French parliament approves COVID vaccine pass: Live – Al Jazeera English

France’s parliament has approved a law that will exclude unvaccinated people from all restaurants, sports arenas and other venues – the central measure of government efforts to protect hospitals amid record numbers of infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

In China, the city of Xi’an has gradually begun lifting restrictions after over three weeks of lockdown, following a coronavirus outbreak last month that officials attributed to the Delta variant.

India has reported its highest daily count of new novel coronavirus infections, with more than 271,000 cases recorded in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, vaccinated travellers will not be asked for COVID-19 tests on their return from holidays starting from next month, according to British daily The Times.

Here are the latest updates on January 16:


Baby dead from COVID-19 in Qatar: ministry

A three-week-old baby has died from COVID-19 in Qatar, the health ministry said, reporting a rare child fatality from the illness in the Gulf country.

“A three-week-old baby has sadly died as a result of severe infection from Covid-19,” the emirate’s public health ministry said in a statement.

“The baby had no other known medical or hereditary conditions”, and was the second child to have died in the country since the pandemic began, it added.


French parliament approves vaccine pass

France’s parliament gave final approval to the government’s latest measures to tackle the COVID-19 virus, including a vaccine pass contested by anti-vaccine protestors.

The new law, which had a rough ride through parliament with opposition parties finding some of its provisions too tough, will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places like restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains.

Currently, unvaccinated people can enter such places with the results of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Nearly 78 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry on Saturday.

People queue for COVID-19 tests in front of a testing booth outside a pharmacy in Paris amid the spread of the coronavirus diseasePeople queue for COVID-19 tests in front of a testing booth outside a pharmacy in Paris amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in France, January 7, 2022. [Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters]

Anti-vaccine far-right rally attracts hundreds in Hungary

Over a thousand people marched in Budapest protesting against COVID-19 inoculation at a rally organised by the far-right Our Homeland Movement, which has been campaigning on a fierce anti-vaccine and anti-immigration message ahead of April 3 elections.

“Vaccines should not be mandatory! We don’t tolerate blackmail,” said the slogan of the rally where people held up banners saying: “I am unvaccinated, not a criminal” and “Enough of COVID dictatorship.”

Hungary’s nationalist government has made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory only for teachers and healthcare workers.

With 10 million people and 40,237 people deaths from COVID-19 so far, Hungary has a vaccination rate of just over 60 percent, which lags western European levels.


Protest in Netherlands against coronavirus measures

Thousands of protesters packed Amsterdam’s streets in opposition to the government-imposed COVID-19 measures and vaccination campaign as virus infections hit a new record.

Authorities were granted stop and search powers at several locations across the city and scores of riot police vans patrolled neighbourhoods where the demonstrators marched with banners and yellow umbrellas.

Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen said the mood has been “quite heated but peaceful”.

“There’s a wide range of people against government measures and a general distrust of politics,” she said.

“A lot of people are now not obeying the rules and are violating many of the rules that are still place. The government has lifted the lockdown last Friday but in the last couple of days we’ve seen many business owners going against the government, opening their shops, restaurants and businesses saying they can’t go any longer.”


Chinese city Xi’an lifts some restrictions after lockdown

The Chinese city of Xi’an has gradually begun lifting restrictions after over three weeks of lockdown, as authorities sought to stamp out a local outbreak before the Beijing Winter Olympic Games are due to start.

State-owned broadcaster CCTV reported that certain counties and development zones in Xi’an, a city of 13 million famous for the Terracotta Warriors, had begun restoring production.

Officials told a news conference that lockdown measures had been either partially or completely lifted in some communities that have been designated as lower risk, allowing people to leave their homes for a limited time to purchase daily necessities.


Turkey backtracks on allowing unvaccinated on domestic flights without PCR test

Turkey has rescinded a measure that allows people unvaccinated against COVID-19 to board domestic flights without a PCR test, the state-owned Anadolu Agency said, a day after the requirement was lifted.

The Interior Ministry on Saturday lifted the PCR requirement for unvaccinated people in various areas, including planes, buses, theatres, cinemas and concert venues, Anadolu said.

Ankara had also lifted the PCR test and isolation requirement for those who come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. PCR tests are given only to those who show sypmtoms of the illness.

