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Coronavirus digest: WHO chief warns against talk of 'endgame'

The World Health Organization's head has warned against assuming that the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic is coming to an end. Follow DW for more.

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Tedros said hitting the target of 70% vaccination in all countries by mid-2020 was crucial

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday said it was dangerous to assume that the acute phase of the COVID pandemic was coming to an end.

Tedros said it should not be assumed that the omicron variant was the last strain of any significance, and that the pandemic might soon fizzle out. 

"There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out and how the acute phase could end. But it's dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame," Tedros told a WHO executive board meeting.

"On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.''

However, Tedros insisted: "We can end COVID-19 as a global health emergency, and we can do it this year."

He said this could best be done by trying to reach goals like the WHO's target to vaccinate 70% of the population of each country by the middle of 2020.

Here's the latest on coronavirus from across the globe:

Europe

France has introduced new rules requiring people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter bars, restaurants, trains and planes.

The move follows a fierce fight in parliament over details of how the law would be implemented. Under the rules, a negative coronavirus test is no longer be enough to access leisure activities, certain work events and long-distance travel.

France currently has the highest daily infection rates of any major European country, with an average of 360,000 in the past 7 days.

Russia's coronavirus task force has reported a record number of COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours as the omicron variant of the virus spread across the country.

Daily new cases jumped to 65,109, from 63,205 a day earlier and the task force also reported 655 deaths.

Watch video 02:09

Germany's schools reopen despite wave of omicron variant

Middle East

Israel says giving a fourth dose — or second booster — of COVID-19 vaccine to people over 60 in Israel made them 3 times more resistant to serious illness than people vaccinated 3 times.

The figures from Israel's Health Ministry showed the extra shot doubled resistance against infection compared with those in the same age group who received only 3 jabs.

Israel started to offer a fourth dose of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to people over 60 earlier this month.

Asia

In China, the first member of an Olympic team in the Beijing Winter Games has tested positive for coronavirus. 

One of the 153 athletes tested at Beijing airport on Sunday was positive.

There were three further positive tests came from the other 379 accredited people who arrived on the day for the February 4-20 Games. 

Everyone involved in the Games is within a so-called "social bubble," is kept away from the Chinese public, and is tested every day.

As part of China's zero-COVID policy, arrivals must provide two negative PCR tests.

One of China's longest lockdowns ended Monday with the lifting of most restrictions in the northern city of Xi'an.

The city's 13 million residents had been confined to their homes since December 22 after the discovery of a virus cluster that grew to more than 2,100 cases. The outbreak was China's largest in months.

Watch video 26:05

Olympic struggle: Can China beat Omicron?

In Beijing, authorities are tightening restrictions after a recent cluster of cases, which coincides with a travel rush for the Lunar New Year.

Indonesia has opened two islands near the city state of Singapore as part of an effort to revive its tourism sector.

The islands — Batam and Bintan — were hugely popular vacation spots among Singaporeans before the pandemic.

Japan is poised to double the number of regions subject to curbs such as curtailed opening hours for restaurants to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The measures allow regional governors to order restrictions such as making restaurants and bars close early and restricting alcohol sales.

Oceania 

Australia reported another 58 deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday as the highly contagious omicron variant peaks. Authorities have warned that numbers could rise further after next week when schools return from end-of-year holidays. 

Americas

Companies in the United States have cited worker shortages as a result of rising COVID infections as one of their major worries. 

The National Association for Business Economics said 57% of respondents faced skilled labor shortages — 10 points more than the October survey — while nearly one-quarter struggled to find unskilled labor.

Watch video 04:18

Virus infections in Germany hit record high

rc/msh (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)