Latest COVID updates: COVAX reaches milestone of 1 billion doses

COVID news from January 15: UN-backed vaccine-sharing programme has delivered one billion doses to 144 nations.

Bottles of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine are held in a hand
A health worker holds bottles of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya [File: Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

After it started delivering vaccine doses to poorer countries in February 2021, the global vaccine-sharing programme COVAX has reached its target of shipping one billion doses to 144 countries.

In Austria, thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital Vienna to protest against government plans to introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for next month.

Meanwhile, a new British study said about a third of people infected with coronavirus might still be contagious after a five-day quarantine.

The researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in England also found that one in 10 people might still be infectious after a 10-day quarantine. Some people retained these levels for up to 68 days, the scientists said.

The live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for January 15.


Peru urges vaccine sellers to extend expiration dates to cut risk of losses

Peru’s Health Minister Hernando Cevallos has called on COVID-19 vaccine companies to extend expiration dates past the current three months to reduce the risk of losing doses.

“There are no penalties if there is any delay in the arrival of the vaccines. Nor is there any flexibility in expiration dates after they have entered the country,” Cevallos said. “Not only do you have to consider the date it is produced, but also take into account the date when it arrives in the country.”

Peru, with one of the highest per capita COVID-19 mortality rates in the world, has signed vaccine contracts with China’s Sinopharm, the US companies Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc and UK-based AstraZeneca Plc.

A health worker prepares a vaccine shotA health worker prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a house in Lima [File: Ernesto Benavides/AFP]

Global vaccine-sharing programme reaches milestone of 1 billion doses

The COVAX global vaccine-sharing programme has delivered 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to one of the organisations which manages it.

Supplies to poorer nations have long been very limited because of lack of vaccines, as wealthier states secured most of the doses initially available from December 2020.

But in the last quarter, shipments have exponentially increased, allowing COVAX to reach the milestone of 1 billion doses shipped to 144 countries, said Gavi, which co-leads the programme alongside the World Health Organization (WHO).

Despite the recent surge in deliveries, vaccine inequity remains high. The latest WHO data shows 67 percent of the population in richer nations have been fully vaccinated, compared with only 5 percent in poorer nations. More than 40 percent of the world’s population has not yet received a first dose.


Athletes at risk of catching COVID-19 at Beijing Olympics

Jules Boykoff, a professor and head of the Department of Politics and Government at Pacific University, said the transmissibility of the Omicron variant is a cause for serious problems for Olympic athletes, despite the coronavirus containment measures undertaken.

“This is incredibly difficult for athletes right now. They are already under incredible stress just to make it to the Olympics in the first place,” he told Al Jazeera, speaking from Portland, Oregon.

“Their lockdowns should probably help contain it to a certain degree but we saw similar types of measures put into place around the Tokyo Olympics which happened just a few months back. And still, even with those new measures, more than 800 cases of coronavirus appeared inside the so-called Olympic bubble.”

“So there’s a lot of fear rippling through the athletic community, that their dream could come short because of the fact that Omicron pops up on their plane ride over to participate in the Beijing Olympics,” he added.

A woman in wearing a face mask stands outside the the headquartersA woman stands outside the headquarters of the Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Shougang Park in Beijing on November 30, 2021 [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

Thousands of people protest COVID containment measures in Rome

Thousands of people demonstrated in Rome against the Italian government’s coronavirus containment policy.

“People are angry,” one demonstrator shouted into the microphone of public TV channel RaiNews 24 during a live broadcast.

According to the Adnkronos news agency, 5,000 people attended the demonstration.

Italy’s government under Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently tightened the pandemic containment rules and introduced, among other things, compulsory vaccination for people over 50.


Expect more worrisome variants after Omicron, scientists say

Scientists warn that the Omicron variant’s whirlwind advance practically ensures it won’t be the last version of the coronavirus to worry the world.

Every infection provides a chance for the virus to mutate, and Omicron has an edge over its predecessors, as it spreads way faster despite emerging on a planet with a stronger patchwork of immunity from vaccines and prior illness.

“The faster Omicron spreads, the more opportunities there are for mutation, potentially leading to more variants,” Leonardo Martinez, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, said.

