More countries report Omicron variant infections
The Omicron variant of COVID–19 continues to spread rapidly as more countries on Saturday reported infections.
South Korea saw a daily record high of 81 infections from the Omicron strain over the past 24 hours, including 41 imported cases and 40 domestic transmissions, said the country’s anti-pandemic authorities on Saturday.
The cause of the spread among most of these cases remains unknown, which has raised grave concerns among the public.
The country reported 5,842 more cases of COVID–19 as of Friday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 602,051.
It is the first time over the past four days that the country’s daily caseload was down from 6,000, compared to 7,000 earlier, as the government tightened response measures.
On Dec 16, South Korea decided to tighten its social-distancing rules after COVID–19 cases surged due to relaxation on epidemic response measures last month.
The maximum number of people allowed for private gatherings will be lowered to four nationwide for 16 days from Dec 18 until Jan 2.
The business hour curfew will be restored on multi-use facilities, including restaurants and cafes.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that a new COVID–19 vaccination drive for youths aged between 15 and 18 years will be launched in the country from Jan 3, 2022.
In addition, booster doses of COVID–19 vaccines will be given to health workers, frontline workers and those aged above 60 years starting from Jan 10, Modi said.
Addressing the nation on TV, Modi asked the Indian people not to panic and avoid rumors about COVID–19 or the Omicron variant.
He said that Indian scientists are keeping a close watch on the varied experiences from different countries regarding the Omicron variant.
Over the past 11 months, 61 percent of the adults in India have been fully vaccinated while 90 percent have received the first dose, he added.
Singapore reported a cluster infection of Omicron variant in a bar, with 10 confirmed cases, the health ministry said on Saturday.
All the 10 Omicron variant infections, who had been fully vaccinated, displayed only mild symptoms or no symptoms.
Authorities are tracing close contacts to prevent a further spread of the variant in the community.
Singapore on Saturday reported 248 new cases of COVID–19 on Saturday, bringing its total tally to 277,555.
In addition, as of Friday, a total of 448 Omicron cases were detected in Singapore, with 369 imported and 79 local cases.
Pakistan’s capital Islamabad has reported the first case of the Omicron COVID–19 strain, Pakistan’s National Institute of Health said on Saturday.
The patient reportedly had only travel experience in Karachi, which reported Pakistan’s first Omicron infection on Dec 23. The infection case in Karachi has now recovered.
Pakistan confirmed 353 new cases of COVID–19 and seven more deaths over the past 24 hours, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Saturday.
NCOC said the country has conducted 23,096,757 tests for COVID–19 so far, confirming 1,293,081 cases in total.
Russia reported 24,946 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking its total caseload to 10,368,299, the official monitoring and response center said Saturday.
Meanwhile, the national death toll grew by 981, the lowest daily count since Oct 12, to 303,250.
Health authorities on Saturday said Russia had already confirmed 41 Omicron variant infections, with 16 already recovered.
North Macedonia confirmed its first case of the Omicron strain, according to the health authorities on Saturday.
The confirmed case arrived from the United Kingdom, health authorities said.
WHO declares end to COVID global health emergency
The World Health Organization said Friday that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency, marking a symbolic end to the devastating coronavirus pandemic that triggered once-unthinkable lockdowns, upended economies and killed millions of people worldwide.
The announcement, made more than three years after WHO declared the coronavirus an international crisis, offers some relief, if not an ending, to a pandemic that stirred fear and suspicion, hand-wringing and finger-pointing across the globe, AP reported.
The U.N. health agency’s officials said that even though the emergency phase was over, the pandemic hasn’t finished, noting recent spikes in cases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
WHO says thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week, and millions of others are suffering from debilitating, long-term effects.
“It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat,” he said, warning that new variants could yet emerge. Tedros noted that while the official COVID-19 death toll was 7 million, the real figure was estimated to be at least 20 million.
Tedros said the pandemic had been on a downward trend for more than a year, acknowledging that most countries have already returned to life before COVID-19.
He bemoaned the damage that COVID-19 had done to the global community, saying the pandemic had shattered businesses, exacerbated political divisions, led to the spread of misinformation and plunged millions into poverty.
When the U.N. health agency first declared the coronavirus to be an international crisis on Jan. 30, 2020, it hadn’t yet been named COVID-19 and there were no major outbreaks beyond China.
More than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and about 5 billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine.
In the U.S., the public health emergency declaration made regarding COVID-19 is set to expire on May 11, when wide-ranging measures to support the pandemic response, including vaccine mandates, will end. Many other countries, including Germany, France and Britain, dropped most of their provisions against the pandemic last year.
When Tedros declared COVID-19 to be an emergency in 2020, he said his greatest fear was the virus’ potential to spread in countries with weak health systems.
Most recently, WHO has struggled to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, a challenging scientific endeavor that has also become politically fraught.
COVID-19 in Iran: Nearly 900 new cases, 24 deaths recorded
The Iranian health ministry announced on Sunday that more than 890 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified across the country during the past 24 hours, adding that 24 patients have died in the same period of time, Fars News Agency reported.
“A sum of 891 new patients infected with COVID-19 have been identified in the country based on confirmed diagnosis criteria during the past 24 hours,” the Iranian Health Ministry’s Public Relations Center said on Sunday, adding, “454 patients have been hospitalized during the same time span.”
The ministry’s public relations center said 611 people infected with COVID-19 are in critical condition.
China says 200 million treated, pandemic ‘decisively’ beaten
China says more than 200 million of its citizens have been diagnosed and treated for COVID-19 since it lifted strict containment measures beginning in November.
With 800,000 of the most critically ill patients having recovered, China has “decisively beaten” the pandemic, according to notes from a meeting of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee presided over by President and party leader Xi Jinping, AP reported.
China enforced some of the world’s most draconian lockdowns, quarantines and travel restrictions and still faces questions about the origins of the virus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. Heavy-handed enforcement prompted rare anti-government protests and took a heavy toll on the world’s second-largest economy.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying that policies to control the outbreak had been “entirely correct.” The abrupt lifting in November and December of the “zero COVID” policy that had sought to eliminate all cases of the virus led to a surge in infections that temporarily overwhelmed hospitals.
Case numbers have since peaked and life has largely returned to normal, although international travel in and out of China has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
China is now transitioning to a post-pandemic stage after a fight against the outbreak that was “extraordinary in the extreme,” Xinhua said.
The government will continue to “optimize and adjust prevention and control policies and measures according to the times and situations with a strong historical responsibility and strong strategic determination,” Xinhua said.
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