A technical advisory group established by the World Health Organization has warned that current vaccines may need to be updated to ensure they are effective against new variants like Omicron.
In a statement the group said:
The composition of current Covid vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that Covid vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs, including Omicron and future variants.
[The group] will consider a change in vaccine composition to ensure that vaccines continue to meet the criteria established in WHO’s Target Product Profile for COVID-19 vaccines, including protection against severe disease to improve vaccine-induced protection.
Finland’s local authorities have refused to implement strict isolation measures to stem coronavirus infections in schools despite advice from the government, Reuters reports.
Finland’s minister in charge of the Covid response, Krista Kiuru, warned on Friday that long Covid could become Finland’s largest chronic disease and that children were also at risk.
She said she feared returning to school was not safe and called for local authorities to implement strict quarantines at schools, in which one pupil’s Covid infection would result in quarantine for the entire exposed class.
But Taina Isosomppi, Helsinki’s chief epidemiologist, told Reuters the capital region’s municipalities were not going to follow the minister’s advice. Isosomppi said:
It would be disproportionate to implement large-scale quarantines at schools when they have not been a high-risk environment to begin with.
Mandating quarantines is no longer an effective way to control the epidemic.
Last week, Isosomppi and nine other leading Finnish infection specialists published an open letter against a plan proposed by Kiuru’s ministry to reintroduce school closures and going back to remote learning.
France to announce record 350,000 new infections
France’s health ministry is expected to announce a record of more than 350,000 new Covid infections over a 24-hour period, according to the health minister, Olivier Véran, Reuters reports.
The previous record of 332,252 daily new cases was set on 5 January and since then France has had two more days of more than 300,000 new cases over 24 hours as the highly contagious Omicron has become the dominant variant.
The seven-day moving average of new cases rose to nearly 270,000 on Monday.
Veran told lawmakers:
Another 350,000 new infections will be reported this evening, even a little more than that. We have never before seen such numbers since the start of the health crisis.
By mid-January, the French government hopes to introduce a vaccine pass that will make vaccination mandatory for anyone wanting to go to restaurants or attend indoor events.
Until now, proof of vaccination or a recent negative test were sufficient.
Cold weather in the north-east of the US has forced the closure of some Covid testing centres.
New Hampshire’s health department announced that four Covid-19 testing sites would be closed because of the cold. The sites are in Claremont, Manchester, Nashua and Newington.
Coronavirus loses 90% of its ability to infect us within five minutes of becoming airborne, the world’s first simulations of how the virus survives in exhaled air suggest.
The findings re-emphasise the importance of short-range Covid transmission, with physical distancing and mask-wearing likely to be the most effective means of preventing infection. Ventilation, though still worthwhile, is likely to have a lesser impact.
“People have been focused on poorly ventilated spaces and thinking about airborne transmission over metres or across a room. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but I think still, the greatest risk of exposure is when you’re close to someone,” said Prof Jonathan Reid, director of the University of Bristol’s Aerosol Research Centre and the study’s lead author.
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Sweden has announced 70,641 new cases since Friday, which is believed to be a record rise.
It also announced 54 new deaths from Covid.
On Monday, Sweden set out stricter pandemic measures in response to a rising number of Covid cases and pressure on hospitals.
The prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, said: “The situation has deteriorated, without doubt. The level of infections in Sweden is at a historically high level.”
The rise in cases means Sweden’s new cases have doubled in five days.
Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Albares, has said he does not have any information on whether tennis star Novak Djokovic visited Spain before travelling to Australia.
Asked by a reporter if he knew whether Djokovic had entered Spain in December, potentially invalidating a declaration the player completed on travelling to Australia, Albares responded:
I have no record of this presence of Djokovic.
We have not been contacted by the Australian government to request such documentation.
Australian media reported that officials are concerned about Djokovic’s claim on his entry form that he had not travelled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia on 6 January.
Social media posts have appeared to make clear that Djokovic attended events in Belgrade and Marbella during the period in question. Djokovic has reportedly claimed that Tennis Australia filled in the form on his behalf.
Djokovic took part in a Davis cup tournament in Madrid in early December.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is “doing well without serious symptoms” after being diagnosed with Covid for the second time, the country’s interior minister, Adán Augusto, said on Tuesday.
Augusto would take over a regular morning news conference while López Obrador, 68, recovered, the president said after announcing he tested positive on Monday.
New Delhi ordered the closure of non-essential offices and restaurants and bars but offered free online yoga classes to those in home isolation, as Covid cases soar, AFP reports.
With case numbers rising six-fold over the past week, the Indian government is terrified of a repeat of last year when thousands died of the virus every day and the health system teetered on the brink of collapse.
While stopping short of a full lockdown, authorities have steadily increased restrictions nationwide and capacity at private offices and eateries in the capital was already restricted to 50%.
But those in home isolation can take free online yoga classes, with Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, saying that it would help patients “boost their immunity and attain mental and spiritual peace”.
India’s capital registered 17 deaths each on Saturday and Sunday, the biggest single-day toll in more than 200 days. Every fourth person tested is coming back positive.
Nationally, India recorded almost 170,000 new cases on Monday, almost half the daily number recorded during the surge of last April and May. Deaths remain a fraction of what they were but are rising.
Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the government’s apex scientific body, on Monday tweaked its mandatory testing guidelines to ease the strain on the testing infrastructure.
Healthy, asymptomatic contacts of confirmed coronavirus patients no longer require mandatory testing.
Experts say that India is better prepared to deal with the latest coronavirus wave, driven by the Omicron variant, than last year.
The country has now administered more than 1.5bn vaccine shots and recently opened the programme to teenagers. It has also begun giving boosters to vulnerable groups.
The US has agreed to buy 600,000 more doses of GSK and Vir Biotechnology’s Covid antibody therapy for an undisclosed sum, according to the drugmakers, Reuters reports.
The additional doses of sotrovimab would be supplied to the US in the first quarter of 2022, the companies said, taking the tally of doses secured by nations worldwide to roughly 1.7m.
In November, the US government signed contracts worth about $1bn for an unknown number of doses of the treatment, after saying it would control the distribution of sotrovimab.
Sotrovimab, given via an infusion, belongs to a class of medicines called monoclonal antibodies, which are lab-generated compounds that mimic the body’s natural defences. Tests have indicated that it works against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
Scientists and governments are scrambling to bolster defences against Omicron with testing, shots and therapies, as the variant threatens to become dominant globally by evading protection offered by current vaccines and drugs.
GSK and Vir said they expect to produce roughly 2m doses of sotrovimab globally in the first half of 2022.
Brazil has become the latest country where Omicron has become the dominant Covid variant.
The health minister, Marcelo Queiroga, told reporters: “It already is the predominant variant in Brazil, we are seeing cases rising.”
He said Brazil did not expect to see higher hospitalisation and death levels, citing Brazil’s vaccination programme.