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in IstanbulPegasus Airlines employees wearing protective masks and face shields inform passengers at the domestic departure terminal of Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul, Turkey June 11, 2020. [File: Murad Sezer/Reuters]

COVID deaths and cases are rising again at US nursing homes

COVID-19 infections are soaring again at US nursing homes because of the omicron wave, and deaths are climbing too, leading to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted.

Nursing homes were the lethal epicentre of the pandemic early on, before the vaccine allowed many of them to reopen to visitors last year. But the wildly contagious variant has dealt them a setback.

Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending January 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Austria tweaks vaccine mandate plan, to come in next month

The Austrian government has announced revised plans for a strict vaccine mandate, which it said will now apply to all residents age 18 and over, rather than 14 as originally intended.

The government announced nearly two months ago that it would implement a general vaccine mandate early this year, becoming the first European country to do so. In early December, it produced a first draft, calling for the measure to be introduced in February and foreseeing fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,100) for people who flout it.

Key aspects of the plan remain in the final version, which the government aims to have parliament approve on Thursday, but officials said consultations with two opposition parties and others showed the need for significant changes to details.

A demonstrator holds a placard reading 'Against compulsory vaccination' A demonstrator holds a placard reading ‘Against compulsory vaccination’ during an anti-vaccination protest at the Ballhausplatz in Vienna, Austria [File: Georg Hochmuth/AFP]

Germany’s seven-day incidence of infections passes 500 for first time

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned Germans against complacency and warned of “difficult weeks” ahead as the country’s disease control body recorded a new high in its seven-day incidence of coronavirus infections.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 515.7 new infections per 100,000 people per week on Sunday, marking the first time the measure has passed the 500 mark.

This compares to the figure of 497.1 a day earlier and 362.7 a week earlier. German health authorities recorded 52,504 new infections in the past 24 hours. A week earlier 36,552 were recorded.

“We must not lull ourselves into a false sense of security in view of the fall of hospitalization numbers, especially in intensive care units,” Lauterbach told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.


Australian PM welcomes court decision to dismiss Djokovic visa case

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has welcomed a federal court ruling that upheld the cancellation of tennis player Novak Djokovic’s visa, saying the decision will help “keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe”.

A medical exemption that allowed Djokovic to enter the country without being vaccinated had sparked fury in Australia, becoming a political issue for Morrison, who has to call a federal election before May.

“It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer,” Morrison said in a statement.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speakingMorrison promised to ‘keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe’ [File: AFP]

Serbia says Australia’s decision to deport Djokovic ‘scandalous’

Serbia’s prime minister has denounced as “scandalous” Australia’s decision to deport tennis player Novak Djokovic over his decision not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Serbian president said he would always be welcome in his homeland.

A unanimous ruling by a three-judge bench rejecting Djokovic’s appeal against the cancellation of his visa dealt a final blow to his hopes of chasing a record 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open.

“I think the court decision is scandalous … I find it unbelievable that we have two completely contradictory court decisions within the span of just a few days,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters in Belgrade.


Thailand reports first death from Omicron variant

Thailand has reported its first death from the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant, a health official said on Sunday.

The death of an 86-year-old woman from the southern province of Songkhla came after Thailand detected its first Omicron case last month that led to the reinstatement of its mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for foreign visitors.

“The woman is a bed-ridden, Alzheimer patient,” health ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati told the Reuters news agency.

Such a death was expected as the country has so far reported more than 10,000 Omicron cases, he said, adding that Thailand would not need further containment measures.

A woman receives vaccine from a health worker in ThailandThailand reported 8,077 new infections and nine deaths on Sunday [File: Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo]

Djokovic boards flight after Australia court upholds visa cancellation

Tennis star Novak Djokovic boarded a flight bound for Dubai after an Australian federal court upheld the government’s cancellation of his visa in a drama over his decision not to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

The player was seen boarding an Emirates flight from Melbourne just hours after the court ruling.


Beijing Omicron case prompts temple closures, queues for COVID tests

China reported 65 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases for January 15, including the first Omicron case in Beijing, just weeks from the February 4 start of the Winter Olympic Games and the country’s Lunar New Year holiday.

