collected on the arrival of the international passengers and sent to the School of Tropical Medicine for genome sequencing. -PTIMyanmar

India gives 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Myanmar

India on December 22 gave 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Myanmar. The doses were handed over by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla who is on a visit to the country, the first by any Indian high official after the February coup.“Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla handed over 1 million doses of ‘Made in India’ vaccines to the representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society to support the people of Myanmar, including those along the India-Myanmar border, in their fight against COVID-19,” announced the Indian Embassy in Myanmar.

Tunisia introduces compulsory vaccine passes

Compulsory vaccination passes aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 came into force in Tunisia on Wednesday, despite some popular opposition and criticism from rights group Amnesty International.Only those presenting a vaccination pass and their national identity card are now able to access cafes, banks, shopping centres and state institutions.Dozens of people protested in central Tunis on Tuesday and Wednesday against the measure, which was decided by President Kais Saied in October with the aim of speeding up the country’s vaccination campaign and limiting the spread of the virus. -AFPUSA

Pfizer pill becomes 1st U.S.-authorised home COVID-19 treatment

U.S. health regulators on Wednesday authorised the first pill against COVID-19, a Pfizer drug that Americans will be able to take at home to head off the worst effects of the virus.The long-awaited milestone comes as U.S. cases, hospitalisations and deaths are all rising and health officials warn of a tsunami of new infections from the omicron variant that could overwhelm hospitals.The drug, Paxlovid, is a faster, cheaper way to treat early COVID-19 infections, though initial supplies will be extremely limited. All of the previously authorized drugs against the disease require an IV or an injection.

States enhance surveillance, Delhi start genome sequencing

With the Omicron variant of coronavirus slowly spreading its tentacles in the country, a number of States enhanced surveillance to trace, track and quarantine contacts of COVID-19 positive persons while Delhi began genome sequencing of samples of all infected people and has prohibited Christmas and New Year gatherings.Haryana also imposed some curbs in public places from January 1 India has so far recorded close to 250 cases of Omicron across 15 States and Union Territories even though at least 90 of the infected people have either recovered or migrated.

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