Covid-19 wrap: Omicron risk remains very high, Germany's cases hit record, Sweden extends curbs


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 3 197 as death toll goes up by 23

Covid-19 kills at least 5 614 118 people worldwide

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 5 614 118 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources on Wednesday.

The US has recorded the most Covid deaths with 872 126, followed by Brazil with 623 843, India on 491 127 and Russia with 328 105.

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

 - AFP

Omicron risk remains very high - WHO

Geneva – The risk level related to the Omicron variant remains very high, the WHO said late Tuesday, with the numbers of new Covid-19 cases hitting another record high last week.

"Over 21 million new cases were reported, representing the highest number of weekly cases recorded since the beginning of the pandemic," the World Health Organisation said in its weekly epidemiological coronavirus update.

The UN health agency said the number of new infections increased by 5% in the week to Sunday – compared to the 20% rise registered the week before.

"A slower increase in case incidence was observed at the global level," the WHO said.

Nearly 50 000 new deaths were also reported, it added – a similar figure to the week before.

The report said Omicron continued to increase its dominance globally over the other variants of concern.

 - AFP

German Covid-19 cases hit record as parliament debates vaccine mandate

BERLIN – Germany on Wednesday reported a new record of 164 000 Covid-19 infections in one day as the lower house of parliament prepared to debate proposals to either require or robustly encourage residents to be vaccinated.

Around 75% of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine – less than in other western European countries such as France, Italy or Spain, where the equivalent figures are 80%, 83% and 86% – and the vaccination campaign is stuttering.

Sign indicating entry only to vaccinated or recove
A shop sign indicating entry is allowed only to people who are vaccinated against Covid-19 or who have recovered from the disease, a system known as 2G in Germany, and that wearing a mask is compulsory, in Berlin on 13 December 2021.

The proposals being debated include requiring all adult residents to be vaccinated against Covid-19, or only those above 50, or merely requiring all those who have not been vaccinated to receive counselling.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Germany was more successful than many of its peers in limiting infections through case tracking and quarantines.


Austria ends lockdown on unvaccinated as pressure on hospitals eases

VIENNA – Austria's lockdown for people not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will end on Monday because the pressure on hospitals has eased, the government said on Wednesday.

New daily coronavirus infections are rising, driven by the extremely contagious Omicron variant. They hit a new record above 30 000 on Wednesday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told a news conference, adding that they would peak in the next two weeks at around 35 000 to 40 000.

The occupancy rate of hospital and intensive-care beds, however, has been falling.

"We came to the conclusion that the lockdown for unvaccinated people in Austria is only justifiable in the event of the threat of an imminent over-burdening of intensive-care capacity," Mueckstein told a news conference, adding experts no longer saw it as necessary.


Sweden extends pandemic curbs by two weeks

STOCKHOLM – Sweden will extend its current pandemic measures by another two weeks, the minister for health said on Wednesday, as the Omicron variant is spreading at record speed.

The curbs mean bars and restaurants have to close at 23:00 and there is a cap of 500 people inside larger indoor venues.

"We have an extremely high level of spread," Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference.

Sweden has seen some 270 000 confirmed cases in the last week, despite limited testing. The spread has put strain on the healthcare system but much less than during previous waves.


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

MOSCOW – Russia reported a record daily number of Covid-19 cases on Wednesday as the Omicron variant of the virus spreads, authorities said.

New daily cases jumped to 74 692, up from 67 809 a day earlier. The government coronavirus task force also reported 657 deaths in the last 24 hours.


Czech Republic reports record daily tally of 39 614 new Covid-19 cases

PRAGUE – The Czech Republic, battling the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, has recorded 39 614 new Covid-19 infections for its highest daily tally since the pandemic began, health ministry data showed on Wednesday.

Tuesday's figure is the week's second daily record, after 30 367 infections found on Monday in the country of 10.7 million people, which is bracing for an expected peak in Omicron infections this month.


Hungary reports jump in new Covid-19 cases to record 20 174 on Wednesday

BUDAPEST – Hungary's daily tally of new Covid-19 infections jumped to a record 20 174 on Wednesday, but the number of patients treated in hospital has remained at a relatively low level.

In Hungary, a country of 10 million, 41 087 people have died of Covid-19. There are 3 145 coronavirus patients in hospital now, including 164 on ventilators, the government said.


Bulgaria posts new record of 12 399 daily Covid-19 infections

SOFIA – Bulgaria reported a record 12 399 coronavirus infections in a single day on Wednesday, official data showed, with most of the cases caused by the more contagious Omicron variant.

The European Union country, where less than 30% of the population of 7 million has been vaccinated, also recorded another 73 deaths.

Bulgaria's tally of infections exceeds 903 000, with 32 869 deaths since the pandemic began.

The new centrist government has repeatedly appealed to vaccine-sceptical Bulgarians to get inoculated to avoid pressure on hospitals that could force tougher curbs.

About 5 300 people were admitted to hospital on Wednesday, with 692 of them in intensive care.


Brazil registers 183 722 new cases of coronavirus, 487 Covid-19 deaths - health ministry

Brazil has had 183 722 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 487 deaths from Covid-19, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

The South American country has now registered 24 311 317 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 623 843, according to ministry data.


Mexico logs 475 more Covid-19 deaths, 44 902 new cases

MEXICO CITY – Mexico on Tuesday posted 475 more Covid-19 fatalities, the highest daily death toll since early October, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 303 776.

The country's health ministry also logged 44 902 more infections, pushing the overall number to 4 730 669 cases.


South Korea's daily Covid-19 cases surge as new testing scheme begins

SEOUL – South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases exceeded 13 000 for the first time on Wednesday, driven by the spread of the Omicron variant, as the government launched a new pilot testing scheme to meet skyrocketing demand.

The record 13 012 cases for the previous 24-hour period came just a day after the tally first topped 8 000, despite the extension of tough social distancing rules.

The highly contagious but less-lethal Omicron became the dominant variant in South Korea last week, and the daily numbers could more than double or surge to even higher levels in the coming weeks, health officials warned.

"Going forward, our top priority is to reduce critically ill patients and deaths," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told an inter-ministry meeting on Wednesday.

The government introduced a new testing policy in four designated cities on a pilot basis, under which only priority groups take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test while others can get a rapid antigen test at a local clinic for faster initial diagnosis.


Beijing Olympics organiser says 13 new Covid-19 cases among Games-related personnel on 25 January

BEIJING – The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organising Committee said on Wednesday that a total of 13 new Covid-19 cases were detected among Games-related personnel on 25 January.

Nine of the cases were found among new airport arrivals, according to a notice on the Beijing 2022 official website.

Four others were among those already in the "closed loop" bubble that separates all event personnel from the public, the notice said.

None of the new cases on 25 January were athletes or team officials.


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