Latest COVID updates: US regulator clears booster jabs for teens

COVID news from January 3: US FDA authorises third dose of Pfizer vaccine for children aged between 12 and 15 years.

The FDA also narrowed the time for all booster shots to five months from six months after primary doses [File: Gregory Bull/AP Photo]

The United States Food and Drug Administration has authorised the use of a third dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged between 12 and 15 years, and narrowed the time for all booster shots to five months from six months after primary doses.

The agency also authorised a third shot in children aged five through 11 years who are immunocompromised.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has reported more than 700 COVID-19 cases in a single day, its highest tally in two months, while India has launched a drive to vaccinate children before a feared Omicron surge.

Elsewhere, Qatar health officials say the country is witnessing a third coronavirus wave amid a surge in reported cases.

The live blog is now closed. Here are the updates for January 3:

Indigenous community urges Canada to send in army

A remote Indigenous community in northern Ontario has called on the Canadian military to send personnel to help respond to a COVID-19 outbreak that Bearskin Lake First Nation says now has infected nearly half of its residents.

Located 425km (264 miles) north of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Bearskin Lake First Nation is accessible by air throughout the year and via an ice road during the winter.

Read more here.

Mozambique president and wife test positive for COVID-19

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi and his wife Isaura have tested positive for COVID-19 and are isolating, the president’s office said.

Nyusi and his wife took rapid tests and were asymptomatic but immediately decided to isolate while awaiting their PCR results, the presidency statement said.

Mozambique’s coronavirus infections are at their peak, data from a Reuters tracker show, with the average number of new cases increasing for seven days in a row.

In total, it has recorded over 2,000 COVID-19 related deaths and 192,000 infections during the pandemic.

Spain’s 14-day COVID infection rate rises to 2,295 per 100,000

Spain’s Health Ministry reported a new record in the national 14-day COVID-19 infection rate, as the figure climbed to 2,295.8 per 100,000 people from 1,775.27 registered last Thursday, before a long weekend.

The number of COVID-19 sufferers to have died in the last seven days stands at 249, the ministry said in a statement.

Turkey records nearly 45,000 COVID-19 cases

Turkey recorded 44,869 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the highest daily figure since late April, health ministry data showed.

It also recorded 160 deaths due to COVID-19 in the same period.

Cases in Turkey have more than doubled in just more than a week as the Omicron variant became dominant in the country.

Soccer-Premier League reports fall in COVID-19 cases

The Premier League said it had found 94 new positive COVID-19 cases among players and staff in the last week, the first week-by-week decrease in positive results for eight weeks.

“[We] can today confirm that between Monday 27 December 2021 and Sunday 2 January 2022, 14,250 COVID-19 tests were administered on players and club staff. Of these, there were 94 new positive cases (0.65%),” the league said in a statement.

Canada’s Ontario province announces curbs

Canada’s Ontario province announced restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus. All publicly funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting on Wednesday until at least January 17, Canada’s most populous province said.

Retail settings, including shopping malls, will be permitted at 50 percent capacity, the province said.

Capacity at indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites and ceremonies will be limited to 50 percent capacity of the particular room, while outdoor services were going to be limited to the number of people that can maintain two metres (six feet) of physical distance.

The restrictions will take effect for at least 21 days.

Among the other measures announced were closing indoor dining at restaurants and bars; closing indoor concert venues, theatres and cinemas; and shutting indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities including gyms.

US schools delay openings

Thousands of US schools, including in some major cities, have delayed this week’s scheduled return to classrooms following the holiday break or switched to remote learning as the Omicron variant drives record levels of COVID-19.

In New Jersey, which has seen some of the highest case rates of any state in recent weeks, most urban districts have implemented virtual classes to start the new year, including Newark, which has nearly 38,000 students.

Milwaukee’s public school system announced that its more than 70,000 students would switch to virtual learning on Tuesday due to a rise in COVID infections among staff members. Cleveland’s schools have also gone remote, while Detroit cancelled classes through Wednesday.

Sewage survey shows Omicron spreading to most regions in Italy

A survey of wastewater showed the Omicron coronavirus variant spreading to a majority of regions of Italy in December, the government’s National Health Institute said.

