Germany reports more than 80,000 new cases in new daily record
Germany has reported more than 80,000 new daily Covid-19 infections, marking a new daily record.
A total of 80,430 coronavirus cases and 384 deaths were recorded for Tuesday, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute.
In Norway, the country also set a new daily record with 9,622 new infections registered in the last 24 hours, This is 3,000 cases more than the average of the previous seven days (6,622), local media reports.
And a big thank you to very alert reader Francisco Javier Torres Tobar who brought these figures to my attention.
Tunisia to restore curfew and ban all gatherings
Tunisia will re-impose a night curfew and ban all gatherings for two weeks starting from Thursday to counter the rapid spread of Covid, the government said on Wednesday in a move critics decried as aimed at stopping protests.
The ban on gatherings and a request to avoid travel within the country except for emergencies comes two days before a planned demonstration against the president, Kais Saied, called by major political parties.
Tunisia imposed a curfew during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 and again for much of last year but lifted it in September as cases dropped.
The new curfew will be in place for at least two weeks and run from 10pm to 5am each night.
The government’s perceived poor response to the pandemic, including a botched vaccine roll-out, raised the political pressure before Saied dismissed parliament and seized broad powers in July in moves his critics call a coup.
Leaders of two parties that had joined the call for protests on Friday accused the government of restoring the health restrictions for political reasons.
“We will be on Revolution Street to protest whatever the cost,” Ghazi Chaouachi, the head of the Democratic Current, which had 22 of the suspended parliament’s 217 seats, told reporters, using a nickname to describe the capital’s Avenue Habib Bourguiba.
The measures were intended “to prevent a wave of popular anger that they can only confront by citing health conditions”, said the leader of the smaller Al Joumhouri party, Issam Chebbi.
Imagine being on a first date you couldn’t end? That’s what happened to a woman in China whose video blogs about going into a citywide lockdown during a blind date have gone viral, AFP reports.
Over 100 cases have been reported in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou since last week, as China battles to contain multiple local outbreaks of the Delta and Omicron variants.
Parts of the city were abruptly placed under lockdown last Wednesday when a woman was having dinner at her blind date’s house.
“Just after I arrived in Zhengzhou, there was an outbreak and his community was put under lockdown and I could not leave,” she told Shanghai-based outlet The Paper on Tuesday, adding that she went there for a week-long trip to meet potential suitors.
“I’m getting old now, my family introduced me to ten matches… The fifth date wanted to show off his cooking skills and invited me over to his house for dinner.”
Since then, she posted short videos documenting her daily life in lockdown, which show her date cooking meals for her, doing household chores and working at his laptop while she sleeps in, according to clips published by local media.
So far it seems romance has yet to blossom during their prolonged date.
“Besides the fact that he’s as mute as a wooden mannequin, everything else [about him] is pretty good,” the woman told The Paper. “Despite his food being mediocre, he’s still willing to cook, which I think is great.”
She said the recent surge in online attention had prompted her to remove the videos. She added:
Thanks everyone for your attention… I hope the outbreak ends soon and that my single sisters also find a relationship soon.
Vladimir Putin has said Russia has two weeks to prepare for a fresh wave of Covid infections driven by the Omicron variant after the WHO warned of a surge in Europe, AFP reports.
Russia has lifted nearly all the restrictions designed to limit the spread of the virus, despite an increasing caseload and growing Omicron infections. It is currently the worst-hit country in Europe in terms of virus-related deaths.
“We see what is happening in the world,” the Russian president told a meeting of cabinet ministers on Wednesday. “We have at least a couple of weeks to prepare.”
Regional and federal authorities should take steps with businesses to limit the impact of the new variant, he added.
The country found itself in an “extremely difficult situation”, said Putin.
He urged the prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, to increase domestic vaccination rates, including with Sputnik V, which the Kremlin chief claimed was “perhaps more efficient” than other vaccines used globally.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization warned that more than half of people in Europe would likely catch Omicron by March. Russia has only recently emerged from a deadly wave of the Delta variant.
Related: Omicron could infect 50% of Europeans in next two months, says WHO
Russia’s statistics agency said in December that some 87,000 people had died from the coronavirus in November alone, bringing the country’s total pandemic related deaths to more than 600,000 – nearly twice the official figure given by a government Covid website.
