Covid-19 wrap: Global deaths top 5.6m, Spain busts fake passport ring, Israel mulls 4th vaccine dose


Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

FOLLOW LIVE | Covid-19 in SA: Cases rise by 1 332 as death toll goes up by 14

Global death toll passes 5.6 million

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 5 602 767 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources on Tuesday.

The US has recorded the most Covid-19 deaths with 868 512, followed by Brazil with 623 356, India on 490 462 and Russia with 327 448.

Taking into account excess mortality linked to Covid-19, the WHO estimates the overall death toll could be two to three times higher.

 - AFP

Australia marks two years since first Covid-19 case with another high death count

SYDNEY – Australia on Tuesday recorded one of its highest number of deaths in a day from Covid-19 as an outbreak of the highly-infections Omicron variant tore through the country, which marked two years since its first infection of the coronavirus.

Though Australia's states and territories are refraining from a return to the lockdowns which have defined the country's pandemic response, the most populous state, New South Wales, extended a mask mandate by a month, an example of the continuous disruption brought by the virus.

The same state, which came out of more than three months of hard lockdown in October, had vowed never to return to social distancing measures since its population had met a target of more than 90% vaccinated. Omicron has since seen the country's Covid-19 death and infection rates double in weeks.

The country recorded 75 deaths the previous day, short of its highest daily total of 80 the week before, but among its worst of the pandemic. Most of the deaths were in NSW and neighbouring Victoria, home to the cities of Sydney and Melbourne and two-thirds of the Australian population.


Spain breaks up Covid-19 passport forgery ring

MADRID – Spanish police said on Tuesday they had detained seven suspected members of an international criminal gang that created and sold forged Covid-19 passports and negative tests.

The Spanish arm of the ring, which advertised its services on "anti-vax" instant message groups, fraudulently added at least 1 600 people to the national vaccination register with the help of health workers, the investigation found.

European Union countries agreed last year to create a standardised Covid certificate with a QR code so vaccinated and tested people could travel and attend events.

That created a demand for forgeries.

Police arrested six people in Madrid and one in Barcelona, but did not provide further information on them.

They will be charged with document forgery and offences against public health. "The investigation continues into the possible theft of passwords to (the register)," the national police added in a statement.


New York judge strikes down state mask mandate

A New York judge struck down the state's mask mandate on Monday, one week before it was due to expire, ruling the governor overstepped her authority in imposing a rule that needed to have been passed by the state legislature.

Judge Thomas Rademaker of New York State Supreme Court on Long Island found that the state legislature last year curbed any governor's ability to issue decrees, such as a mask mandate, amid a declared state of emergency.

It was latest setback for executive branch officials at state and federal levels. Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden's vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses. A judge in Texas last week ruled that Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated.

Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, vowed to fight back, saying in a statement: "We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately."

"My responsibility as governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of Covid-19 and save lives," Hochul said.


Israel mulls offering 4th Covid-19 vaccine dose to all adults

JERUSALEM – An Israeli government advisory panel has recommended offering a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to all adults, on condition that at least five months have passed since they received the third or recovered from the illness, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

Implementation of the measure, which would significantly expand eligibility now limited to the over-60s and other high-risk groups, is subject to approval by the ministry's director-general.

It was not immediately clear when that might happen.

The ministry's statement said the recommendation was made given findings that those who received a fourth shot were three-to-five times as protected against serious illness and twice as protected against infection, compared to the thrice-vaccinated.


French minister hopes Covid-19 wave will peak within days

PARIS – Health Minister Olivier Veran told LCI TV on Tuesday he hoped France would reach the peak of the current Covid-19 wave in the next few days.

Almost 400 people in France who were hospitalised due to a Covid-19 infection died over the past 24 hours, official data showed on Monday, the highest figure since April.


Japan's new Covid-19 infections top 60 000 for first time - FNN

TOKYO – Japan's daily count of new Covid-19 infections surpassed 60 000 for the first time on Tuesday, broadcaster FNN said.

The government is poised to expand infection control measures to try to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.


South Korea's daily Covid-19 count tops 8 000 for first time amid Omicron spread

SEOUL – 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.

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.

South Korea reinstated tougher distancing curbs in December as record-breaking numbers of daily cases and critically ill patients threatened to saturate its medical system before the Omicron wave hit.

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.


Brazil registers 83 340 new coronavirus cases, 259 COVID-19 deaths

Brazil had 83 340 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 259 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

The South American country has now registered 24 127 595 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 623 356, according to ministry data.


Russia's daily Covid-19 cases hit record high for fifth day running

MOSCOW – Russia reported a record number of Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours on Tuesday as the Omicron variant of the virus spread across the country, the government coronavirus task force said.

New daily cases jumped to 67 809, from 65 109 a day earlier. The task force also reported 681 deaths.


Czech Republic reports record daily tally of 30 350 new Covid-19 cases

PRAGUE – The Czech Republic recorded 30 350 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, the highest daily tally since pandemic started in the country of 10.7 million as the Omicron variant of coronavirus spreads, health ministry data showed on Tuesday.

The country is bracing for a surge in cases from the new variant which could peak this month, the health minister has said.


Beijing 2022 says 15 new Covid-19 cases found amongst Games-related personnel on 24 January

BEIJING – The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organising Committee said on Tuesday that 15 new positive cases of Covid-19 were detected among games-related personnel on 24 January.

Twelve of the confirmed positive cases were among new arrivals. The other three were found among those already in the closed loop, and of those three, one was an athlete or team official, the notice on the Beijing 2022 official website said.


Mainland China reports 45 new Covid-19 cases on 24 January vs 57 a day earlier

BEIJING – Mainland China reported 45 new Covid-19 cases on 24 January, down from 57 cases a day earlier, the national health authority said on Tuesday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 18 of the new cases were locally transmitted and the rest imported.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 43 from 27 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4 636.

As of 24 January, mainland China had reported 105 705 cases.


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