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Moderna has started testing an Omicron-specific Covid booster in healthy adults. Moderna Inc. enrolled the first participant in a clinical trial of its Omicron-specific vaccine booster. The study will test the shot in 600 adults who have received its existing vaccine, including 300 who have received just two doses and another 300 who have also received a third booster shot. Moderna is testing the Omicron-targeted booster because of “the long-term threat demonstrated by Omicron’s immune escape,” Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said in a statement. “We also are evaluating whether to include this Omicron-specific candidate in our multivalent booster.”
More than 10 billion doses of vaccine have been administered across the globe, according to the latest tally from the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The total is more than enough to give a dose to every person on Earth. But the milestone hides substantial inequality: Just over 13 months since the first vaccines went into arms, many wealthy, developed nations have achieved deep levels of vaccination across their populations. Many less-wealthy places, particularly in Africa, have not.
While several countries are reporting increases in the Omicron subvariant BA.2, the main BA.1 variant still represents 98.8% of the genetic sequences collected and submitted to the international GISAID database, the World Health Organization said in its weekly Covid report. The WHO said it’s continuing to monitor all subvariants of Omicron.
News by region
US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 72 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 876,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The Americas have seen their highest daily Covid caseloads since the pandemic began, and Omicron has clearly become the predominant variant, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said.
The United States has donated more than 400m Covid vaccine doses to 112 countries, marking a major milestone in the White House’s goal of donating 1.2bn vaccine doses under president Joe Biden’s direction.
Italy: Italy will ease Covid restrictions for all visitors from European Union countries starting from 1 February, its health ministry said on Wednesday.
Denmark: In Denmark, the government announced it will scrap most pandemic restrictions next week, even as neighbouring Sweden extended its own measures for another fortnight.
Sweden: Sweden will extend its current pandemic measures by another two weeks, the minister for health said on Wednesday, as Omicron is spreading at record speed. The curbs mean bars and restaurants have to close at 11pm and there is a cap of 500 people inside larger indoor venues.
Norway: Norway can now start gradually easing restrictions over a short period without risking a higher disease burden, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said. “We say this now even though we are facing a significant wave, because we must acknowledge that there is hardly any way out,” Director General Camilla Stoltenberg said in a statement on Wednesday. “We can’t just push the epidemic in front of us, because the measures also have major disadvantages.”
Germany: Germany reported a record 164,000 new cases, compared with 126,955 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI. Reported new deaths associated with the virus rose by 166, bringing the total to 117,126. The 7-day incidence rate also rose to record 940.6 per 100,000 people.
Police in Berlin have been authorised to crack down on protesters wearing badges resembling yellow star badges and other symbols associated with the Nazi era at demonstrations against vaccine mandates or other pandemic restrictions.
France: Covid cases reached a record in France, exceeding 500,000 for the first time.
UK: The UK has reported a further 102,292 Covid infections and 346 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to the latest data from the government’s coronavirus dashboard. That compares with 94,326 cases and 439 fatalities in the 24 hours prior.
About two-thirds of the participants in a large UK study who tested positive this month reported a previous infection with the virus, researchers found. Another 7.5% said they suspected they’d had an earlier case, according to the React-1 study led by Imperial College London. Researchers looked at infections among some 100,000 volunteers from 5 January to 20 January.
Getting two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine lowers the odds of developing long Covid at least three months later by 41%, according to an observational study from the UK Office for National Statistics. Almost 15% of those who were unvaccinated reported long Covid symptoms, which can include fatigue or shortness of breath, compared with less than 10% of those who were double-vaccinated. The results cover the period up to Nov. 30, and don’t capture the impact of booster doses or the Omicron variant. “These results do provide quite a big measure of indicative evidence that double vaccination might well cause a reduction in the risk of long Covid, if one is unlucky enough to become infected after being vaccinated,” said Kevin McConway, professor of applied statistics at The Open University.
Austria: As pressure on hospitals eases, Austria will end its lockdown for people not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus on Monday, though some restrictions on public life will remain.
Poland: Poland reported a record 53,420 new cases and the government ordered remote schooling for older grades in primary schools and all high schools till end of February. The parliament plans to discuss draft regulations allowing companies to check vaccination status of their employees.
Romania: Romania’s cases almost doubled in the past 24 hours, reaching the highest level since the start of the pandemic of over 34,000 new infections.
Hungary: Hungary’s cases topped 20,000 for the first time, fuelled by the Omicron variant. Hospitalizations increased but remained below earlier waves.