That was down from 104 comparable cases a day earlier, as the outbreak in the northwestern city of Xian winds down after strict lockdowns.

But the highly transmissible Omicron variant has been detected in at least five provinces and municipalities, prompting cities to impose curbs to stop its spread and threatening to further undercut slowing economic growth.


Australia court rules Djokovic to be deported

Tennis player Novak Djokovic has lost his chance to defend his Australian Open title after an Australian court upheld a government deportation order.

Three federal court judges sided with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision made on Friday to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.

Read more here.

Djokovic playing tennis in Melbourne ParkSerbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practises at Melbourne Park on January 14, 2022 [Diego Fedele/AAP via Reuters]

UK Conservative chairman asks Johnson to address culture of staff parties

The British Conservative Party chairman has rejected calls for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign but said he must address the culture within his government that resulted in multiple staff gatherings at his residence during coronavirus lockdowns.

Johnson has apologised for attending a gathering in the garden of his Downing Street residence in May 2020 where staff had been invited to bring their own alcohol at a time when strict rules forbade the public from almost all socialising.

Amid a public backlash at the perception that the government did not follow its own rules during the pandemic, an internal investigation is looking at that party and several others – including two separate parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.

British Prime Minister Boris JohnsonJohnson apologised after a report revealed his staff parties during COVID lockdown times [File: Reuters]

India daily COVID-19 case count touches eight-month peak

India has reported 271,202 new daily cases of the novel coronavirus, its highest daily count in eight months, taking its total tally to 37.12 million, the federal health ministry said.

Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 314 to 486,066, the ministry said.

A healthcare worker gives a dose of vaccine to a man in IndiaA healthcare worker injects a dose of vaccine to a man in Ahmedabad, India [File: Reuters]

N Korea train makes first crossing into China since border lockdown: Reports

A North Korean cargo train pulled into a Chinese border town on Sunday, in what would be the first confirmed crossing since anti-coronavirus border lockdowns began, according to media reports.

North Korea has not officially reported any COVID-19 cases and has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and domestic travel curbs, since the pandemic began in December 2019.

A North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River railway bridge to arrive in the Chinese town of Dandong on Sunday, Yonhap News Agency said, citing multiple unnamed sources.


Beijing reports first local Omicron case

The first locally transmitted Omicron case has been detected in the Chinese capital, Beijing, officials said, weeks before the city is due to host the Winter Olympic Games.

State television reported on Saturday that the new COVID infection had been identified as the Omicron strain.

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

Read more here.


UK will not require COVID tests for fully vaccinated travellers: Report

Britain’s vaccinated travellers will be able to go on half-term holidays next month without taking COVID-19 tests on their return, The Times reported.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps is in favour of ending the testing system for the double-jabbed in time for the February break, the report said.

An announcement on the change in guidance would be made on January 26, the report said.

Travellers stand at Heathrow airport in LondonAn announcement on the change in travel guidance in the UK will reportedly be made on January 26 [File: EPA]

China urges authorities to minimise effects of COVID curbs over Lunar New Year

China’s state planner has urged local governments to minimise the effects of COVID-19 restrictions over the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday to help a rebound in consumption, as rising cases of the Omicron variant threaten economic growth.

“Local governments should avoid simplified, one-size-fits-all … COVID-19 epidemic and control measures [over the holiday] and minimise the impact on the people’s life,” the National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement.

It said low-risk places in China meet the reasonable demand for short trips from urban and rural residents, and urged a step-up in the supply of everyday products over the holiday period.

UNC Reports 1,000 COVID-19 Cases to Start Spring Semester – Chapelboro.com

As UNC began its first day of classes Monday, the Carolina Together COVID-19 dashboard showed more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 in the campus community.

According to the dashboard, the university reported 1,002 total cases of COVID-19 between January 3 and January 9: 840 students and 162 employees. Through campus testing at the Carolina Together Testing Program and Campus Health, there were 599 positive cases of COVID-19 between January 3 and January 9.

All unvaccinated students and all students living on campus were required to complete reentry testing for COVID-19. The university urged all students to also test even if it was not required.

Between August 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021 there were 887 positive COVID-19 cases through on-campus testing.

