New Zealand reports first community exposure to Omicron
New Zealand has reported its first community exposure to the Omicron variant from a person arriving from the United Kingdom earlier this month.
The person, who tested positive for the Omicron variant of Covid-19, had briefly been active in the community in Auckland.
The recent international arrival reportedly returned a positive result on day nine of their self-isolation period but had previously returned three negative tests for Covid-19 while completing seven days of managed isolation at a facility in Auckland, the ministry of health said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The case arrived on a flight from the United Kingdom via Doha on 16 December and is fully vaccinated with a mRNA vaccine. No other Covid-19 infections have been identified from the individual’s flight,” the statement read.
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Good morning/evening/afternoon wherever you may be in the world.
Countries across Europe have reported a record high number of infections as authorities scramble to stem the surge while the US also reported its single highest number of daily cases on Tuesday.
In the latest reporting period, the UK saw a record 129,471 new Covid cases, up from 98,515 reported on Monday. France reported 179,807 new cases, by far the highest number since the start of the pandemic. Greece also reported a new daily record of 21,657 Covid cases, more than double the number the day before. Denmark and Iceland similarly broke pandemic records with Denmark recording the world’s highest infection rate at 1,612 cases per 100,000 people.
If you’ve just tuned in to our live Covid blog here is a quick rundown of the latest developments:
- New Zealand reports its first community exposure to the Omicron variant in a person arriving from the UK who had been active in the community in Auckland. The person reportedly arrived in New Zealand from the United Kingdom on 16 December and tested positive on 27 December, the health ministry said in a statement.
- Japan will consider bringing forward Covid-19 vaccine booster shots amid concern over the spread of the Omicron variant.
- The Chinese city of Xi’an has entered its seventh day of lockdown on Wednesday, with many of the 13 million residents unable to leave their homes and dependent on deliveries of necessities.
- The US reported its single highest number of daily cases on Tuesday. The 512,553 daily new cases was by far the single highest number of cases recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data released by the Johns Hopkins University. The previous record was 294,015 set on 8 January 2021.
- California became the first state to record more than 5 million known coronavirus infections.
- Hundreds more US flights have been cancelled in the fifth day of travel chaos. US airlines Delta Air Lines and Alaska Air Group cancelled hundreds of flights on Tuesday due to adverse weather conditions and rising cases of the Omicron variant.
- The World Health Organization has warned that the Omicron coronavirus variant could lead to overwhelmed healthcare systems even though early studies suggest it sparks milder disease.
Japan will consider bringing forward Covid-19 vaccine booster shots amid concern over the spread of the Omicron variant.
Prime minister Fumio Kishida told Kyodo News in an interview on Tuesday:
Besides 31 million health care workers and elderly people, we’d like to consider bringing (the schedule for third shots) forward as much as possible.”
New Zealand says it has recorded its first community exposures from a border-related Omicron case, Reuters reports.
We will have more on this story as it develops.
India has recorded another 9,195 confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, according to recently released data from its health ministry.
A further 302 deaths were also recorded, bring the total death toll to 480,592.
China’s Xi’an marks first week of lockdown
The Chinese city of Xi’an has entered its seventh day of lockdown on Wednesday, with many of the 13 million residents unable to leave their homes and dependent on deliveries of necessities.
Xian reported 151 domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Tuesday, or nearly all of the 152 cases nationwide, bringing the total number of local Xian cases to nearly 1,000 during the 9-28 December period. No cases of the Omicron variant have been announced in the city.
While the Xian outbreak is small compared with outbreaks in many other places around the world, officials imposed tough curbs on travel within and leaving the city from 23 December, in line with Beijing’s drive to immediately contain outbreaks as they appear.
Since Monday, the Xian government has stopped granting permission to people seeking to leave their homes to buy essentials, as epidemic containment measures rose a notch.
It said in-person shopping could be resumed for people in less risky areas once mass testing returned negative results, but it did not say exactly when stay-at-home order would be lifted.
Germany is reporting another 40,043 new daily coronavirus cases and 414 deaths, according to recently released data from the Robert Koch Institute.
The new figures bring the nationwide tally to 7,066,412 confirmed coronavirus cases and 111,219 deaths.
US reports single highest number of daily cases
The US recorded 512,553 daily new cases on Tuesday – by far the single highest number of cases recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data released by the Johns Hopkins University.
The previous record was 294,015 set on 8 January 2021.
The figure takes the seven-day average of US cases to 267,000, according to a New York Times database. This eclipses the previous 7-day average daily high of 248,209 on 12 January.
However, mitigating factors such as the delay in reporting over the Christmas weekend are important to consider. Many testing centres were likely closed over the holiday, meaning some test results would have been likely rolled over to Monday and today.
Infectious disease epidemiologist and World Health Organization Covid-19 Technical Lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, has cautioned against becoming “numb” to rising case numbers.
Do not become numb to these numbers. Each one is a person, a family, a friend, a loved one… Do not become complacent.
Even if Omicron is less severe. Many places are seeing record numbers of cases and hospitalisation rates… We can do more. We need to end this pandemic.”
South Korea has just released its daily Covid report.
The Asian nation recorded another 5,409 confirmed coronavirus cases and 36 deaths, according to data released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
California first US state to record more than 5m infections
California became the first state to record more than 5 million known coronavirus infections, according to the state department of public health and data from Johns Hopkins University.
The state with 40 million residents was poised for a surge in new infections amid holiday parties and family gatherings forced indoors by a series of winter storms.
California’s caseload is ahead of other large states but can attributed to its larger population. In the last week the state averaged 16.4 new cases per 100,000 people, less than a third of the national rate.
