COVID digest: Israel plans 4th vaccine shot to over-60s
Israel has announced it plans to roll out a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine to medical personnel and people above 60 years of age.
Pandemic experts in the country made the recommendation Tuesday. It would become the first country to offer a fourth shot.
"I call on everyone who meets the criteria that the members of the committee have set: don't waste time, go get vaccinated," said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Israel has seen one death due to the omicron variant, and the Health Ministry said there were 340 known cases as of Tuesday. The government has approved reducing office attendance to 50%, to encourage work from home.
Here are the latest major coronavirus developments from around the world:
In a televised event, US President Joe Biden spoke directly to Americans about the threat of the new omicron variant. His remarks were followed by a question and answer session with reporters on Tuesday, telling them that the country was prepared to handle the variant surge.
"We should all be concerned about omicron but not panicked," Biden said at the White House. "This is not March of 2020. Two hundred million people are fully vaccinated. We're prepared, we know more. We just have to stay focused."
US health authorities are also considering reducing the 10-day quarantine period for Americans who test positive. The change will affect people who test positive but have been vaccinated and are no longer showing symptoms.
The province of British Columbia, in Canada, will shut gyms, bars and nightclubs, and allow fewer people at restaurants and cafes during the holiday period. The restrictions will take place from Wednesday, and will be in effect till January 18.
A ban has been placed on all indoor social events and gatherings, and a capacity limit of 50% for all concerts, sports games and theaters.
Belgium is to further tighten restrictions because of the omicron variant, authorities announced Wednesday.
Cinemas, theaters and concert halls will be closed while indoor activities will be banned. Sports events will be held behind closed doors. Bars and restaurants will be allowed to remain open until 11 p.m.
The rules will come into force on Sunday.
Spain will reimpose a nationwide requirement to wear a face mask outdoors, the government said Wednesday, as the country grapples with a spike in cases.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's cabinet will hold a meeting on Thursday to approve the measure, the government said in a statement, without specifying when exactly the rule would come into effect.
In Sweden, the government announced all foreigners entering the country would be required to present a negative COVID-19 test taken 48 hours prior to entry.
The new entry requirement will come into effect. On December 28 and apply to all non-citizens and non-residents over 12 years of age, including visitors from neighboring countries as well as the EU. Limited exceptions would apply to those crossing the border for work and Danes transiting en route to Bornholm island.
Authorities in Britain have reduced the self-isolation period from 10 to seven days, for people who get a negative result on a lateral flow test two days in a row.
"We want to reduce the disruption from COVID-19 to people's everyday lives," Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement.
The country's health regulator also approved the users of BioNTech-Pfizer's vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years.
France on Wednesday already started vaccinating children aged between 5 and 11 and Finland announced it will also expand its vaccination program to the same age group.
Scientists at Denmark's Statens Serum Institut found a third dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech's or Moderna's vaccine offers a "significant increase" in protection against omicron in elderly people.
The so-called mRNA vaccines' protection against omicron decreases quickly over time, but a booster makes a difference. The country also on Wednesday announced it will reduce the gap between second and third COVID-19 vaccinations for people aged 18 to 39 to four and a half months, down from the six months.
Hans Kluge, the European regional director for the World Health Organization, warned about the omicron variant, saying it could push "already stretched health systems further to the brink."
Germany, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands are some of the regions which have already reimposed partial or full lockdown measures.
Germany has registered 45,659 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, said the official Robert Koch Institute. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the country since the start of the pandemic up to 6,878,709.
The institute reported 510 new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to 109,324.
Germany's Ethics Council on Wednesday said it was in favor of mandatory vaccinations for all adults over the age of 18. National and state leaders asked the body for its assessment earlier this month, with Germany battling a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Turkey gave emergency approval to its first domestically developed vaccine, Turkovac.
The country’s health advisor Ates Kara said Turkovac was "very successful" although no data from its phase 3 trials are available yet.
The national cabinet in Australia has agreed to reopen vaccination hubs for COVID-19 boosters, reported Australian news outlet ABC on Wednesday.
A quarter of these hubs had been closed following a vaccination rush in October and November.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said payments to doctors and pharmacists would be raised by 10 Australian dollars (€6.3, $7.1) per jab. Australia has ruled out a lockdown as of now, and urged people to practice caution.
Authorities in the Chinese city of Xian ordered 13 million residents to stay at home and urged them not to leave town unnecessarily.
Only one person in a household can go out to shop every two days, others must stay home unless they have essential jobs.
More than 140 domestically transmitted infections caused by the delta variant as been confirmed since 12 December and authorities are keen to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the country.
Singapore will freeze the sale of tickets for arriving flights and buses on Thursday in a bid to stop the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Under the vaccinated travel lane program, Singapore allows quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travelers from a number of countries including Australia, India, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
No new tickets will be issued for travelers from these countries from Thursday to January 20. Travelers already holding tickets will still be able to travel under the program.
To date, Singapore has confirmed 65 imported omicron cases.
The first case of community transfer of omicron was detected in the Osaka prefecture of Japan on Wednesday. The country has tightened border controls to contain the spread of the variant, and promised booster shots.
Middle East and Africa
Nigeria had to discard more than 1 million expired doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine on Wednesday.
Faisal Shuaib, head of Nigeria's National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said the doses didn't have much shelf life once Africa's most populous country received them.
"We had developed countries that procured these vaccines and hoarded them," he said. "At the point they were about to expire, they offered them for donation."
Tunisia has made vaccination passes a part of public life, as of Wednesday. Citizens must have proof of two vaccine doses to enter public spaces and to keep working at state institutions and universities.
Scientists in South Africa found that there is an 80% lower risk of hospitalization due to an omicron infection versus the delta strain.
The findings suggest that omicron, despite being highly contagious, is likely to cause a milder disease than previous variants.
"The very encouraging data point strongly to a substantially lower severity in the omicron wave," said Cheryl Cohen of South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
Iran said its envoy to Yemen's rebel Houthi movement, who was repatriated last week, has died of COVID-19.
"We had to try for a few days to get permission, to send a plane from Iran or another country to take him quickly to a well-equipped hospital in Iran, but unfortunately the Saudi side decided too late and some Saudi bodies procrastinated," said Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.
tg, lo/rt, wd (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)