People in Italy who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 are barred from restaurants or taking domestic flights under new regulations.
A study conducted in the United Kingdom says that T-cells from common cold illnesses may protect people from COVID-19, which can influence the development of future vaccines against the pandemic.
Meanwhile, India began administering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine to front-line workers and elderly people with the Omicron variant behind an almost eight-fold rise in daily infections since the start of the year.
The key port of Tianjin may be facing China’s first local outbreak of Omicron less than a month before the Winter Olympics open in nearby Beijing.
Here are the latest updates for January 10:
Italy tightens COVID restrictions for unvaccinated citizens
People in Italy who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 are barred from restaurants or taking domestic flights under new rules which came into force as schools reopened nationwide.
The majority of schools opened for a new term under government orders, despite calls from headteachers, the doctors’ union and some mayors to delay the return to class for at least two weeks.
Top virologist Massimo Galli at the Sacco de Milan hospital said opening schools was “imprudent and unjustified”, while public health expert Walter Ricciardi described the situation as “explosive”.
The virus is “in an exponential phase. The reopening of schools will bring additional stress, and I fear the number of infections will grow at least until the end of January,” virologist Fabrizio Pregliasco said.
Pope backs COVID-19 immunisation campaigns
Pope Francis condemned “baseless” ideological misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, backing national immunisation campaigns and calling healthcare a moral obligation.
Francis spoke in his yearly address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, sometimes called his “State of the World” address because it is a broad survey of the global situation.
His words to diplomats from nearly 200 countries marked the closest he has ever come to a de facto backing of vaccine mandates, which have become controversial in Italy and other European countries.
“We have realised that in those places where an effective vaccination campaign has taken place, the risk of severe repercussions of the disease has decreased,” he said.
Swab throat too when using rapid COVID-19 test: Israeli official
People self-testing for COVID-19 should swab their throat as well as their nose when using rapid antigen kits to increase the chances of detecting the Omicron variant, a top Israeli health official said.
The recommendation goes against the advice of the US Food and Drug Administration, which has said manufacturers’ instructions should still be followed and that any incorrect use of throat swabs could pose a safety risk.
On Israeli Army Radio, Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s public health chief, said antigen tests, used widely in the country, are less sensitive than PCR tests in detecting illness.
T-cells from common colds can provide protection against COVID-19: study
High levels of T-cells from common cold coronaviruses can provide protection against COVID-19, an Imperial College London study has found, which could inform approaches for second-generation vaccines.
The study, which began in September 2020 and was published on Monday, looked at levels of cross-reactive T-cells generated by previous common colds in 52 household contacts of positive COVID-19 cases shortly after exposure, to see if they went on to develop an infection.
It found that the 26 who did not develop infection had significantly higher levels of those T-cells than people who did get infected. Imperial did not say how long protection from the T-cells would last.
“We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection,” study author Dr Rhia Kundu said.
WHO: More evidence that Omicron causes milder symptoms
More evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant is affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants and resulting in a “decoupling” in some places between soaring case numbers and low death rates, a World Health Organization official said.
“We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike other ones, the lungs who would be causing severe pneumonia,” WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud told Geneva-based journalists.
“It can be a good news, but we really require more studies to prove that.”
Schools reopen in Uganda after nearly-two-year COVID closure
Uganda has ended the world’s longest school closure, ordering millions of students back to the classroom after a gap of nearly two years.
Some 15 million pupils have not attended school in Uganda since March 2020 when classrooms were shut as COVID-19 swept the world.
Education Minister John Muyingo said all students would automatically resume classes a year above where they left off.
Read more here.
Russia records 741 COVID deaths in 24 hours
Russia reported 741 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours amid an ongoing spike in cases.
Authorities reported 15,830 new cases in the past 24 hours, slightly up from 16,246.
Hong Kong’s first 2022 legislature meeting may be online due to COVID-19
Hong Kong’s first legislature meeting of 2022 may have to be held online, its council president said, after over 30 officials and MPs were quarantined following COVID-19 infections at a birthday party of a delegate to China’s legislature.
Andrew Leung, the city’s Legislative Council president, said four legislators remained in quarantine ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, while 16 others need to be tested again.
“If we cannot hold a physical meeting, then we will switch everything to zoom mode,” he told a media briefing.
Omicron causes almost eight-fold increase in India
The fast-spreading Omicron variant had led to an almost eight-fold rise in daily infections since the start of the year.
India reported 179,723 new cases on Monday, most in the country’s biggest cities – New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata – where Omicron has overtaken Delta as the most prevalent strain of the virus.
There were 146 deaths reported, bringing the toll to 483,936 since the pandemic first struck India in early 2020, the third-highest in the world.
Read more here.
Europe’s healthcare under Omicron pressure
Europe’s healthcare systems are being strained again by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant over the holiday period.
Despite early studies showing a lower risk of severe disease or hospitalisation from Omicron compared with the previously dominant Delta strain, healthcare networks across Spain, Britain, Italy and beyond have found themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances.
On Friday, Britain began deploying military personnel to support hospitals experiencing staff shortages and extreme pressures due to record COVID-19 cases in the country.
“Omicron means more patients to treat and fewer staff to treat them,” National Health Service (NHS) Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said in a statement.
Dutch hospital staff increasingly infected
In the Netherlands, infection rates are also rising sharply among hospital staff, particularly nurses and nursing assistants, Dutch daily De Telegraaf reports, following a survey of eight main hospitals.
In the worst cases, one in four tested positive in the run-up to Christmas. At Amsterdam’s University Medical Center 25 percent of staff are now testing positive, compared with five percent a week ago.
Hospitals are mulling changing their quarantine rules so infected staff who do not have symptoms can come to work, as Dutch daily case numbers break records despite a strict lockdown since December 19.
Spain unprepared for Omicron surge
Rafael Bengoa, the co-founder of Bilbao’s Institute for Health and Strategy and a former senior World Health Organization official, says Spain has failed to take sufficient measures to reinforce vital services and pressure will continue to ratchet up for several weeks.
“Spain has several weeks – basically all of January – of rising cases … then hopefully we’ll hit a plateau that goes down just as fast,” he told the Reuters news agency.
Bengoa says he considers it unlikely that a more infectious variant that is also more deadly than Omicron will appear and is optimistic the current wave might signal the beginning of the pandemic’s end.
“Pandemics don’t end with a huge boom but with small waves because so many have been infected or vaccinated … After Omicron we shouldn’t have to be concerned with anything more than small waves.”
China’s Tianjin in partial lockdown
China’s main port of Tianjin may be facing the country’s first local outbreak of Omicron less than a month before the Winter Olympics open in nearby Beijing.
State broadcaster CCTV says the government has divided Tianjin and its 14 million residents into three levels of restrictions, starting with lockdown areas where people are not allowed to leave their homes at all.
The city began mass testing of all its residents on Sunday after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for COVID-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant. Another 20 people tested positive on Sunday.
Australia to ‘push through’: PM
Australia must “push through” a rapidly growing Omicron outbreak, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, as the country’s total number of COVID-19 cases breached one million – more than half recorded in the past week alone.
The situation is a turnaround for Australia, which suppressed previous waves of the pandemic through lockdowns and strict border controls and quarantines.
“Omicron is a gear change and we have to push through,” Morrison told a media briefing in the capital, Canberra. “You’ve got two choices here: you can push through or you can lock down. We are for pushing through.”
Read more here.