The 1,002 cases also reflects recent spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 at UNC despite high attestation of vaccination. According to the Carolina Together dashboard, 94 percent of students and 89 percent of all employees attested to being fully vaccinated as of January 10. Additionally, UNC reports a booster shot total of 7,495.

Weekly testing for COVID-19 remains a requirement for all unvaccinated members of the campus community. Additionally, masks are required to be worn in all university buildings and are encouraged outdoors for group events and gatherings.

On-campus students who test positive for COVID-19 can isolate at their home or in their residence hall room – leaving only for food pickup and medical care. UNC is not currently offering separate on-campus isolation housing for residential students who test positive for COVID-19. Students who miss class because of omicron will receive an excused absence for a week.

Some departments, like the UNC School of Public Health, preemptively moved their courses online for the first few weeks of the semester due to concerns from the omicron variant. University leadership said deans have the discretion to temporarily modify modes of instruction for specific courses.

COVID-19 cases overall have increased in North Carolina since the start of 2022 – largely due to the omicron variant. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Orange County had 1,722 positive cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days.

North Carolina saw roughly 18,000 new cases reported Monday – resulting in a 31.1 daily percent positive rate. Since the start of 2022, there have been more than 200,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the state.

Lead Photo via Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill


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Editorial: Relaxing COVID-19 policies is dangerous – UNC does it anyway – The Daily Tar Heel

The pandemic has challenged University policies from every angle, and the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant before the spring semester highlights the failures of these policies – and the administration that crafts them.

The omicron variant is known for being far more contagious than the delta variant – which the University attempted to grapple with last semester. It has a reinfection rate that is 10 times higher than the delta variant.

In the wake of a public health emergency, UNC policies have only become more relaxed, indicating a false sense of security where urgent action is needed. 

Instead of reassessing its decision to return to in-person learning, the University is filling the Dean Dome to capacity. Instead of testing being expanded, it is restricted, with safety nets such as isolation housing ripped out from under us.

UNC cannot have its cake and eat it too.

The University cannot make the choice to continue on the path of in-person learning and on-campus living without taking all necessary precautions to preserve the health and safety of the community.

The most glaring policy issue is that UNC still refuses to institute a vaccine requirement, even after other universities have proven that it is possible.

Meanwhile, appointments for COVID-19 tests are few and far between, with the Student Union testing center closed on weekends. Vaccinated students remain exempt from testing requirements, despite the known contagion risks brought by omicron.

Say you’re able to get tested and test positive. Now what? 

The biggest change from last semester is for students living on campus, who no longer have access to isolation dorms. Now, the Carolina Together website asks students to stay in their assigned residence hall rooms unless absolutely necessary.

There are no systems in place to deliver meals or other items to students isolated in their dorms. Thus, UNC has no way to ensure that students infected with COVID-19 can safely isolate themselves and prevent the spread of the virus to their peers through shared facilities.

With no safety nets in place, UNC only makes matters worse as it allows basketball games to remain at full capacity, and facilities like Campus Recreation reduce cleaning periods and scheduling requirements.

Even where policies were made to address the rising number of cases, enforcement is sorely lacking. Students living on campus were asked to upload negative PCR test results three days before returning to campus. PCR tests take several days to produce results, and the University did not let students move into dorms until less than 48 hours before FDOC.

The webpage that was sent out to students and was supposed to provide more information on this requirement? As of the day residence halls reopened, it doesn’t exist.

With limited time and the scarcity of COVID-19 tests, the University leaves students between a rock and a hard place, with little on-campus testing availability and no other options for students unable to get tested before arrival. Meanwhile, students can move in with no repercussions if they fail to fulfill this requirement.

Classes, many of which remain in person and at pre-COVID capacities, begin tomorrow. Resources for students are dwindling, and the University has failed to implement every policy tool made available to it: a two-week virtual delay, a vaccine mandate and safety nets for infected students.

UNC administration cannot be the master of both worlds, although it may try, because there is only one right course of action – the one that protects students, faculty and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro communities we reside within.

Anything else is negligent.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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Novak Djokovic contracted COVID-19 last month, lawyers say in court filings – ESPN

Novak Djokovic contracted COVID-19 last month but was not experiencing symptoms and had written clearance from Australia’s immigration department before traveling to the country with a medical exemption from its vaccination rules, his lawyers said in a court filing on Saturday.