There is widespread vaccine scepticism in Russia. Even with several domestically produced jabs available for free for months now, as of Wednesday fewer than half of the population of 146 million have been inoculated, according to a government tally.
Following a strict – but brief – national lockdown in the beginning of the pandemic, Russia has held back on introducing measures to restrain the virus in the hopes of protecting its struggling economy.
The pandemic is also driving a demographic crisis in Russia. In 2020, the population shrank by 510,000 people – the sharpest decline in 15 years, Rosstat calculated.
With a sense of smell up to 100,000 times more sensitive than humans’, dogs have been employed in the service of sniffing out everything from contraband to crop molds to cancer.
Yet while researchers first began exploring whether canines could be effective agents in the fight against Covid early in the pandemic, only in recent months have conclusive, peer-reviewed studies begun verifying the hypothesis that dogs know Covid when they smell it.
In late 2021, scientists at Florida International University published a double-blind study of canine Covid detection in which the four participating pups demonstrated a 97.5% accuracy rate in identifying biomarkers associated with Covid-19.
“It’s one of the highest percentages I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been doing this work for over 25 years with all kinds of detector dogs,” says FIU’s Dr. Ken Furton, a leading scholar in forensic chemistry specializing in scent detection. “It’s really remarkable.”
Another study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found dogs could identify Covid 82%-94% of the time, whereas recent German research put their success rate at 95%.
The full story is here: ‘A protective bubble’: Covid-sniffing dogs help scientists – and Metallica – spot infection
Boris Johnson apologises for attending No 10 garden party
The British prime minister has apologised for attending a garden drinks event during the first lockdown in May 2020.
Johnson said he went into the garden of Downing Street on 20 May 2020 to thank staff before going back into his office 25 minutes later. He said at the time he believed it was a “work event” and in hindsight he should have sent everyone back inside.
He told MPs:
I know the rage they [the public] feel with me over the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.
For more, Andrew Sparrow’s live blog is here:
The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, is about to face the most difficult PMQs of his premiership, where how he decides to address the partygate affair will determine his political future.
My colleague Andrew Sparrow will be covering the session over on the UK politics live blog. You can read along here:
A senior minister has said Ireland should be in a position to start easing restrictions to slow the spread of Covid from next month once the number of people requiring critical care remains stable, Reuters reports.
Ireland has the second highest incidence rate of Covid in Europe but also one of the continent’s highest uptake of booster vaccines, helping keep the number of patients in intensive care stable and well below the peak of previous waves of the disease.
The daily increase in the number of hospital admissions has also slowed in recent days and the communications minister, Eamon Ryan, said that if the critical care figure holds steady, the economy would emerge from the current curbs.
“I am very confident we will be able to ease restrictions as we go into February. The science says that this will be a short wave, if we can get through it with our hospital numbers down, then we will be able to start lifting restrictions,” Ryan, the leader of the junior coalition Green party, told reporters on Wednesday.
The government closed nightclubs and cut capacity at indoor events in early December, before widening the constraints on crowds and ordering bars and restaurants to shut at 8pm two weeks later as the Omicron variant spread rapidly.
The deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said on Tuesday that restrictions would likely be eased on a phased basis. Previously the government has lifted the most recently imposed curbs first and further reopened the economy every two to three weeks.
Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.
Email: [email protected]
Today so far …
- Germany has reported 80,430 coronavirus cases – a new daily record – and 384 deaths, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute.
- Austria also appears to have set a new record of 18,427 daily Covid cases according to reports.
- World Health Organization experts have warned that repeating booster doses of the original Covid vaccines is not a viable strategy against emerging variants.
- Russia has confirmed it has 698 Omicron cases. While total numbers of daily cases of Covid hover around 17,000-18,000 each day, down from a peak of 41,335 registered in early November, deputy prime minister Tatiana Golikova said the government will prepare new measures to combat Covid by the end of the week.
- Hungary’s daily tally of new Covid-19 cases has risen to 7,883, up from 5,270 reported a week earlier, but the number of patients treated in hospital declined over the week, the government has said.
- In Bulgaria, more than 5,200 people were in hospitals with Covid, including 580 in intensive care. In the capital, Sofia, planned operations have been suspended as hospitals prepared to expand wards for Covid-19 patients.
- Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi has left isolation just over a week after testing positive for Covid without symptoms, the government has said.