China: China’s Omicron outbreak spread to its major e-commerce hub, with at least seven infections detected in Hangzhou, a city near Shanghai. There are concerns that cases may increase after one of the patients attended a company gathering along with several hundred people. The major port city of Tianjin reported one new Omicron infection just a day after cases had dropped to zero, while nearby Beijing continues to grapple with a worsening delta cluster that’s centered on cold-storage facility workers. The cases come just days away from the weeklong New Year break that typically sees hundreds of millions of Chinese people traverse the country to visit their families.
A vaccine being developed in China using messenger RNA, the new technology that has become the backbone for immunizing much of the world, may fall short of the benefits generated by shots from Pfizer Inc., BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. The first published study of the experimental vaccine from Walvax Biotechnology Co., Suzhou Abogen Biosciences Co. and the Chinese military generated twice the level of neutralizing antibodies seen in people who had recovered from a Covid-19 infection, though only at an intermediate dose. People given slightly more or slightly less produced fewer of the protective antibodies than those who recovered from an earlier infection, the study found.
China reported nine infections among incoming air travelers and another four in the closed loop involved in the Winter Olympics Tuesday, who are all from a category of “stakeholders,” the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics said in a statement. Stakeholders include broadcasting staffers, members of international federations, marketing partners’ personnel, Olympic and Paralympic family members and media and workforce staff members.
Taiwan: Taiwan reported 46 local cases and as many imported cases on Wednesday, according to its Centers for Disease Control. Askey Computer Corp., an affiliate of Asustek Computer Inc., is continuing its production halt after reporting new cases, health minister Chen Shih-chung said.
Hong Kong: The Hong Kong government is considering changes in its quarantine rules as an Omicron outbreak taxes existing facilities, Sophia Chan, the city’s health secretary, told Bloomberg Television. Officials may shorten the amount of time travelers have to spend in hotel isolation – currently as long as 21 days – as the circulating variant appears to have a quicker incubation period. They may also allow home quarantine for some people, such as close contacts, if government facilities become full, she said. The health of the people will remain the main priority of the government, Chan said, emphasizing that officials remain committed to eliminating the virus within the city. She’s optimistic Hong Kong will return to some semblance of normalcy within the next year.
South Korea: South Korea reported 14,518 daily new Covid cases, the third straight day of record numbers and nearly double the peak from last month. Health officials at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency say the number could double again, reaching 30,000 a day in February, as Omicron continues to spread. The rising cases aren’t yet triggering severe disease. There were 34 deaths and 350 patients in critical condition, the lowest since early November, according to the agency.
Japan: Japan is set to miss a target to give booster shots to almost 15 million people this month after the fast spread of the Omicron variant threw initial rollout plans into disarray. About 2.6 million people had received their third dose as of Tuesday, roughly 18% of the target for January, according to government figures.
Australia: New South Wales state reported Wednesday that it passed 1 million Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began, just as people gathered across the nation for Australia Day events. Hospital admissions in NSW, the country’s most populous state, dropped slightly to 2,794 and ICU numbers eased to 175 over the past 24 hours, according to government data. In Queensland state, where the health system is also under strain due to the spread of the Omicron variant, officials expressed optimism that infections may peak soon in the south-east.
Middle-east and Africa
Israel: Israel has broadened its eligibility for a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine to include adults under 60 with underlying medical conditions, their carers and others over 18 at significant risk of exposure to coronavirus.
The great return
US: Goldman Sachs Group Inc. will make announcements related to its return-to-office plans next month, as the Covid-19 pandemic transitions to an endemic stage, Chief Operating Officer John Waldron said. The bank is entering a period where it can bring more staff back and has about 20% of employees in its offices around the US, Waldron said at a virtual meeting with the New Jersey State Investment Council on Wednesday.The firm expects to offer employees more flexibility and more hybrid work, Waldron said.
Citigroup Inc. asked staffers in the New York City region to begin returning to the office early next month as cases start to recede in the area. Employees in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were asked to prepare to come back on 7 February. For other locations across the US, Citigroup will continue to monitor local health data before inviting more workers to return. A spokeswoman confirmed the bank’s plans.
UK: Citigroup has asked its London staff to come into the office at least three days a week after the UK government said people no longer needed to work from home.
Germany: BioNTech SE plans a 50% boost in staff at its biggest German factory this year as the Omicron wave drives demand for boosters. BioNTech will add some 250 jobs this year at the factory in Marburg, north of Frankfurt, the company said. Already one of the biggest messenger RNA vaccine factories in the world, the Marburg site has supplied more than 1.2 billion doses of the Covid vaccine BioNTech sells together with Pfizer Inc.
Singapore: Royal Caribbean is considering relocating its cruise ships to Singapore due to the stringent measures in Hong Kong and high operating costs, local media outlet HK01 reported Tuesday, citing unidentified people. The company may also stop its “cruise-to-nowhere” business in Hong Kong.