January 20, 2022

Omicron Coronavirus Highlights: India suspends international flights till Jan 31 – The Indian Express

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Omicron Covid-19 Variant Highlights: India will keep scheduled international passenger flights suspended till January 31, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Thursday. This comes days after the Centre decided not to resume scheduled international flights from December 15, less than a week after announcing the date, in the wake of rising concerns over the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron.
Meanwhile, the Union government on Thursday asked states and Union Territories to ensure adequate buffer stock of the eight critical drugs used for clinical treatment of Covid-19 and advised them to review the readiness of hospitals to deal with any possible surge in cases. Reviewing the public health preparedness for the Omicron variant and the progress of vaccination via video conference, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan urged the health Secretaries and NHM MDs of states and UTs to ensure that all health facilities have functional ventilators, PSA plants and oxygen concentrators.
With 7,992 people testing positive for the coronavirus in a day, India’s Covid-19 tally climbed to 3,46,682,736, while the number of active cases declined to 93,277, the lowest in 559 days, according to Union Health Ministry data updated on Saturday.
The death toll mounted to 4,75,128 with the addition of 393 fatalities, according to the data updated at 8 am. The daily rise in new coronavirus infections has been recorded below 15,000 for the last 44 days now. (PTI)
The US is expanding Covid-19 boosters, ruling that 16- and 17-year-olds can get a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine. The US and many other nations already were urging adults to get booster shots to pump up immunity that can wane months after vaccination, calls that intensified with the discovery of the worrisome new omicron variant.
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds to get a third dose of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech — if it’s been six months since their last shot.
There’s one more step: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must formally recommend the boosters for this age group and a decision is expected soon.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only option in the US for anyone younger than 18, either for initial vaccination or for use as a booster. It’s not yet clear if or when teens younger than 16 might need a third Pfizer dose. (AP)

Delhi on Thursday recorded zero death due to COVID-19 and 55 fresh cases with a positivity rate of 0.09 per cent, according to data shared by the city health department. The number of cumulative cases stood at 14,41,569.
The death toll due to the coronavirus infection in Delhi stands at 25,100. Two deaths have been recorded in December so far due to coronavirus infection — December 6 and December 8. Seven Covid-19 deaths were reported here in November this year, the highest count of fatalities due to the infection in the last three months in the national capital, according to official data. Delhi had recorded four Covid deaths in October and five in September.
The case positivity rate stood at 0.09 per cent on Thursday, according to the health bulletin. (PTI)
The World Health Organisation expressed concerns Thursday that rich countries spooked by the emergence of the omicron variant could step up the hoarding of Covid-19 vaccines and strain global supplies again, complicating efforts to stamp out the pandemic.
The UN health agency, after a meeting of its expert panel on vaccination, reiterated its advice to governments against the widespread use of boosters in their populations so that well-stocked countries instead can send doses to low-income countries that have largely lacked access to them.
“What is going to shut down disease is for everybody who is especially at risk of disease to become vaccinated,” said Dr. Kate O’Brien, head of WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals. “We seem to be taking our eye off that ball in countries.” Meanwhile, the European Union’s drug regulator said Thursday it is closely following the spread of the new variant and whether new vaccines will be required to fight it. Vaccine makers are racing to update their Covid-19 shots against the newest coronavirus threat even before it’s clear a change is needed. (AP)
Maharashtra recorded 789 new Covid-19 cases and seven fatalities, but no new patient of the recently discovered Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was found in the state in the last 24 hours, the health department said on Thursday.
With the fresh Covid-19 cases, the state’s overall infection tally reached 66,41,677, while the toll rose to 1,41,211, it said. On Wednesday, Maharashtra had reported 893 new coronavirus cases and 10 deaths. A bulletin issued by the health department said 585 patients were discharged from hospitals in the last 24 hours, taking the number of recovered cases to 64,90,305. There are now 6,482 active Covid-19 cases in the state.
The Covid-19 recovery rate in the state stands at 97.72 per cent, while the fatality rate is 2.12 per cent. (PTI)
Austria plans to impose fines of up to 3,600 euros (around USD 4,000) on people who flout a coronavirus vaccine mandate it aims to introduce in February for all residents age 14 and over, the health minister said Thursday.
The government announced last month that it would implement a general vaccine mandate early next year, becoming the first European country to do so. It has drawn up details of the draft legislation in recent weeks, with backing from two of the three opposition parties in parliament.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said that there will be exemptions for pregnant women — though he stressed that vaccinations are recommended for them too — for people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons, and for people who have recovered from COVID-19 in the previous six months. The legislation is due to take effect on February 1. (AP)
The Delhi High Court on Thursday pulled up the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) for “complaining” about non-compliance of hawking conditions by certain vendors at Nehru Place and said that it is for the authority to ensure that the orders are followed.