“It’s the longer, persistent infections that seem to be the most likely breeding grounds for new variants,” said Dr Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s only when you have very widespread infection that you’re going to provide the opportunity for that to occur.”


Israeli finance minister tests positive for coronavirus

Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would self-isolate but continue working from home.

“I feel good and will isolate in the next few days,” Lieberman said on Twitter. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tested positive on Monday.

Lieberman has faced some public criticism for not providing more government aid to businesses as the Omicron variant has pushed Israeli infection rates to new highs, keeping many employees in isolation and customers at home.

“I will continue to pursue responsible economic policies from home, keep track of the data and plan future steps,” Lieberman, 63, tweeted in an apparent response to the criticism.


Thousands protest in Vienna against mandatory vaccination

Thousands of people took to the streets of Austria’s capital to protest against government plans to introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all next month.

“The government must go!” crowds chanted at one rally in central Vienna in what has become a routine Saturday event.

Parliament is scheduled to vote next week on the issue, which has polarised the country as coronavirus cases surge.

In November, the government announced a fourth national lockdown and said it would make vaccinations compulsory for all Austrians, the first European Union country to do so.


India extends ban on public events in election states as COVID cases rise

India’s election commission extended its ban on political rallies and roadshows in five states due to rising COVID-19 cases in the country.

The ban, which runs to January 22, excludes indoor political party events of less than 300 people, or at 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, the watchdog said in a statement.

India reported 268,833 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking its total tally to 36.84 million, according to data from the federal health ministry. Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 402 to 485,752.

A woman receives a booster at a vaccination centre in New Delhi, IndiaA woman receives a booster dose of Covaxin, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Bharat Biotech, at a vaccination centre in New Delhi, India, January 10, 2022 [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Turkey lifts PCR requirement for unvaccinated in some areas

Turkey will no longer require unvaccinated individuals to take a PCR test for COVID-19 before using planes, buses or other transportation, or before attending events such as concerts, plays or movies, the state-owned Anadolu Agency said.

Citing the interior ministry, Anadolu said unvaccinated civil servants, private-sector employees and school personnel will also not be required to take a PCR test.

Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Eksi said separately on Twitter that the carrier will not require PCR tests on domestic flights.

Translation: In line with the decision taken by our competent authorities, the PCR TEST requirement has been removed from all our passengers on domestic flights. Submitting the HES Code [contact tracing system] will be sufficient.


City of Beijing reports first local Omicron case

The Chinese capital Beijing has reported its first locally transmitted infection of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, according to state media, just weeks ahead of its staging of the Olympic Winter Games.

Lab testing found “mutations specific to the Omicron variant” in the person, according to Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city’s disease control authority at a news briefing.

Officials have sealed up the infected person’s residential compound and workplace, and collected 2,430 samples for testing from people linked to the two locations, a Haidian district official said.


Indonesia reports highest number of daily COVID-19 cases in 3 months

Indonesia reported 1,054 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily increase in three months, as the government braces for a new wave of coronavirus infections driven by the spread of the Omicron variant.

The world’s fourth most populous country grappled with a devastating second wave of infections in July, driven by the spread of the Delta variant.

Daily case numbers dropped to approximately 200 by December, before rising this month amid reports of local transmission of the Omicron variant.

“Local transmission has been found and Jakarta has become an infection cluster,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a statement on Saturday. “We need to coordinate with regional government to tighten mobility and strengthen health protocols, [give] booster vaccine shots and strengthen health facilities.”


Palermo nurse arrested over pretend vaccinations

A nurse has been arrested in Palermo for allegedly pretending to vaccinate a married couple, and having allegedly received a fake vaccination from a colleague, according to Italian police.

The woman, who worked at the “Fiera del Mediterraneo” vaccination centre in the Sicilian city, was placed under house arrest, accused of issuing fake certificates and wasting public goods.

It followed an investigation which in December led to another nurse at the same vaccine centre being detained. The probe into whether other nurses have been issuing fake vaccines continues.

Saturday’s arrest came just days after a male nurse was arrested in the Italian town of Ancona, accused of pretending to inject vaccines into at least 50 people in exchange for a bribe.

