Endemic Phase Cited by More Nations; London Cases: Virus Update
Covid infection rates are falling in London, raising hopes that the omicron outbreak is in retreat. Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized for attending a gathering during the country’s first lockdown, saying he thought it was a work event.
A South African trial will assess the safety and impact of varying doses of Johnson & Johnson’s and Pfizer Inc.’s vaccines as boosters for those infected with HIV. Australia’s cases are surging and worsening worker shortages.
- Virus Tracker: Cases top 315.3 million; deaths pass 5.5 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.54 billion shots administered
- For emerging economies, new Covid wave spawns new thinking
- Omicron has workers ready to quit rather than return to office
- N95 mask prices hit ‘ridiculous’ highs on CDC advice speculation
- Covid test makers struggle to cope with whiplash from omicron
Illinois Hospitals Face Surge in Patients (3:45 p.m. NY)
Illinois has never had so many Covid-19 patients hospitalized as its seen in recent days. Currently, more than 7,100 people in the state are hospitalized due to the virus and the vast majority are unvaccinated, said Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“This is the absolute highest number, and not just by a couple,” Izike said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Our previous totals have been smashed.”
Only 9% of the state’s hospital intensive-care unit beds remain available, and a key reason is fewer available medical and health-care workers. The lower headcount is a result of retirements, resignations and quarantines due to exposure or infection, according to the state. To help, Governor J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced that he’s deploying more than 2,000 workers to assist hospitals hardest hit by the most recent surge.
Italy Readies Pandemic Aid Package (1:45 p.m. NY)
Italy’s government is working on a spending package that won’t require revising the budget to expand the deficit, people familiar with the matter said.
The measures could be announced as early as next week and would bring targeted relief to sectors hit by the surge in Covid-19 infections, such as tourism, the people said, asking not to be named discussing confidential plans. The package will also be used to refinance furlough programs for workers hit by the pandemic.
U.S. Orders 500,000 More Astra Doses (1:40 p.m. NY)
The U.S. government is in talks with AstraZeneca Plc to order 500,000 doses of its coronavirus antibody drug, used by vulnerable people before exposure to the virus to prevent severe illness.
Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said Wednesday that the administration and AstraZeneca are “in the process of ordering” the doses, which are aimed at immunocompromised people. The new order will push the total U.S. purchase to above 1 million doses, all due by the end of March, Zients said.
Fall in London Cases Raises Hope (11 a.m. NY)
Covid infection rates are falling in London, raising hopes that the omicron outbreak is in retreat.
Infections for the U.K. increased to 4.3 million in the first week of January, up from 3.7 million a week earlier, the Office for National Statistics said. England accounted for the bulk, at just over 3.7 million, and the highest infection rate at 1-in-15.
But cases in London, which has been at the epicenter of the U.K. outbreak, dropped from 1 in 10 to 1 in 15. The hot spots are now the North West of England and Yorkshire and the Humber, where 1 in 10 people have Covid.
Signs that the virus may be retreating in the capital provide some hope that the worst may soon be over. A short, sharp surge in cases echoes the experience in South Africa, where omicron was first reported.
Swiss Add to Talk of Endemic Phase (10:30 a.m. NY)
Switzerland’s interior minister said the transition from pandemic to a stage where the country learns to live with Covid-19 like the flu may be in sight.
“We may be on the eve of a watershed, the transition from a pandemic phase to an endemic phase,” Alain Berset, whose ministry includes health, said at a media conference Wednesday.
Berset’s comments follow a call by Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday to consider treating the crisis differently, given that the omicron wave of infections hasn’t led to an equivalent surge in hospitalizations and deaths. Britain’s Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, told the BBC on Sunday the U.K. is “on a path towards transitioning from pandemic to endemic.”
NYC Contact Tracing Shifts to Texts (10:20 a.m. NY)
New York City’s contact-tracing program is shifting to a text-message-based system amid a 960% increase in new Covid-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, city health officials said Wednesday.
The nation’s biggest city has thousands of contact tracers who previously made phone calls to infected and exposed people to trace transmission and identify case clusters. Despite the shift in method, the city isn’t shutting down its contact-tracing program.
Greece Extends Curbs by One Week (10:20 a.m. NY)
Greece is extending measures introduced to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the omicron variant by one week to Jan. 23, the country’s health ministry said Wednesday. The daily number of new coronavirus cases has fallen over the past week from a record high on Jan. 4 after the introduction on Dec. 29 of the measures that include the compulsory wearing of masks outdoors, and for restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs to close at midnight. A 100 euro ($114) fine for every month that people age 60 and over remain unvaccinated enters into force on Jan. 16.
Novartis Seeks Covid Drug Nod Before Last Test (8:09 a.m. NY)
Novartis AG will seek to bring its experimental Covid drug to patients without waiting for results from a large clinical trial, Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan said.