A bench headed by Justice Manmohan said that it was surprising that the ground reality was not brought to the notice of the committee constituted to look into such issues and questioned what the coordinator was doing.
“But what is your committee doing? What is your coordinator doing?… I will direct the committee to take action and file a status report,” said the bench, also comprising Justice Navin Chawla.
The court sought an action-taken report from the committee as well as the presence of the committee in charge on the next date of hearing. (PTI)
The cumulative Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country crossed 131 crore on Thursday, the Union Health Ministry said.
On Thursday, more than 67 lakh (67,11,113) doses were administered till 7 pm, the ministry said, adding the daily vaccination tally is expected to increase further with the compilation of the final reports for the day by late night.
The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 with healthcare workers (HCWs) getting inoculated in the first phase. The vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) started from February 2. The next phase of vaccination commenced from March 1 for people over 60 years of age and those aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions.
The country launched vaccination for all people aged more than 45 years from April 1. The government then decided to expand the vaccination drive by allowing everyone above 18 to be vaccinated from May 1. (PTI)
India will keep scheduled international passenger flights suspended till January 31, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Thursday.
In a press release, the aviation regulator said that ‘in partial modification of circular dated 26-11-2021, the competent authority has decided to extend the suspension of scheduled international commercial passenger services to/from India till January 31, 2022.’
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The Mumbai civic body on Thursday said the genome sequencing of 211 Covid-19 samples showed that two of them had the newer Omicron variant, while some 89 per cent had the Delta derivative and 11 per cent the Delta variant.
This was the fifth batch of samples sent for genome sequencing, and none of the patients from whom the samples were collected was deceased, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation release said.
The overall results of the test make it clear the Covid-19 outbreak in Mumbai is completely under control as a result of vaccination, but, in the light of warnings by experts on the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, people must ensure they adhere to pandemic protocols like wearing masks, following hand hygiene and maintaining social distancing, the release said. (PTI)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the use of AstraZeneca’s antibody cocktail to prevent Covid-19 infections in individuals with weak immune systems or a history of severe side effects from coronavirus vaccines.
The antibody cocktail, Evusheld, is only authorized for adults and adolescents who are not currently infected with the novel coronavirus and have not recently been exposed to an infected individual, the regulator said.
The authorization for the therapy, made up of two monoclonal antibodies tixagevimab and cilgavimab, marks a significant step for AstraZeneca, whose widely used Covid-19 vaccine is yet to be approved by U.S. authorities. AstraZeneca last month had agreed to supply the U.S. government with 700,000 doses of Evusheld, which had earlier shown to cut the risk of people developing any Covid-19 symptoms by 77% in a late-stage trial. (Reuters)
African governments might have to resort to COVID-19 vaccine mandates if their citizens don’t hurry to get the increasingly available doses, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
The warning by John Nkengasong to reporters that governments “will not have a choice” came as the flow of doses to Africa’s 54 countries grows but vaccine hesitancy — and the short shelf life of some donations — create new pressures to get them into the arms of the continent’s 1.3 billion people. “We don’t need to get there if we just do the right thing,” Nkengasong said of vaccine mandates.
He called any lack of interest in vaccine uptake “extremely unfortunate” after African officials have fought for months against dramatic vaccine inequality between their nations and richer ones around the world.
Africa remains the world’s least vaccinated continent against Covid-19, with less than 8% of the continent’s population fully jabbed. (AP)
In the wake of new Covid-19 clusters emerging and the threats of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Karnataka government on Thursday decided to focus on cluster management and to issue fresh guidelines to hostels, aimed at controlling spread of the infection.
Not wanting to take any “hasty decision” regarding imposing curbs, it said, a decision regarding such measures like night curfew and restrictions on Christmas and New Year celebrations will be taken after analysing the situation for a week.
“Regarding COVID, our Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) head Dr M K Sudarshan has informed about the current situation, he has shared details about the Omicron variant. According to him, looking at the current figures and the positivity rate, there is no need for any major concern or worry,” Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said.
Speaking to reporters Bengaluru after the cabinet meeting, he said, still the government felt it is necessary to take certain precautionary measures, like issuing new guidelines for hostels and their management like- sanitising, letting people for food in a staggered way, restricting visitors, double dose vaccination for all staff working there, and setting up a separate isolation room. (PTI)
Karnataka Health and Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar Thursday said that the state has moved up to the “first position among major states in the country” in terms of first-dose vaccination coverage against Covid-19. 
He explained that the state surpassed Gujarat on December 8 with 94.38 per cent of its adult population being confirmed to have received the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine. “While 4,89,16,000 is the adult population in Karnataka, 4,61,69,277 first doses of the vaccine have been administered as on December 8,” he said.