The research found the highly contagious variant in the sewage systems of 14 of the country’s 20 regions between December 19 and December 25, the ISS said, compared with just one region earlier in the month.

Omicron was found in 28.4 percent of 282 wastewater samples.

“Environmental monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater is proving to be a key tool, in addition to epidemiological surveillance, for understanding the evolution of the pandemic,” said study coordinator Giuseppina La Rosa.

UK prepares for schools reopening amid soaring infections

The UK’s government has pledged to rush ventilation units and enough COVID-19 test kits to schools to ensure they can reopen later this week despite soaring infection rates.

Secondary school students in England will be required to wear face masks when they return to classes after the Christmas holidays and they could also face merged classes amid staffing shortages.

Read more here.

Italy reports 68,052 COVID cases on Monday, 140 deaths

Italy reported 68,052 new COVID-19 cases, against 61,046 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of coronavirus-related deaths rose to 140 from 133.

Italy has registered 137,786 deaths linked to the virus since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, and has reported 6.4 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 12,333, up from 11,756 a day earlier.

There were 103 new admissions to intensive care units, one less than on Sunday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 1,351 from a previous 1,319.

About 445,321 tests for COVID-19 were carried out in the last day, compared with a previous 278,654, the health ministry said.

Qatar reports 1,177 new COVID cases

Qatar has reported 1,177 new infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of current infections in the Gulf country to 6,842.

US FDA clears Pfizer’s COVID booster shot for 12 to 15-year-olds

The US Food and Drug Administration authorised the use of a third dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged between 12 and 15 years, and narrowed the time for all booster shots to five months from six months after primary doses.

The agency also authorised a third shot in children aged five through 11 years who are immunocompromised.

The FDA said it reviewed published data and real world evidence on the safety of booster doses provided by the Israeli Ministry of Health including data from more than 6,300 individuals 12 to 15 years of age who received a Pfizer shot.

UK PM says hospitals face ‘considerable pressure’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK’s state-run hospitals will face “considerable pressure” in the coming weeks due to the steep rise in virus infections.

Speaking during a visit to a vaccine centre, Johnson said “the pressure on our NHS hospitals is going to be considerable in the course of the next couple of weeks and maybe more” as “Omicron continues to surge through the country”.

The prime minister said that he was aware of high levels of hospital staff absences due to COVID-19, adding, “We’re looking at what we can do to move people into those areas that are particularly badly affected.”

Jefferies asks employees to work remotely until end of January

US investment bank Jefferies Financial Group has asked staff to work remotely until January 31, according to an Instagram post from Chief Executive Officer Richard Handler.

The bank had called its staff back to offices in October, but was forced to return to work-from-home in December due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. It had also re-imposed a mask mandate in its offices, irrespective of vaccination status.

Handler also said the bank will not host indoor group events or other functions, and that it believes only “the most critical business travel” should occur.

India vaccinates 3.8 million teens in new inoculation push

India vaccinated more than 3.8 million teens aged between 15 and 18 years, as the country expanded an inoculation effort to protect its large adolescent population ahead of a looming wave of COVID-19 infections.

The drive has come amid a sharp rise in cases in India, with the federal health ministry reporting 33,750 new infections and 123 deaths. The total number of cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant detected in India was 1,700.

UK’s Johnson will ‘continue on same path’ in tackling COVID

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the right measures were in place to tackle the surge in COVID-19 cases given the high levels of vaccination in the country.

“The way forward for the country as a whole is to continue with the path that we are on,” he told broadcasters.

“Of course, we will keep all measures under review, but the mixture of things that we are doing at the moment is I think the right one.”

Botswana’s president in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19

Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi is in mandatory self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 in routine testing, a government spokesperson said.

“The president does not have any symptoms and will continue to receive close medical monitoring by his medical doctors,” John-Thomas Dipowe, acting permanent secretary for government communications, said in a statement.

Vice President Slumber Tsogwane will assume the president’s responsibilities until further notice while Masisi is in isolation, Dipowe said.

Botswana''s President Mokgweetsi Masisi makes a speech
Mokgweetsi Masisi has no symptoms, according to a spokesman [File: Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera]

Belgium to buy 10,000 courses each of Pfizer, Merck pills

Belgium has agreed to buy 10,000 courses each of the COVID-19 antiviral oral treatments developed by Pfizer and Merck & CO, a spokesman for the health ministry told the Reuters news agency in an emailed statement.