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic, who remained in immigration detention in Australia after having his visa canceled on arrival Thursday, returned his first positive coronavirus test on Dec. 16, but 14 days later he “had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 72 hours,” the filing said.

On Jan. 1, Djokovic received “a document from the Department of Home Affairs [that] told Mr. Djokovic that his ‘responses indicate[d] that [he met] the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia,'” the documents added.

Djokovic was denied entry at the Melbourne airport late Wednesday after border officials canceled his visa for failing to meet its entry requirement that all noncitizens be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Djokovic was given a medical exemption backed by the Victoria state government and Australian Open organizers based on information he supplied to two independent medical panels.

But it has since emerged that the medical exemption, allowed for people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the previous six months, was deemed invalid by border authorities.

Djokovic is preparing for his challenge in the Federal Circuit Court on Monday.

In a video message given to Australian Open staffers, tournament director Craig Tiley said the event is working to help Djokovic resolve the matter.

“There’s been a circumstance that relates to a couple of players, Novak particularly … in a situation that is very difficult,” Tiley said in the video, according to News Corp. newspapers. “We’re a player-first event. We’re working closely with Novak and his team, and others and their team, that are in this situation.”

Djokovic was one of two players put into detention in a hotel in Melbourne that also houses refugees and asylum seekers. The other competitor was 38-year-old doubles player Renata Voracova, but she left Australia on Saturday. Voracova had been in Australia for a week before an investigation by the border officials.

“[Renata] Voracova left Australia on Saturday based on her own decision to end her participation in the tournament due to complications with her visas,” the Czech ministry said.

“The decision was not based on her expulsion from the country,” it said.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

Global Covid-19 Cases Cross 300 Million Mark – The Wall Street Journal

The number of Covid-19 cases world-wide crossed the 300 million mark, according to Johns Hopkins University, as the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to hold a special session Friday to consider the Biden administration’s vaccine rules for private employers and healthcare workers.

The global case-number milestone, reached Thursday, has been accelerated by the Omicron variant’s rapid spread. Weekly cases have jumped at the start of this year to almost 10 million from 5.5 million at the end of last month, according to Johns Hopkins.

Surging cases could add fuel to arguments that the measure is no longer a useful barometer of the coronavirus’s seriousness. The new Omicron variant spreads much more quickly than previous strains but so far has been far less virulent.

Steven Corwin, the president and chief executive of NewYork-Presbyterian, one of the city’s largest private healthcare systems, said a smaller share of Covid-19 patients were in the ICU and on ventilators than in previous surges.

“About 50% are admitted with Covid, and about 50% are admitted for Covid,” Dr. Corwin said.

New York State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said that the rate of increase for infections was slowing and that she hoped the worst of the current surge would be over by February.

“We know that this is a much milder variant than the others. That’s what you’ve been hearing in the numbers,” Dr. Bassett said.

World-wide Covid-19 deaths have declined over recent weeks even as the number of cases jumped, according to Johns Hopkins. In many countries coronavirus hospitalizations are rising but remain a much lower proportion of case numbers than in previous waves.

The Supreme Court will hold a special session Friday to consider whether the Biden administration can enforce vaccine-and-testing rules for large private employers and a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers.

New York state will require healthcare workers to receive a booster shot to guard against breakthrough cases of Covid-19, Gov. Kathy Hochul said. The state has required healthcare workers to have received at least one vaccine dose since late September.

Los Angeles County set a record Thursday when it reported just over 37,000 new Covid-19 infections amid the continuing surge attributed to the Omicron variant. The previous record was about 27,000 cases on Dec. 31.

The county’s director of public health, Barbara Ferrer, said hospitalizations have also been increasing, though many new patients with Covid-19 are seeking treatment for other medical conditions. Currently, 45% of hospital patients who test positive for Covid-19 are being treated for Covid-related conditions, compared with 75% in early November.

In Germany, the government and leaders of the 16 federal states announced Friday new rules for dealing with the wave of coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant. They tightened the rules for visiting bars and restaurants, which, at present, can only be visited by people who can show proof of vaccination or recent prior infection. This rule is also valid for some entertainment and other venues.