Later, in a tweet, Sudhakar shared statistics to indicate Gujarat (94.37 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (93.77 per cent) were trailing behind the state in second and third positions respectively. (ENS)
Britain’s decision to impose restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant will likely avoid the need to impose much tougher controls in the new year, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed tougher Covid-19 restrictions in England on Wednesday, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use vaccine passes to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Javid said the Omicron variant was spreading more swiftly than any other variant studied and could result in around 1 million infections across the United Kingdom by the end of the month if transmission continued at the current rate. (Reuters)
Vaccine makers are racing to update their Covid-19 shots against the newest coronavirus threat even before it’s clear a change is needed, just in case.
Experts doubt today’s shots will become useless but say it’s critical to see how fast companies could produce a reformulated dose and prove it works — because whatever happens with omicron, this newest mutant won’t be the last.
It’s too soon to know how vaccines will hold up against omicron. The first hints this week were mixed: Preliminary lab tests suggest two Pfizer doses may not prevent an omicron infection but they could protect against severe illness. And a booster shot may rev up immunity enough to do both. 
Better answers are expected in the coming weeks and regulators in the US and other countries are keeping a close watch. The World Health Organisation has appointed an independent scientific panel to advise on whether the shots need reformulating because of omicron or any other mutant. (AP)
Cuba has detected its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in a person who had traveled from Mozambique, Cuban state media agency ACN reported late on Wednesday.
The traveller, a health worker that resides in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, returned to the island on Nov. 27 and tested positive for Covid-19 the following day, according to the ACN report. Cuban health officials identified 18 people the traveler may have been in contact with since arriving in Cuba, but all were asymptomatic and had tested negative for the virus, the report said. (Reuters) 
Covid-19 infections have been spreading in pubs and clubs in Australia’s biggest city, including three new cases of the Omicron variant found among people who went on a harbour party cruise, sending officials rushing to trace contacts.
Authorities have been easing restrictions in Sydney since early October when the city emerged from a nearly four-month lockdown to contain the Delta coronavirus variant after the population reached higher vaccination levels.
“We have seen recently increased transmission in larger social venues … and that is certainly a contributing factor to the increase in cases,” Marianne Gale, New South Wales Deputy Chief Health Officer, said in a video posted on Twitter. Dozens of people who attended a Sydney pub quiz tested positive for the coronavirus and officials are awaiting the results of genomic tests to see if they are infected with the Omicron variant. (Reuters)
Authorities in Pakistan have detected the first case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in the South Asian nation, a provincial health ministry official told Reuters on Thursday.
The spokesperson in the southern province of Sindh said the infection was found in an unvaccinated patient being treated at a private hospital in Pakistan’s most populous city of Karachi.The patient had travelled abroad, said the official, who gave no details of the location, but added that contact tracing was underway. (Reuters)
Kerala on Wednesday recorded 5,038 new infections and 112 deaths, which took the caseload to 51,67,063 and the toll to 42,014. Of the 112 fataities, 35 were logged over the last few days and 77 were designated as Covid-19 deaths after receiving appeals based on the new guidelines of the Centre and the directions of the Supreme Court, a state government release said.
Among the 14 districts, Thiruvananthapuram recorded the highest with 773 fresh cases, followed by Ernakulam (764) and Kozhikode (615). Of the new cases, 53 were health workers, 17 from outside the state and 4,724 infected through contact with the source of it not being clear in 244.
There are currently 1,63,682 people under surveillance in various districts, of whom 1,58,990 are in home or institutional quarantine and 4,692 in hospitals, the release said. (PTI)
A BBMP vehicle sprays disinfectant in front of Vidhana Soudha in view of possible spread of Covid-19 variant Omicron, in Bengaluru, Tuesday, Dec 7, 2021. (PTI Photo)
As concerns of more cases detected with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 looms large, Karnataka’s active caseload has seen a rise of nearly 30 per cent in the first week of December.
According to Health and Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar, the state witnessed a rise of 27.45 per cent in the seven-day moving average of new Covid-19 cases confirmed daily during the first week of December, in comparison with the same a week earlier.
Meanwhile, data from the State Health Department indicated that the active caseload in the state was 7,067 as on Monday (December 6). The same recorded on November 29 was 6,878.
Additional Chief Secretary of the state Health Department Dr Pradeep Vyas has written to the Union Ministry of Health that the rates of Rapid RT-PCR tests at Mumbai International Airport Limited run by Adani Airports are too high.
In the wake of Omicron, Maharashtra has intensified Covid testing on the advice of the Centre. Vyas and his team have been having a series of discussions with the Centre and MIAL on this. Speaking to The Indian Express, Vyas said there should be uniformity of rates across airports.
The letter written by Vyas to Additional Secretary Arti Ahuja of the Union Health Ministry says, “At the Mumbai airport the rapid RTPCR test is being charged at Rs 4500, which operator has agreed to bring it down to Rs 3900 per test, but still it is very high compared to the rates of similar test at other airports like Bengaluru, Chennai and Kochi.”

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