Governments around the world are scrambling to buy Paxlovid, the pill developed by Pfizer.

Molnupiravir, jointly developed by Merck with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, faces setbacks after disappointing trial data and France said in December it had cancelled its order for the drug.

France to expand financial aid for companies hit by pandemic

France will spend about a hundred million euros to expand financial aid for companies hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

This will include lowering the threshold for companies to claim state support for turnover losses, he said, adding that all businesses in the tourism sector, in particular, will be eligible for help to cover costs linked to COVID restrictions.

“We will always be there,” he said.

Australia pushes on with reopening amid milder impact of Omicron

Australia’s government said the milder effect of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus meant the country could push ahead with plans to reopen the economy even as new infections hit a record of more than 37,000 and the number of people hospitalised rose.

“We have to stop thinking about case numbers and think about serious illness, living with the virus, managing our own health and ensuring that we’re monitoring those symptoms and we keep our economy going,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Channel Seven.

Record daily case numbers were reported on Monday in the states of Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, as well as the Australian Capital Territory.

Scott Morrison says they should stop thinking about case numbers [File: David Gray/AFP]

Read more here.

Israel to admit some foreigners with presumed COVID immunity

Israel will admit foreigners with presumed COVID-19 immunity from medium-risk countries as of January 9, the Health Ministry said, moving to reverse a ban on entry by foreigners imposed in late November in response to Omicron variant surge.

Those slated to be allowed in would travel from countries Israel has designated “orange”, would have to prove in advance they are either vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 and would be subject to PCR testing before and after their arrival.

Omicron spreading among over-50s: UK minister

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading among over-50s, but data do not suggest further restrictions are needed because of the high uptake of booster jabs by older people, British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said.

“We’re seeing leakage into the over-50s in terms of infection,” he told BBC radio. “They are boosted – 90 percent of the over-50s are boosted.”

He said the government would assess the situation in England on Wednesday. “There’s nothing in the data at the moment that would make me believe we need to go further.”

Britain's Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi walks in Downing Street in London, Britain
The UK’s Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi says 90 percent of the over-50s are boosted [File: Reuters]

Tokyo reports 103 daily coronavirus cases

The Tokyo government says the city has 103 daily coronavirus infections, the highest tally since October 8.

The number of new cases in Tokyo has been on the rise since the end of last month. Monday’s figure is up from 84 infections reported the previous day.

A pedestrian walks past a department store in Tokyo, Japan
A pedestrian walks past a department store in the Ebisu district of Tokyo [File: Soichiro Koriyama/Bloomberg]

Qatar in ‘a third wave’ of COVID-19

Qatar is witnessing the start of a third coronavirus wave, a spike in cases heightened by Omicron, according to a health official.

Dr Soha al-Bayat, head of vaccination at the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), said in a televised interview that “most of the new COVID-19 cases are related to the Omicron variant”, adding that cases have been rising in the country since November but a significant spike was seen in the last two weeks.

“According to the primary available information, Omicron is a fast spreader but the symptoms are mild or moderate without any serious complications,” al-Bayat said on Qatar TV.

Read more here.

Pakistan records highest cases in two months

Pakistan reported 708 COVID cases in a single day, its highest tally in two months, as authorities warned of a fifth wave of infections and made preparations to try to contain the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The latest data of the past 24 hours pushed the positivity ratio to 1.55 percent, the highest since October 24, according to the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC), which is overseeing the pandemic response.

“There is clear evidence now of a beginning of another COVID wave which has been expected for the last few weeks,” Asad Umar, minister in charge of supervising anti-COVID-19 operations, said on Twitter.

A street vendor waits for customers at a market closed due to COVID-19 measures in Peshawar, Pakistan
A street vendor waits for customers at a closed market in Peshawar, Pakistan [File: Reuters]


Kuwaitis told to avoid European travel over Omicron

Kuwait has called on its citizens to avoid travel to several European countries hit hard by Omicron.

The foreign ministry said they should “delay their trips” generally and, in particular, to France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.

It also urged its citizens to leave those countries if they are already there, “considering the significant and unprecedented rise in the number of new cases”.

Source: Al Jazeera