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Coronavirus digest: Travel bans ineffective, WHO says

The World Health Organization said bans on international travel have proved ineffective. Meanwhile, the English will lower their masks. Follow DW for the latest coronavirus news.

A silhouette image of a person with wheeled luggage

Several countries introduced travel bans to curb the spread of the coronavirus

The World Health Organization on Wednesday said international travel bans "do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress" of countries.  

In a statement issued after a WHO meeting, the UN health agency said travel restrictions that were introduced to curb the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus demonstrated "the ineffectiveness of such measures over time." 

In late November, several countries suspended flights to and from southern African countries, citing concerns over omicron. Most governments have lifted this ban. 

The WHO also urged countries not to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as the only way for travelers' entry, citing inequity in vaccine distribution

Countries should consider adjusting some measures, including testing and quarantine requirements, "when appropriate," that put a financial burden on travelers, the WHO said. 

Watch video 04:02

Travel industry under pressure

Separately, the WHO said that coronavirus cases globally rose by 20% last week to more than 18 million.

Infections increased in every world region except for Africa, where cases fell by nearly a third, according to the WHO. 

The number of deaths globally remained similar to the previous week, at about 45,000. 

Here's a roundup of the latest developments on COVID-19 from around the world:

Africa

South African-born biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong opened a plant in Cape Town, South Africa, that will be the first on the continent to produce COVID-19 vaccines from start to finish.

The NantSA facility aims to produce a billion doses annually by 2025.

The plant is South Africa's third vaccine manufacturing facility, but it would make vaccines itself rather than producing them from semifinished batches.

Soon-Shiong, who is also a medical doctor, will transfer technology and materials from his California-based NantWorks to scientists in South Africa to produce second-generation vaccines "within the year." They will also work on vaccines targeting cancer, TB and HIV.

"Africa should no longer be last in line to access vaccines against pandemics," South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the opening of the plant.

Ramaphosa said Africa had secured 500 million vaccine doses through the African Union's vaccine acquisition task team, but the continent needs more.

"These doses represent only around half of what the continent needs to vaccinate 900 million people in order to achieve the 70% target set by the World Health Organization,'' said Ramaphosa.

Europe

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that people in England would no longer be required to wear face masks from next week.

He told Parliament on Wednesday that measures introduced to combat the omicron variant were no longer needed as scientists believe infections have peaked in the UK.

"Because of the extraordinary booster campaign, together with the way the public have responded to the Plan B measures, we can return to Plan A in England and allow Plan B regulations to expire as a result from the start of Thursday next week," Johnson said.

He intended to drop self-isolation rules for people with coronavirus in March.

Watch video 01:09

COVID: How divisive are vaccine mandates?

The prime minister also announced an end to the vaccine certificates mandate but added that businesses could continue asking for COVID-19 passes if they wanted to.

Museums and concert halls in the Netherlands opened as beauty salons and gyms to protest the Dutch government's pandemic policies.

The cultural sector is protesting rules that they must remain closed while COVID-19 measures were lifted on shops and "contact professions" like barbers, nail salons and sex work.

During the protest, nail artists were giving manicures at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Barbers also gave haircuts on the stage of Amsterdam's historical concert hall, Concertgebouw.

A man gets a haircut during a rehearsal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

People got haircuts during a rehearsal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

Authorities handed out enforcement notices to a number of the 70-odd venues that took part in the day-long protest.

Germany recorded more than 100,000 daily COVID-19 cases for the first time. The new single-day record of 112,323 comes as Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he believed there could be twice as many unreported cases as known ones. 

Lauterbach told broadcaster RTL that Germany had not reached the peak and compulsory vaccination should be introduced by May. 

Watch video 02:25

Germany tops 100,000 daily COVID cases for first time

In the east-central German state of Thuringia, some 1,200 demonstrators, protesting COVID measures, marched past the home of Gera's Mayor Julian Vornab, police said. 

Asked if he felt threatened, Vonarb said: "The police were there, but not in proportion to the number of demonstrators."

Bodo Ramelow, the state leader of Thuringia, said marching up to politicians' homes was nothing other than intimidation.

Protests against Germany's pandemic policies have increased in recent weeks. Some 70,000 people joined anti-COVID measures protests across Germany earlier this week.  

Austria recorded a record number of infections. "We have close to 30,000 infections. That is a frighteningly high figure," Chancellor Karl Nehammer said.

The previous record for new daily cases, 17,006, was set a week ago.

Sweden set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases, registering 37,886 on Tuesday, health agency data released on Wednesday showed. The country is in the middle of a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Kronoberg, one of Sweden's 25 health care regions, said it would pause all testing except for hospital and elderly care patients and staff.

In Slovenia and Croatia, laboratories can not process tests fast enough. The two countries recorded record-high new COVID-19 cases of 12,285 and 10,427, respectively.

Watch video 26:00

What works against omicron?

The Tourism Ministry in Cyprus announced that the country will lift all entry requirements on March 1 for travelers who present proof of receiving a booster shot

The tourism-reliant island nation currently requires travelers to either show proof of a negative COVID test or to self-quarantine upon arrival.

Under the new rules, travelers who haven't received a booster shot can enter the country if it has been less than nine months since they received their last dose. 

Americas

The United States plans to distribute 400 million N95 for adults free of charge from next week.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a White House official said the masks would be available at pharmacies and community health centers.

President Joe Biden's administration hopes that it will help curb the rapidly spread omicron variant.

Also in the US, Starbucks said it would no longer require its workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The move to reverse the policy that Starbuck had announced earlier this month came after the US Supreme Court rejected a plan by the Biden administration to require vaccines or regular COVID testing at companies with more than 100 workers.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said coronavirus infections in the Americas are reaching new peaks, with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 COVID-related deaths in the last week. 

"The virus is spreading more actively than ever before," PAHO Director Carissa Etienne told a press briefing.

According to the PAHO, the Caribbean has had the steepest increase in infections since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The regional agency recommended that countries prioritize rapid antigen tests for people experiencing symptoms and who are at risk of spreading the virus amid a shortage of testing. 

Asia

India reported 282,970 new infections on Wednesday, the highest in eight months.

Authorities said omicron was causing fewer hospitalizations and deaths than the delta variant, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in India last year.

While infection rates have recently fallen in India's big cities, experts say cases nationally could peak by the middle of next month.

"We have to worry about hospitalization and deaths and that will come later," Tarun Bhatnagar, from the ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology, told the Reuters news agency.

Watch video 01:29

India introduces restrictions to prevent mass gatherings

Japan widened COVID-19 curbs to several towns and cities, including Tokyo, as it battles a record wave of omicron infections.

The country has resisted complete shutdowns, instead focusing on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol.

It also urged the public to wear masks and practice social distancing.

A sharp rise in infections has begun to paralyze hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.

Oceania

New Zealand called off the national cricket team's tour of Australia before the scheduled first match because of strict COVID-19 quarantine requirements.

The Black Caps, as they are commonly known, would not have had to isolate on their return home when the tour was first announced.

The spread of the omicron variant in Australia has caused New Zealand's government to defer a plan to introduce quarantine-free travel between the countries.

fb, lo/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)