Singapore detects 552 Covid cases and 13 deaths
Singapore detected 552 Covid infections on Sunday, taking the seven-day average to 971 cases a day.
The city state confirmed another 13 people had died from Covid-related causes in the past 24 hours, compared with 11 the same day last week. The country’s virus death toll is now 759.
After ending its zero Covid strategy of eliminating the virus in autumn, Singapore saw surging infections in September, with daily cases peaking in late October at above 4,000. Infections have since fallen to an average of about 1,000 a day.
Five senior health officers in Jordan were sentenced to three years in prison on Sunday, for causing the deaths of ten Covid patients in March following an oxygen outage.
A court found the director of a state hospital and four senior aides – in the city of Salt – were responsible for the deaths, according to state media, after they failed to act for nearly an hour after Covid ward oxygen ran out.
The event sparked anti-government protests across the country and provoked the resignation of health minister Nathir Obeida. Prime minister Bisher al Khasawneh said his government bore full responsibility for the incident.
Reuters has further details:
Shortly after the deaths, King Abdullah visited the hospital and publicly scolded health officials in the corridor of the hospital, where police were deployed to hold back hundreds of angry relatives and protesters who were encircling the compound.
The royal visit was intended to defuse tensions in a country where anger with the authorities has in the past triggered widespread civil unrest.
Since the incident, the authorities have dismissed scores of officials in state hospitals in a campaign to curb mismanagement and perceived corruption.
It has poured tens of millions of dollars to train and recruit health workers in goverment hospitals that face shortages of qualified staff.
A man travelling from Turkey to Tunisia has tested positive for the Omicron strain, in Tunisia’s first case of the highly mutated variant.
The man, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, arrived at Tunis International airport from Istanbul on Friday and tested positive for Covid, AP reports. The sample was confirmed as Omicron on Sunday by health authorities after screening at the Pasteur Institute for Public Health.
The man’s brother is quarantining and has so far tested negative for Covid. Other travellers have also been instructed to quarantine.
Tunisia restricted travel after the strain emerged, for instance requiring travellers aged over six from 1 December to submit a negative test result less than 48 hours before flying. Mandatory quarantine for the unvaccinated was extended from seven to ten days.
Russia records 32,602 infections and 1,206 deaths
Russia confirmed 32,602 new Covid infections on Sunday, largely flat on the 32,786 new cases reported on Sunday last week.
Another 1,206 people died from Covid-related causes, the Moscow Times reported, compared to 1,190 deaths this time last week. Russia recorded its deadliest month in decades in October.
Russia’s total excess deaths since the start of the pandemic are now over 810,000.
Russia experienced soaring cases over autumn, regularly breaking its record case tally. Daily cases peaked above 40,000 in early November before sliding down, but recent numbers remain above 30,000 a day.
Poland confirms 22,389 cases and 45 deaths
Poland detected 22,389 positive Covid infections in the past 24 hours, local media Polskie Radio reported, rising 9% on the 20,574 new cases on Sunday last week.
A further 45 people died from Covid-related causes, down from 504 on Saturday – as reported figures tend to be lower at weekends. On Wednesday Poland recorded 570 Covid deaths, the highest reported daily figure since April.
Poland has seen surging cases since October. Mazowieckie province, home to the capital Warsaw, continues to be the engine driving cases with 3,469 on Sunday.
The government imposed a flight ban on seven African countries after the emergence of the Omicron variant, and introduced mandates that public venues including hotels, churches and restaurants could only be half-full from 1-17 December.
Brussels protest against Covid restrictions turns violent
Protests in Brussels, Belgium against government restrictions to suppress Covid turned violent on Sunday, with police firing teargas and water cannon at demonstrators who threw cobblestones and fireworks.
The “Liberty Walk Act 2” protest opposed restrictions imposed in October requiring a Covid pass for people to enter public venues like bars and restaraunts – as the government tries to put a lid on the country’s surging Covid cases.
Violence also erupted two weeks ago in a similar protest that drew 35,000 people. Sunday’s numbers were closer to a few thousand, Reuters reported.
Belgium’s seven-day average of new Covid cases was 17,976 a day on Saturday, with a seven-day average of 47 deaths a day.
The number of Omicron strain cases in India rose to 12 on Sunday, after seven new cases of the mutated Covid variant were recorded in the state of Maharashtra and one more case in New Delhi.
But scientists expect India’s potential Omicron wave to be less severe than that from Delta – which saw a devastating wave in March and April – after a wall of immunity was built as 70% of the population are believed to have been infected with previous variants.
About 50% of India’s adult population are fully vaccinated, the federal health ministry said.
Italy reports 15,021 cases and 43 deaths
Italy reported 15,021 new Covid cases on Sunday, 16% up from 12,927 on the same day last week.
The health ministry said a further 43 Covid-related deaths were recorded, down from 103 on Wednesday. (Reported figures are often lower at weekends.)
Italy announced new restrictions for unvaccinated people last week. People require a Green Pass – vaccination, proof of a negative test or recent recovery from the virus – to eat in restaraunts, visit gyms, museums, theatres and other public venues.
UK detects 43,992 infections and 54 deaths
The UK detected 43,992 positive Covid infections in the past 24 hours, up 21% from 36,507 cases on Sunday last week.
A further 54 deaths were reported on Sunday, down from 171 recorded on Wednesday. (Reported figures are often lower at weekends.)
The figures came after Northern Ireland announced on Sunday that, similar to travel advice announced for England on Saturday, anyone arriving into the country will need to take a pre-departure Covid test from 4am on Tuesday – including the double-vaccinated.