- In the UK, the day’s Covid news has been dominated by allegations that a party took place at the British prime minister’s residence during the March 2020 lockdown. Boris Johnson has refused to either confirm or deny he attended the alleged party. He will face opposition leader Keir Starmer in parliament today.
- Saudi Arabia has registered its highest daily number of new Covid infections, breaking through 5,000 new cases in a single day for the first time.
- Kyrgyzstan’s healthcare ministry has said it had confirmed the Central Asian nation’s first cases of the Omicron variant.
- China is battling coronavirus outbreaks in several cities, severely testing the country’s strict “zero-Covid” strategy just weeks before Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics. The northern city of Tianjin has ordered a second round of Covid testing on all 14 million residents after the discovery of 97 cases of the Omicron variant during initial screenings that began Sunday.
- Quebec, Canada’s second-most populous province, has announced plans to impose a ‘health tax’ on residents who refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccination for non-medical reasons.
- In Australia, state and territory leaders will consider relaxing isolation requirements for the trucking and logistics sector, as the prime minister, Scott Morrison, calls for patience over the country’s disrupted supply chains.
- Novak Djokovic has blamed his agent for an “administrative mistake” when declaring he had not travelled in the two weeks before his flight to Australia and acknowledged an “error of judgment” by not isolating after he tested positive for Covid.
Andrew Sparrow is following Covid and politics developments in the UK, which are extremely intertwined at the moment. You can find his live blog here. I’m now handing you over to my colleague Lucy Campbell to bring you the rest of the day’s international coronavirus news.
Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro and Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires report for us on how Omicron is dimming optimism as South America enters the pandemic’s third year:
As the pandemic’s second, gruelling year drew to a close and Covid rates in Rio de Janeiro plunged to levels unseen since it began, the Brazilian city’s health secretary, Daniel Soranz, celebrated a desperately needed respite.
“We’ve been through such painful, difficult months … this is now a moment of hope,” the 42-year-old doctor said last November as carioca life regained some semblance of normality, hospitals emptied and the city’s effervescent cultural scene was reborn.
But the new year, and the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant, has brought Soranz and many others crashing back down to Earth as coronavirus cases surge across Latin America with consequences that remain unclear.
“It’s really tiring,” Soranz admitted this week as infections in his beachside city soared to their highest ever levels and plans for Rio’s rumbustious annual carnival were cast into doubt.
“This pandemic has been going on for almost two years. It’s exhausting. But there’s nothing to be done,” Soranz said, noting how 20% of Rio’s health workers – about 5,000 people – had been infected since December.
Similar angst is being voiced around South America, which, having witnessed some of the pandemic’s bleakest moments – with bodies dumped in mass graves and patients starved of oxygen in overwhelmed hospitals – had been enjoying a long-awaited moment of optimism after becoming one of the world vaccination champions. Nearly 65% of South Americans have been fully vaccinated, according to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, compared with about 62% in Europe and the US, and less than 10% in Africa.
Read more here: Omicron dims optimism as South America enters pandemic’s third year
Saudi Arabia confirms over 5,000 daily Covid cases for first time in new record
A quick snap from Reuters that Saudi Arabia has registered its highest daily number of new Covid infections, health ministry data showed, breaking through 5,000 cases for the first time.
Cases in the kingdom, which has the Gulf’s largest population at about 35 million, have risen dramatically since the start of the year with the global spread of the Omicron variant.
The country on Wednesday reported 5,362 new cases and two deaths, rising above the previous peak of daily infections in June 2020 of 4,919.
Here is some more, this time from Associated Press, on events in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, which has ordered a second round of Covid testing on all 14 million residents after the discovery of 97 cases of the Omicron variant during initial screenings that began Sunday.
Residents were asked to remain where they are until the results of all the nucleic acid tests are received, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Xinhua said authorities have carried out almost 12m tests so far, with 7.8m samples returned. The city that about an hour from Beijing. High-speed rail service and other forms of transportation between the cities have been suspended, leading to some disruptions in supply chains, including for packaged food items sold in convenience stores.
Tianjin’s Covid prevention and control office said all who have tested positive in the initial testing round were found to have the Omicron variant, of which China has so far only reported a handful of cases. The source of the outbreak is still unknown and many who are spreading the strain may be doing so unwittingly because they show no symptoms.