Read more here.


A man with a syringe in his right handA healthcare worker of ASL Roma 1 holds a syringe with a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine [File: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]

Philippines confirms community transmission of Omicron

The Philippine health ministry has confirmed the local spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant around Manila, as infections hit a record high for a third straight day.

“We are seeing community transmission of the Omicron variant in the capital region,” Health Under-Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a public briefing.

The ministry reported 39,004 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, while active cases also hit a record, at 280,813.


COVID contagiousness may linger beyond five days: Study

After a five-day quarantine, about a third of people infected with coronavirus might still be infectious, according to new data.

PCR tests detect virus particles but cannot tell whether they are infectious or merely inactive remnants.

“At five days, 30 percent of people still exhibited clinically relevant levels of potentially active virus,” said study leader Lorna Harries of the University of Exeter Medical School in England.

After a 10-day quarantine, one in 10 people might still be infectious. Some people retained these levels for up to 68 days, the researchers said.


E-cigarette users risk more symptoms from COVID

E-cigarette users infected with the coronavirus may be more likely than infected non-vapers to experience COVID-19 symptoms, according to a new study.

The researchers compared 289 vapers with 1,445 people of similar age and gender who neither vaped nor smoked tobacco, all of whom had tested positive for the coronavirus on PCR tests.

Compared with infected non-vapers and after accounting for participants’ other risk factors, infected vapers experienced higher rates of chest pain or tightness, chills, body aches, headaches, problems with smell and taste, nausea, diarrhoea, and light-headedness, said the study published in the Journal of Primary Care & Community Health.


Djokovic returns to detention as he fights Australia deportation

Novak Djokovic has returned to detention in Australia after authorities ripped up his visa for a second time and declared the unvaccinated tennis player a threat to the public.

The world’s top-ranked player had surrendered to officials in Melbourne for an interview at about 8am local time on Saturday (21:00 GMT on Friday), following a court order issued on Friday night.

Read more here.

two man in a car being photographedDjokovic sits in the back of car arriving at an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne [Channel 9 via AP]

Anti-vaccination protesters rally in central Sydney

Hundreds of demonstrators have marched through central Sydney as part of a rally against COVID-19 vaccinations for children.

Protesters waved flags and carried banners as they walked through the city’s streets.

Some decked themselves out in Serbian flags seemingly in support of embattled tennis star Novak Djokovic, who is threatened with deportation from the country as he seeks to compete in the Australian Open in Melbourne.


Mexico sees fake versions of COVID-19 drug

Mexico is reportedly seeing black market or fake versions of molnupiravir circulating for sale, just one week after authorities approved the drug to treat those at risk of severe COVID-19, according to The Associated Press news agency.

The news comes as the country posted a fresh daily record of 44,293 new cases.

According to official health data, 301,107 people have died of COVID-19 in Mexico.


A woman putting on a face maskA nurse pulls on a new N95 mask as indentations remain from another she had just removed at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle [Elaine Thompson/AP Photo]

Omicron spreads to southern China city bordering Macau

The southern Chinese city of Zhuhai has suspended public bus routes after announcing it had detected at least seven cases of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant there and warning residents not to leave the city.

The coastal city, which borders the gambling hub Macau, said late on Friday Omicron had been detected in one mildly ill and six asymptomatic patients after launching mass testing due to a case in a neighbouring city.

China is battling a spate of coronavirus outbreaks, including several from the Omicron variant, forcing millions of people under strict lockdown as the country steps up vigilance against the virus ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games next month.


Omicron wave drives Brazil health worker shortage

Health centres in Brazil are facing substantial staff shortages amid the latest wave of coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

In Sao Joao de Meriti, outside Rio de Janeiro, authorities are having to adapt with as many as 40 percent of medical personnel on leave due to COVID-19.

Late on Friday, Brazil reported 112,286 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and 251 COVID-19 deaths, the Health Ministry said, raising the total number of cases to almost 23 million and the death toll to at least 620,796 since the start of the pandemic.


You can read all the updates from January 14 here.


Nurse bending over a hospital bedA nurse tends to a COVID patient in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle [Elaine Thompson/AP Photo]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies