More than half of people in the entire European region will be infected with the Omicron strain within two months if the current rate of transmission continues, said a World Health Organization (WHO) official on Tuesday.
Since the beginning of the new year, the pandemic situation in many European countries has been severe. In countries including France and Denmark, the number of newly confirmed COVID–19 cases in a single day has reached a new high since the onset of the pandemic. As the number of hospitalized cases and deaths continue to rise, some countries are tightening their pandemic control policies.
WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said at a press conference on Tuesday that in the first week of 2022, more than seven million cases were reported in Europe, which doubled the data two weeks ago. Kluge said that it is estimated that at the current rate of transmission, more than 50 percent of people in the entire European region will be infected with the Omicron strain in the next six to eight weeks.
Kluge said that the Omicron strain is super contagious compared with the previous variants, and its scope of spreading is unprecedented. He also emphasized the importance of vaccines in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
WHO officials said on Tuesday that in view of the uncertainty of the Omicron strain at this stage and the rapid development of the pandemic, the WHO opposes responding to the COVID–19 pandemic in the same way as dealing with influenza.
The WHO Regional Office for Europe covers 53 countries, including European and some neighboring countries. Omicron strains have been found in at least 50 of these countries.
Beijing life on hold for lockdowns, COVID testing
As cases of COVID-19 hit record daily highs, China is reimposing a range of strict measures under its “zero-COVID” policy, including lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines for anyone suspected of having come into contact with the virus, AP reported.
The restrictions cover cities and towns from the southern manufacturing center of Guangzhou to Beijing in the north. While measures imposed in the Chinese capital have been less draconian than in other areas, normal life in the city has been severely disrupted, with no word yet on when restrictions will be lifted.
Along with the closure of hundreds of shops, restaurants, malls and office buildings, residential compounds have been sealed off to different degrees of severity. In some cases, all outside visitors and delivery people are banned, leaving residents to collect items at the gate. Authorities have issued notices asking residents not to leave home unless absolutely necessary or to buy groceries and seek medical help.
In some cases, fences or other barriers have been erected to control access. Entrances are guarded, sometimes by people in hazmat suits, to ensure only those with authorization can pass and that everyone scans the all-important health code to show they have a recent negative test result.
Those are obtained at one of the scores of testing stations set up outdoors across the city, where residents join often lengthy lines to undergo a nucleic acid test that entails having their IDs recorded and a swab taken from inside the mouth.
With so many people staying home, either voluntarily or under orders, the city’s streets are eerily quiet. Frustration with the harsh measures is growing across China, although Beijing has yet to see the sort of confrontations between residents, workers and the authorities that have recently occurred in other cities.
As the seat of the national government and ruling Communist Party, Beijing is being treated more delicately to ensure basic functioning and prevent the sort of rare protests seen in cities such as Shanghai, which underwent a harsh two-month lockdown in the spring.
Still, the city is tense and the stress is wearing on many of the 21 million residents, young and old, Chinese and foreign, who are all asking the same question: How much longer will these measures be in place?
China’s daily COVID-19 cases hit record high: Authorities
China’s daily Covid cases have hit a record high since the beginning of the pandemic, official data showed Thursday, as the country works to curb the spread with snap lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.
China recorded 31,454 domestic cases — 27,517 without symptoms — on Wednesday, the National Health Bureau said.
The numbers are relatively small when compared with China’s vast population of 1.4 billion, AFP reported.
But under Beijing’s strict zero-Covid policy, even tiny outbreaks can shut down entire cities and place contacts of infected patients into strict quarantine.
The unrelenting policy has caused fatigue and resentment among swathes of the population as the pandemic nears its third year, sparking sporadic protests and hitting productivity in the world’s second-largest economy.
Wednesday’s figures exceed the 29,390 infections recorded in mid-April when megacity Shanghai was under lockdown, with residents struggling to buy food and access medical care.
Hong Kong leader Lee isolating with COVID-19 after APEC trip
Hong Kong leader John Lee tested positive for the coronavirus after meeting with other regional leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand, the city’s government said Monday.
Lee tested negative throughout his four-day stay in Bangkok but his test upon his arrival at Hong Kong’s airport on Sunday night was positive, it said.
Lee is now in isolation and will work from home, according to a statement from the Chief Executive’s Office. Other officials at his office who went to Thailand with Lee all tested negative, AP reported.
Lee had a slight fever and a sore throat in the afternoon, the office said in a later statement.
Lee’s aim at the forum of Asia-Pacific economies was to promote Hong Kong’s image as the city reopens to the world after imposing severe COVID-19 restrictions for much of the pandemic.
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