Home » Covid Live: Most Europeans Could Get Omicron By March, Says WHO; China Locks Down City Of 5m People

Covid Live: Most Europeans Could Get Omicron By March, Says WHO; China Locks Down City Of 5m People

11:14

WHO: Most Europeans could contract Omicron by March

More than half of people in Europe could contract the Omicron coronavirus variant in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, the World Health Organization has warned, AFP reports.

Speaking at a press conference, regional director Hans Kluge warned that the Omicron variant represented a “new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across” the European region.

He said:

At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

According to the WHO, 26 of those countries reported that over one percent of their populations were “catching Covid-19 each week,” as of January 10, and that the region had seen over seven million new virus cases reported in the first week of 2022 alone.

Referencing data collected over the last few weeks, Kluge said the variant was confirmed to be more transmissible and “the mutations it has enable it to adhere to human cells more easily, and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.”

However, Kluge also stressed that “approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron.”

13:08

The US has agreed to buy 600,000 more doses of GSK and Vir Biotechnology’s Covid antibody therapy for an undisclosed sum, the drugmakers said, Reuters reports.

The additional doses of sotrovimab would be supplied to the United States 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 $1 bn 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, 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.

12:57

Brazil has become the latest country where Omicron has become the dominant Covid variant.

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said told reporters: “It already is the predominant variant in Brazil, we are seeing cases rising.”

He said Brazil did not expect to see higher hospitalization and death levels, citing Brazil’s vaccination programme.

12:51

Shares in the Spanish drugmaker PharmaMar jumped almost 20% after it said lab trials suggested its Plitidepsin drug was effective against Covid variants including Omicron, Reuters reports.

Results from in-vitro tests published in the Life Science Alliance journal showed that Plitidepsin, also known as Aplidin, had a potent antiviral effect in all variants and decreased the viral load detected in animal lung tissue by 99%, the company said.

The same paper also included previously published positive effects in Phase I and II clinical trials carried out on patients who were hospitalised with Covid.

The drug, originally developed as a cancer treatment, is now undergoing Phase III trials.

“All data we have seen so far with Plitidepsin corroborate our initial hypothesis about its antiviral activity,” PharmaMar Chairman Jose Maria Fernandez Sousa said in a statement.

Shares in the company rose 19% in early afternoon trade, on track for their best day in nearly a year. The shares had gained about 20% in January last year, also following encouraging news on Plitidepsin.

Updated

12:22

Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has called England’s relatively lax Covid rules an “unethical bet”, Politico reports:

The Social Democrat health chief is known for his tough approach to the pandemic, including a pro-mandatory vaccination position. After advocating for stricter rules in the hospitality sector last Friday and facing rapidly increasing case numbers, Lauterbach warned against copying England’s pandemic response.

“From my point of view, it’s an unethical bet,” he said, of England’s laissez-faire approach to the Omicron wave of coronavirus.

Updated

12:12

The Wellcome Trust, Britain’s biggest charity, is ramping up spending on science research to £16bn over the next 10 years, with a focus on funding next-generation Covid-19 vaccines, after it reaped the highest investment returns in a quarter of a century.

Read the full story here:

12:10

It is too soon to treat Omicron as a flu-like endemic illness, the World Health Organization has warned, Reuters reports.

On Sunday, the UK’s education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, called for the UK to show the rest of the world how to move from pandemic to endemic Covid.

But that is “a way off”, WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, said at a news briefing today. She adding that endemicity requires a stable and predictable transmission.

Smallwood said:

We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.

It may become endemic in due course, but pinning that down to 2022 is a little bit difficult at this stage.

12:02

Omicron has become the dominant variant in the Philippines, according to the health minister, Francisco Duque.

He said Omicron replaced Delta as the dominant variant in the country on Monday, with 60% of the samples in the most recent genome sequencing testing positive for Omicron.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (@pcoogov)

PANOORIN: Iniulat ni @DOHgovph Sec. Francisco Duque III na pinalitan na ng Omicron ang Delta bilang dominanteng COVID-19 variant sa bansa nitong Enero 10, 2022. Ayon kay Sec. Duque, 60% ng mga sample sa pinakahuling genome sequencing run ay positibo sa Omicron. pic.twitter.com/5pIJSSVYhM

January 11, 2022

11:39

From left to right Nikola Minchev – Chairman of the National Assembly, Rumen Radev – President of Bulgaria, and Kiril Petkov – Prime minister at a ceremony of sanctification of Bulgarian battle flags in Sofia on 6 January Photograph: Georgi Paleykov/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Bulgaria’s prime minister Kiril Petkov, President Rumen Radev and other officials have gone into quarantine after being in contact with the parliamentary speaker, who tested positive for Covid, AFP reports.