Coronavirus related hospitalisations have been rising slowly in California, up about 12% in the last 7 days to 4,401. That’s less than half as many as during the late summer peak and one-fifth of a year ago, before vaccines were widely available.
California has recorded more than 75,500 deaths related to Covid-19 with 27,555 in Los Angeles alone.
WHO warns Omicron could overwhelm health systems
The World Health Organization has warned that the Omicron coronavirus variant could lead to overwhelmed healthcare systems even though early studies suggest it sparks milder disease.
The WHO warned against complacency even though preliminary findings suggest that Omicron could lead to milder disease.
WHO Europe’s Covid incident manager, Catherine Smallwood, warned:
A rapid growth of Omicron … even if combined with a slightly milder disease, will still result in large numbers of hospitalisations, particularly amongst unvaccinated groups, and cause widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services.”
However, the WHO highlighted the 29% decrease in the incidence of cases observed in South Africa – the country which first reported the variant to the WHO on 24 November.
It said early data from Britain, South Africa and Denmark – which currently has the world’s highest rate of infection per person – suggested there was a reduced risk of hospitalisation for Omicron compared to Delta.
However, further data was needed to understand Omicron’s severity in terms of clinical markers, including the use of oxygen, mechanical ventilation and death. More data was also required on how the severity might be being impacted by previous Covid infection, or vaccination.
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Hundreds more US flights cancelled in fifth day of travel chaos
US airlines Delta Air Lines and Alaska Air Group cancelled hundreds of flights on Tuesday due to adverse weather conditions and rising cases of the Omicron variant.
Delta said it expected to cancel more than 250 of 4,133 scheduled flights on Tuesday, while Alaska Air cancelled 150 flights to and from Seattle and warned of more cancellations and delays throughout the day, Reuters reports.
Total cancellations as of 2pm ET within, into, or out of the United States stood at 1,034, with 2,694 flights delayed, marking a fifth day of flight cancellations.
Delta said it was working to reroute and substitute some planes.
Thousands of flights were grounded over the Christmas holiday weekend as airlines struggled with staff shortages from Covid-19 infections and bad weather in parts of the country.
Hello and welcome back to our live Covid blog. I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be bringing you all the latest coronavirus developments as they happen.
In two days time, on 31 December, it will be two years to the day since health authorities in Wuhan reported an unknown pneumonia outbreak to World Health Organization (WHO) colleagues in Beijing.
It is also just over one month since the first case of Omicron was announced by South Africa.
Countries across Europe have reported a record high number of infections as authorities scramble to stem the surge. On Tuesday, the UK saw a record 129,471 new Covid cases, up from 98,515 reported yesterday. France reported 179,807 new cases, by far the highest number since the start of the pandemic. Greece also reported a new daily record of 21,657 Covid cases, more than double the number the day before. Denmark and Iceland similarly broke pandemic records with Denmark recording the world’s highest infection rate at 1,612 cases per 100,000 people.
Meanwhile South Africa, officially the most affected country in Africa, has recalled rules that no longer required people without symptoms of Covid-19 to isolate or test if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government announced on Tuesday.
If you have any stories, tips or feedback please get in touch via email at [email protected] or Twitter @Samantha__Lock. I would love to hear from you.
Here is a quick snapshot of how Covid is unfolding across the world:
- Omicron “appears to be less severe and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital,” Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and leading immunologist has said.
- UK prime minister Boris Johnson said he will not introduce further Covid restrictions in England before 2022 giving mass events the go-ahead and leaving nightclubs open for New Year’s Eve. Scientists say it is “the greatest divergence between scientific advice and legislation” seen since the start of the pandemic.
- The UK recorded 129,471 new Covid cases on Tuesday, the highest recorded total ever, and up from 98,515 reported yesterday.
- More than 500 children admitted to hospital with Covid in England in week up to Boxing Day.
- France has reduced the waiting time for a third booster shot to three months from four. From Monday, all indoor gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people, and to 5,000 people for outdoor events. Consumption of drinks and food will be banned in long-distance transport and home working will become mandatory for at least three days per week where possible.
- France reported 179,807 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, by far the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
- Denmark and Iceland reported record daily Covid cases on Monday. Denmark now has the world’s highest infection rate, with 1,612 cases per 100,000 people.
- Greece will impose further restrictions from January 3 including the closure of bars and restaurants at midnight, no standing customers at entertainment venues and a maximum limit of six people per table.
- Greece reported a new daily record of 21,657 Covid cases on Tuesday, more than double the number the day before.
- Germany toughens Covid restrictions with indoor and outdoor gatherings restricted in size and leisure facilities closing in several states.
- Daily cases in Australia exceeded 10,000 for the second consecutive day, with a total of 11,264 new Covid cases across the country – the highest figure since the beginning of the pandemic.
- In Yan’an, China, hundreds of thousands more people were ordered to stay at home, joining millions under strict lockdown in Xi’an. China’s coronavirus cases rose for a fourth consecutive day on Monday.
- Delhi, India, announces new Covid restrictions. Schools, colleges and educational institutions will close as well as sports complexes, cinemas, conference halls, stadiums and swimming pools. Offices will operate at 50% capacity, as will restaurants with a 10pm curfew.
- Japanese officials have detected a five-person cluster of Omicron cases in the city of Osaka.
- Hong Kong will tighten quarantine rules for air cargo crew.
- Malaysia will cut the booster vaccine waiting time to three months and has banned mass celebrations for New Year’s Eve with negative Covid tests required for private gatherings.
- India has approved Merck’s Covid-19 pill and two more vaccines for emergency use.