The Swiss pharma giant aims to request an emergency-use authorization for the compound with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within the next month, Narasimhan said in an interview. A larger study to confirm promising data that emerged this week may be finished by the second half of the year.
“Our aspiration at the moment is to see if we get an emergency-use authorization and interest from certain governments to even utilize the medicine during these waves that are ongoing,” Narasimhan said.
Scholz Says Unvaccinated Put Others at Risk (8:08 a.m. NY)
Chancellor Olaf Scholz issued a strong appeal for Germans to get vaccinated, saying failing to do so puts others at risk as the nation grapples with the fast-spreading omicron variant.
Speaking to parliament on Wednesday, Scholz reaffirmed his support for making shots compulsory for all adults, saying the measure is needed to ensure health-care services don’t get overwhelmed.
Germany posted a record increase in infections and the seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people climbed back above 400 as the omicron variant spread in Europe’s biggest economy. The number of Covid patients in ICUs has nonetheless been steadily dropping from the latest peak last month.
Denmark May Reopen Cinemas, Museums (7:35 a.m. NY)
Denmark’s government is set to propose the reopening of cinemas and museums from next week, despite record high daily infections.
The Nordic country shut down cultural venues before Christmas to halt the spread of the omicron variant. But with recent data suggesting that patients are less likely to have severe illness, Danish health experts recommend a slow return to normalcy.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen supports the recommendation, she told reporters in Copenhagen. The government is expected to announce its decision later on Wednesday pending support from a majority in parliament.
France to Ease U.K. Travel Restrictions (7:20 a.m. NY)
France plans to ease restrictions at the border with the U.K. further in the coming days, according to a government spokesman.
The government hopes to be able to make an announcement by the end of the week, spokesman Gabriel Attal said in a briefing. The easing is justified because the omicron variant is now dominant among newly infected patients in France.
U.K.’s Johnson Apologizes About Office Party (7:15 a.m. NY)
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, under scrutiny for office parties that broke Covid rules, apologized for attending a gathering during lockdown on May 20, 2020, saying he thought it was a work event.
Opposition politicians have called for Johnson’s resignation over the event, a “bring your own bottle” party at the height of a lockdown meant to stem the first pandemic wave.
Pfizer Says Covid Shot Safe With Other Vaccine (7:02 a.m. NY)
Pfizer said its Prevnar 20 pneumococcal vaccine and Covid shot were administered together to older adults in a clinical trial without adverse effects. The responses to Prevnar were similar whether the patients got a placebo or the pandemic injections.
Ireland to Ease Restrictions for Contact Cases (7:01 a.m. NY)
People in Ireland who have received a booster shot will no longer need to self-isolate if they are a close contact of someone with Covid under changes approved by the government, according to national broadcaster RTE.
Anyone who is positive must now isolate for seven days rather than 10 under the plan due to come into effect from midnight Thursday, RTE said. Close contacts who have not received a booster will have to restrict their movements for seven days.
Pfizer, J&J Shots to Be Tested in HIV Patients (5:05 p.m. HK)
A South African trial will assess the safety and impact of varying doses of Johnson & Johnson’s and Pfizer Inc.’s vaccines as boosters for those infected with HIV as well as the wider population.
With about 13% of South Africa’s population infected with HIV, the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in generating a response in immuno-compromised individuals has been a key concern. HIV causes AIDS, which weakens the immune system.
Israel Sees Cases Peaking in Two Weeks (4:47 p.m. HK)
Israel’s latest Covid wave will likely reach its peak -- triggering somewhere between 800,000 and 2 million cases -- in about two weeks, according to researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The scientists anticipate about 1,000 to 2,000 severe cases in the heavily vaccinated country. They recommended limiting gatherings in closed places in order to slow the pace of infections and ensure the continued functioning of the economy, as well as proper treatment of those who are hospitalized.
South Korea May Extend Distancing Rules (3:18 p.m. HK)
South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party and government held a meeting to discuss whether to extend social-distancing rules that are scheduled to expire on Sunday, a ruling party spokeswoman said.
Biden Team to Prod Covid Test Production (3 p.m. HK)
The White House is moving to prevent future shortages of tests by ensuring they continue to be produced in large numbers even after the surging omicron variant recedes.
“We’re going to keep moving at this speed, and faster, to get volume up on a monthly basis,” Tom Inglesby, President Joe Biden’s newly appointed testing coordinator, said in an interview.
Biden is under pressure to bolster availability of testing as the highly transmissible omicron variant fuels a record number of coronavirus cases. Americans are waiting in long lines -- sometimes for hours -- to get tested, and quickly snap up the limited supply of at-home kits from store shelves, leading to widespread frustration that poses a political risk for the president.
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