Bulgaria has the lowest vaccination rate in the European Union, with experts blaming low trust in the authorities and widespread conspiracy theories.

“Prime Minister Kiril Petkov is self-isolating … he continues to work remotely,” the government press service said.

Radev’s office also said the president and members of his administration were isolating but added they were “all in good health.”

Parliament speaker Nikola Minchev tested positive for Covid-19 after attending a five-hour meeting of the National Security Council hosted by Radev on Monday afternoon.

The talks were attended by key ministers – including those of the interior, defence and finance – as well as lawmakers and security sector officials.

Chief health inspector Angel Kunchev said all of them had gone into quarantine.

The Omicron variant is fuelling a fresh surge in cases, with 5,219 patients in hospital on Tuesday and 570 in intensive care.

11:18

A west-to-east “tidal wave” of Omicron infections risks submerging health systems across Europe, the World Health Organization has said, warning that more than half the region’s population will be infected with the variant in the next two months.

Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said the region had recorded more than 7m new cases in the first week of 2022, double the rate a fortnight previously, with more than 1% of the population catching Covid-19 each week in 26 countries.

Kluge said the variant had now been reported in 50 of the Europe region’s 53 states and was becoming dominant in western Europe. “At this rate, more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks”, he said – a scale of transmission he described as unprecedented.

Its impact would be deadliest where vaccination rates were lower such as central and eastern Europe, Kluge warned, saying he was “deeply concerned” that as the variant moves east, “we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated”.

In Denmark, he said, where Omicron cases had “exploded in recent weeks”, the Covid-19 hospitalisation rate for unvaccinated patients during Christmas week had been was six times higher than for those who were fully vaccinated.

Read the full story here:

Updated

11:14

WHO: Most Europeans could contract Omicron by March

More than half of people in Europe could contract the Omicron coronavirus variant in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, the World Health Organization has warned, AFP reports.

Speaking at a press conference, regional director Hans Kluge warned that the Omicron variant represented a “new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across” the European region.

He said:

At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

According to the WHO, 26 of those countries reported that over one percent of their populations were “catching Covid-19 each week,” as of January 10, and that the region had seen over seven million new virus cases reported in the first week of 2022 alone.

Referencing data collected over the last few weeks, Kluge said the variant was confirmed to be more transmissible and “the mutations it has enable it to adhere to human cells more easily, and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.”

However, Kluge also stressed that “approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron.”

10:58

Summary

Here is a round-up of the top Covid stories from the day so far:

  • Scars left by the Covid-19 pandemic have deepened the divide between rich and poor countries and will make it harder to find common cause in the fight against global heating, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • The UK’s main statistical body has reported more than 175,000 deaths involving Covid since the start of the pandemic where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.
  • Germany is reporting a daily rise of 45,690 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 322 deaths, according to the latest figures released by the Robert Koch Institute.
  • Porfirije, the 46th Patriarch of the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, the country’s largest Christian denomination, has tested positive for Covid, his office said on Tuesday.
  • Poland’s total Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 100,000.
  • Health officials have clarified that the recommended Covid self-isolation period in the US is shorter than in the UK at a time when the prime minister is considering reducing it to five days.
  • Nearly 1 million Hindu worshippers are expected to gather on the banks of the Ganges River this Friday and Saturday for a holy bathe despite soaring Covid infections across the country, an official told Reuters.
  • The central Chinese city of Anyang has ordered five million people to begin home confinement today in a new lockdown to curb the spread of Omicron variant. Residents are not to leave their homes or drive cars on the roads, while all non-essential businesses have been closed and outbound travel is restricted, state news agency Xinhua reports.
  • France announced an easing of Covid rules for schools as record-high case numbers shut down thousands of classes across the country.
  • At least 600,000 passengers cancelled plans to fly from Heathrow in December due to the Omicron coronavirus strain and the introduction of tougher travel restrictions, the airport said.
  • Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has said the government has secured enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster as well as a fourth dose.
  • Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced he has tested positive for Covid-19 for a second time, saying that he only has light symptoms.
  • Taiwan has tightened its entry requirements for new arrivals in the latest move to head off a large-scale Omicron outbreak.

That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for today. My colleague Matthew Weaver will be along shortly to pick up to global Covid live blog. Goodbye for now.

10:45

Slovenia reported a record 5,164 new Covid cases on Tuesday, a 52% rise from a week before, amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

Slovenia has vaccinated 67.3% of its population with at least two doses so far, according to the National Institute for Public Health.

Updated