WHO urges travellers to wear masks as new COVID variant spreads
Countries should consider recommending that passengers wear masks on long-haul flights, given the rapid spread of the latest Omicron subvariant of COVID-19 in the United States, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Tuesday.
In Europe, the XBB.1.5 subvariant was detected in small but growing numbers, WHO and Europe officials said at a press briefing, Reuters reported.
Passengers should be advised to wear masks in high-risk settings such as long-haul flights, said the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, adding: “this should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread COVID-19 transmission”.
XBB.1.5 – the most transmissible Omicron subvariant detected so far – accounted for 27.6% of COVID-19 cases in the United States for the week ended Jan. 7, health officials have said.
It was unclear if XBB.1.5 would cause its own wave of global infections. Current vaccines continue to protect against severe symptoms, hospitalisation and death, experts say.
“Countries need to look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing” and if action is considered, “travel measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner,” Smallwood said.
That did not mean the agency recommended testing for passengers from the United States at this stage, she added.
Measures that could be taken include genomic surveillance, and targeting passengers from other countries as long as it does not divert resources from domestic surveillance systems. Others include monitoring wastewater around points of entry such as airports, read the report.
XBB.1.5 is another descendant of Omicron, the most contagious and now globally dominant variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. It is an offshoot of XBB, first detected in October, itself a recombinant of two other Omicron subvariants.
According to Reuters concerns about XBB.1.5 fuelling a fresh spate of cases in the United States and beyond are on rising amid a surge of COVID cases in China, after the country pivoted away from its signature “zero COVID” policy last month.
According to data reported by the WHO earlier this month, an analysis by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed a predominance of Omicron sublineages BA.5.2 and BF.7 among locally acquired infections.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Tuesday issued recommendations for flights between China and the European Union including “non-pharmaceutical measures to reduce the spread of the virus, such as mask-wearing and testing of travellers, as well as monitoring of waste water as an early warning tool to detect new variants.”
The agencies recommend “random testing may also be carried out on a sample of arriving passengers” and “enhanced cleaning and disinfection of aircraft serving these routes.”
Last week, the EU’s Integrated Political Crisis Response group (IPCR), is a body made up of officials from the EU’s 27 governments, also recommended all passengers on flights to and from China should wear face masks and random testing of passengers arriving from China, Reuters reported.
Many scientists – including from the WHO – believe China is likely under-reporting the true extent of its outbreak.
The WHO is aware that the case-definition of what counts as a COVID-19 death in China is narrow and “not necessarily the case definition that WHO has recommended countries adopt,” said Smallwood.
More than a dozen countries – including the United States – are demanding COVID tests from travellers from China.
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.
Study suggests people who had COVID-19 risk new-onset diabetes
A new Cedars-Sinai Medical Center suggests that people who have previously been infected with COVID-19 could stand an increased risk for new-onset diabetes.
The study’s results, conducted by researchers at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai “have confirmed that people who have had COVID-19 have an increased risk for new-onset diabetes — the most significant contributor to cardiovascular disease.”
“Our results validate early findings revealing a risk of developing Type 2 diabetes after a COVID-19 infection and indicate that this risk has, unfortunately, persisted through the Omicron era,” said Dr. Alan Kwan, the author of the study and a cardiovascular physician at Cedars-Sinai.
“The research study helps us understand — and better prepare for — the post COVID-19 era of cardiovascular risk,” he said.
The study also suggests that the risk of Type 2 diabetes appears to be lower in those who had already been vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to their infection.
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