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WHO warns against assuming ‘decoupling’ of Omicron cases and deaths

Low hospitalisations and death rates from Omicron in South Africa cannot be assumed in other countries, a senior official at the World Health Organisation has said.

He gave the warning as authorities and governments around the world try different measures to contain the spread of the highly transmissible variant.

Dr Abdi Mahamud, Covid-19 incident manager at the UN health agency, said a “decoupling” of cases and deaths in South Africa “cannot be extrapolated from South Africa to other countries, because each country is unique”.

A total of 128 countries now have confirmed Omicron cases, although the actual number could be higher. In France, officials intend to introduce a law by mid-January that would block unvaccinated people from hospitality venues, with some receiving death threats over the plans.

France already has a health pass which people can use to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or their recovery from the virus, in order to access some services. However, a stricter one could be introduced by the end of the week.

Leaders around the world are grappling with how to limit the spread of Covid-19 while avoiding the need for further lockdowns. On Tuesday Germany relaxed restrictions on travel from the UK, South Africa and seven other southern African countries following the emergence of Omicron.

These nations are now downgraded to Germany’s list of “high-risk areas”, which means those who arrive from them who are not fully vaccinated or recently recovered have to self-isolate for 10 days, which can be cut to five with a negative test.

More on Covid-19

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute said on Tuesday that 30,561 new coronavirus cases were reported in the previous 24 hours, over 9,000 more than a week earlier. The official infection rate was 239.9 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, and the real rate is believed to be two or three times higher.

In Spain, officials said schools and universities would return to classes next week with pandemic protocols in place, including face masks and hand sanitising.

Sweden has set a new record for daily cases with 11,507 on 30 December. King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia are among those who have tested positive, and are self-isolating at home with mild symptoms. They are both fully vaccinated with three jabs, and said they “feel well under the circumstances”, according to a statement from the royal household.

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said early data on a fourth vaccine shot – a second booster – shows it safely brings about a fivefold increase in antibodies. Israel has become the world’s first country to offer a fourth dose of the Pfizer vaccine to those aged 60 and over, those with weakened immune systems, adn medical workers.

Authorities in India’s capital, New Delhi, have asked people to stay at home in an attempt to contain a new wave of cases, with 37,379 in the past 24 hours – the highest since September. Among those infected was the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who said in a Twitter post he was suffering “mild symptoms”.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration authorised a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 and narrowed the interval for booster shot eligibility to five months from six.

As infections surged in the US by more than one million in a single day, a South Florida maternity unit was among the latest emergency and medical services forced to close, sending women elsewhere to give birth.

Christine Walker, spokeswoman for Holy Cross Health in Fort Lauderdale, said the decision was made “in the best interest of patient safety.”

Across the US, fire departments, airlines, and New York’s public transport authority have cancelled services due to staff absences.



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