This is Jem Bartholomew taking charge of the blog from here.
Here’s a summary of the day’s events so far:
- The UK’s political leaders have already left it too late to make a substantial difference to a potential wave of Omicron cases, a government scientific adviser said. Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said the variant is now spreading spreading pretty rapidly in the country and described measures being introduced by the government as “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.
- The country’s deputy prime minister piled more pressure on Boris Johnson over claims No 10 hosted Christmas parties while forcing the rest of the country into lockdown a year ago. Dominic Raab admitted such parties would have been a breach of Covid restrictions if they occurred. The prime minister does not deny that they did.
- The UK’s health secretary Sajid Javid called on the public to get the booster vaccine before spending time with their loved ones at Christmas. Javid said it was “absolutely crucial” the public “top-up” their immunity before the holidays.
I’m now handing over to my colleague Jem Bartholomew.
Denmark records ‘concerning’ Omicron jump to 183 total cases
There has been a “concerning” jump to 183 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Denmark, local health authorities said.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the number represents a tripling of confirmed cases in 48 hours, from 18 confirmed and 42 suspected cases on Friday, according to data from the SSI public health institute.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) had previously tallied just 182 cases across all of the European Union, plus Norway and Iceland, AFP reports.
Denmark is one of Europe’s most advanced countries in sequencing of coronavirus variants. It often detects more cases more quickly than its neighbours, which does not necessarily indicate higher rates of infection.
SSI chief said the increase in Omicron cases was nevertheless ‘concerning’, adding that ‘there are now chains of infection where the variant is found in people who have not travelled abroad or been in contact with travellers’.
Also on Sunday, the ECDC said Omicron had been reported in 17 countries in its region.
‘The majority of confirmed cases have a history of travel to countries in Africa, with some having taken connecting flights at other locations between Africa and Europe,’ the ECDC said on its website before the Danish announcement.
Nevertheless, ‘several EU/EEA countries (Belgium, Germany, Spain) detected cases without an epidemiological link to areas where community transmission of the Omicron variant is documented or presumed,’ it added.
‘This indicates that undetected community transmission could be ongoing in these countries.’
Here’s a little more on those comments from Walensky, who has told ABC News:
We know we have several dozen cases and we’re following them closely. And we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise.
The minimum of 15 states with reported Omicron cases include: California, Colorado and Connecticut, as well as Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts. Also among their number are Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska, as well as New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Te remainder, according to a Reuters tally, are Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
The news agency says Louisiana has also reported a probable case, while the person reported in New Jersey had also previously traveled to Georgia, which also reported the positive test.
Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease official, has said he hopes the ban on travellers from southern African countries can be lifted in a “reasonable period of time” as more information is gathered on the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.
Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that US authorities are mindful of the hardship the travel ban is causing in those countries and are constantly re-evaluating the policy.
The variant had been found in about 15 US states as of Saturday night but the Delta variant remains the majority cases nationwide, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director Rochelle Walensky told ABC News.
Staying in the UK, the former prime minister Tony Blair has blamed the continuation of the pandemic on a failure to coordinate vaccination campaigns on a global scale, rather than on a national one. He told BBC Radio 4:
It’s always been very obvious that, if you don’t vaccinate the world, this is a virus that can mutate. If you’ve got large populations that are unvaccinated, it’s likely to mutate faster and further.
The failure to organise mass vaccination globally has been a huge problem right throughout this crisis. There really have been three things obvious from the beginning: one we’re going to live with this virus, we’re not going to get rid of it; two vaccinations are the only way out of it and three that virus anywhere is virus everywhere.
So I think, even at this stage, it’s possible to change course. But we need to have it organised and so now it’s not just going to be about the supply of vaccines.
I think over the coming weeks and months, we’ll have a large supply of vaccine flowing even to Africa. But we will have to organise the distribution, the logistics and [it’s] absolutely vitally we’ve got to organise global genomic sequencing so that we know what’s happening in countries.
The UK’s NHS will be in a “very, very difficult position” if the Omicron variant were to lead to a surge in hospital admissions in the UK, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has warned.
Dr Katherine Henderson said hospitals were already struggling to cope as they enter winter.
It is pretty spectacularly bad now, it will get worse – and if the new variant becomes a thing in terms of numbers and translates into hospitals admissions we are going to be in a very, very difficult position.
We will always still be there. We still want patients to come but we do have to help people to understand that really at the moment the service is so stretched that an extra push could be very very difficult.
Hundreds of people have marched through central Brussels to protest tightened restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter the latest spike in cases.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that marchers came to protest the measures that were announced on Friday – the third week in a row the government has tightened its rules as the latest surge in cases strains the country’s health services, depriving people with other life-threatening diseases like cancer of treatment.
Shouting “freedom” and carrying banners that said: “United for our freedom, rights and our children,” people marched to the European Union headquarters. Some also carried signs critical of vaccines and against making the coronavirus shots mandatary, the AP said.
On Friday, the Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo announced that kindergartens and primary schools will close for the holiday season a week early, and that children must now wear masks from the age of six. Indoor events will only be allowed with a maximum of 200 people.
The AP reports that, previously, the government closed nightclubs and ordered bars and restaurants to shut at 11pm for three weeks. Speculation had been rife that closing times would be brought forward to 8pm but the cabinet decided against it, for now.
According to the latest coronavirus figures, the nation of 11 million people appears to have reached a plateau. On a weekly average, 17,862 new daily cases were reported, a rise of 6% over the previous week. Hospital admissions rose 4%. More than 3,700 people are in hospital with the virus, 821 of them in intensive care. More than 27,000 people have died since the outbreak began last year.