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Coronavirus digest: Omicron likely to infect half of Europe in 2 months

WHO Europe has said that more than half of Europeans will likely get infected with the omicron variant in the next 6 to 8 weeks. Elsewhere, Hong Kong is preparing to vaccinate everyone over 5. Follow DW for the latest.

Watch video 00:36

Omicron to infect more than half of Europe's population: WHO

More than half of people in Europe are on track to contract the omicron coronavirus variant in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

"At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with omicron in the next six to eight weeks," Hans Kluge, regional director for WHO's European office, told a press conference.

The WHO's European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia. Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the omicron variant.

According to the WHO, 26 of those countries reported that over 1% of their populations were "catching COVID each week" as of January 10.

Kluge stressed that "approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for omicron."

Kluge spoke with DW later on Tuesday, and said that responding to the pandemic has reached a "crossroads" where the number hospitalizations and ICU patients becomes more important than the counting number of infections. 

"It's true that at the individual level the omicron variant may be more mild, particularly in people who are boosted, but because of the sheer numbers, and the large proportion of the population who are still unvaccinated, the threat is that hospitals will get overwhelmed, and be short of health workers," Kluge said. 

"It is too early to say it is endemic. What we see with omicron is that everyone is going to get some kind of immunity — either through the vaccine or through natural infection. But the infection still has a lot of surprises, for example, long COVID. Every individual needs to take responsibility by self-testing, self-isolating and trying to prevent becoming infected," he added. 

Watch video 05:44

WHO Europe director talks about the threat of omicron

Here are the latest major developments on coronavirus from around the world:

Americas

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has announced he has contracted the coronavirus again after experiencing mild symptoms.

"I inform you that I am infected with COVID-19 and although the symptoms are mild, I will remain in isolation and will only do office work and communicate virtually until I get through it," he tweeted.

Just a few hours earlier, the 68-year-old had appeared at his daily news conference speaking with a hoarse voice.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured provincial and territorial premiers that the federal government has secured enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster, as well as a fourth dose if that becomes necessary.

He also announced the government's plans to deliver 140 million rapid COVID-19 tests to provinces and territories in January.

Europe

According to a leaked email, more than 40 people attended a Downing Street garden party amid restrictions in the United Kingdom on gatherings in May 2020. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is already under pressure for a number of other events held amid lockdowns.

Poland became the latest country in Europe to cross the grim threshold of 100,000 deaths, the country's health minister said.

"Today we can say it is another sad day, but especially so because we have passed the level of 100,000 COVID deaths," Adam Niedzielski told private broadcaster TVN 24.

The Netherlands on Tuesday announced a 77% spike in coronavirus infections on the week, registering a record 200,000 new cases. Almost all of the infections were registered among 15-29 year olds, 13% of whom had been infected previously. The country has been under a hard lockdown for three weeks in an effort to stem infections.

France reported its highest single-day infection tally of the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday — 368,149. The current seven-day average is 280,000.  

Turkey, too, logged its highest single-day tally of the pandemic, registering 74,266 new infections in 24 hours. In late December, the country was averaging about 20,000 new infections each day. 

In Bulgaria, President Rumen Radev, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and the entirety of government leadership have all gone into quarantine after parliamentary speaker Nikola Minchev tested positive for the coronavirus after having attended a six-hour consultation with them on Monday. Only 5.5% of the country's population is fully vaccinated.

A number of Balkan countries also registered their highest single-day infection tallies Tuesday, with Serbia reporting 13,000, Croatia nearly 8,000 and Slovenia 5,164 new cases. Bosnian officials say they recorded a 98% jump in infections and are considering new limits on gatherings and movement.

In Italy, police arrested a nurse and four other individuals in eastern Ancona on fraud charges. Authorities say the nurse faked administering coronavirus vaccines to at least 45 anti-vaxxers willing to essentially buy a health pass but not take the vaccine. Police say they filmed the nurse emptying syringes in the trash and putting bandages on the arms of "patients" who then received proof of vaccination.

Asia

Hong Kong will soon start offering COVID-19 vaccines for children over the age of 5, the city's chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

Children older than 5 will be able to get the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, Lam said. Authorities have cleared the other vaccine available in Hong Kong, made by Germany's BioNTech, for children aged 12 and older.

In the midst of surging numbers of cases, Hong Kong is looking for ways to administer doses to those who are not yet vaccinated.

The city has seen some local transmission of the omicron variant, after three months of no local coronavirus cases at the end of last year.

Watch video 01:54

COVID-19: Hong Kong uses real estate to boost vaccination rate

China has locked down a third city, raising the total number of residents confined to their homes in the country to about 20 million people.

The lockdown of Anyang city, home to 5.5 million, was being done to facilitate mass testing, authorities said, without indicating if the lockdown would end after testing is completed.

The other two cities under lockdown are Xi'an, with a population of 13 million, and Yuzhou with 1.1 million people.

The Beijing Winter Olympics will go ahead as planned without adjusting its COVID-19 prevention measures, unless there are many cases inside the "closed-loop," said Huang Chun, an official with the organizing committee.

The omicron coronavirus variant has been spreading in China less than a month before the Games are due to kick off on February 4.

"Whatever difficulties and challenges we may encounter, our determination to host successful Games as planned remains firm and unwavering," organizing committee spokesman Zhao Weidong told reporters.

Strict entry conditions will remain in place in Japan. These restrictions will stay until the end of February, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday. However, some exceptions for humanitarian issues may be considered.

Japan implemented some of the strictest border controls in the world as the omicron variant emerged late last year. The country banned all new entries by non-Japanese, including students and foreign family members of Japanese or permanent residents, unless exceptional circumstances were present.

Nepal has decided to shut down schools for nearly three weeks starting on Tuesday amid rising numbers of coronavirus cases, the country's Education Ministry announced.

However, a campaign to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17 at their schools would go ahead.

On Sunday, the Himalayan nation saw the biggest single-day jump since September last year.

adi, jsi/rt (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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