Scientists are using automation, real-time analysis and pooling data from around the world to rapidly identify and understand new coronavirus variants before the next one spreads widely. Photo Illustration: Sharon Shi

Under the new rules, only people who have received their third, or booster dose, would be allowed into bars, restaurants and some other indoor venues, while those who had been fully vaccinated without a booster would have to also show a negative test.

In France, the Senate is expected to vote next week on a bill that stops the unvaccinated from entering restaurants, cafes and other public places. The legislation is part of President Emmanuel Macron’s strategy of annoying the unvaccinated to the point they feel compelled to get the shot. The push for vaccinations has so far allowed the country to forgo a lockdown this winter.

An energy forum in Abu Dhabi organized by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, was delayed from the middle of this month to the end of March due to the spreading of the Omicron variant in the U.S., the organizer said.

The Omicron Variant

Write to Bojan Pancevski at bojan.pancevski@wsj.com and Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com

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Argentina breaks COVID-19 case record as daily infections near 100000 – Reuters

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 6 (Reuters) – Argentina broke its record for COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, approaching 100,000 daily cases as it faces a third wave of the pandemic, driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant.

But the record of 95,159 officially confirmed cases, coming in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere summer holiday season with tourist centers full of travelers, has not translated into a similar exponential rise in COVID-related deaths, which totaled 52.

“We do not have a strong impact on intensive therapy units and less in terms of deaths,” the chief of staff of the Ministry of Health, Sonia Tarragona, told local radio station Urbana Play. “The cases are mild or moderate and they are not putting stress on the health system.”

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Argentina accelerated its vaccination campaign in recent months, which started with the Sputnik V vaccine, then added AstraZeneca and Sinopharm and, later, CanSino, Pfizer and Moderna.

Tarragona said she does not know “what the ceiling for infections is going to be,” but some experts believe the true number among the country’s 45 million population is already significant.

“Today in Argentina we could be quietly at around 150,000 or 200,000 cases of new infections per day,” biochemist Jorge Geffner told Reuters TV.

He estimated that the infection peak could come in mid-January.

Neighboring Brazil had 27,267 new daily cases and 129 deaths, the government said on Wednesday. read more

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Reporting by Agustin Geist and Lucila Sigal; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by John Stonestreet and Mark Porter

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Spotting COVID-19 and its Variants: General Symptoms List – CaroMont Health

After years of the pandemic, most individuals know the common symptoms of COVID-19. We also know that getting tested for COVID-19 (and isolating after a positive result) can help stop the spread. But the virus presents differently in different people: some experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, while others become severely ill, leading to hospitalization and in some cases, death. Recognizing COVID-19 can be challenging, but getting tested as soon as possible after an exposure or after symptoms appear remains so important.

As new and highly-transmissible variants continue to spread across our region, including Delta and the even more contagious Omicron variants, do you know what symptoms you should be looking for? Read on to learn some general symptoms that indicate your need to be tested for COVID-19:

General Symptoms of COVID-19:
-Fever or chills
-Cough
-Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
-Fatigue
-Muscle or body aches
-Headache
-New loss of taste or smell
-Sore throat
-Congestion or runny nose
-Nausea or vomiting
-Diarrhea

General Symptoms of the COVID-19 Omicron Variant:
-Dry cough
-Fever
-Night sweats
-Body pain
-Runny nose
-Headache
-Fatigue
-Sneezing
-Sore throat

General Symptoms of the COVID-19 Delta Variant:
-Headache
-Sore throat
-Runny nose
-Fever

General Symptoms of Seasonal Flu:
-Fever or feeling feverish/chills
-Cough
-Sore throat
-Runny or stuffy nose
-Muscle or body aches
-Headaches
-Fatigue
-Vomiting and diarrhea

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to get tested as soon as possible and limit your interactions with others until you have your test results. Find a testing location near you: https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/about-covid-19/testing/find-my-testing-place

The best way to protect yourself and those you love from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated as soon as possible. All individuals over the age of 5 are eligible and studies continue to show that the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters provide significant protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death. Learn more about vaccination against seasonal flu and COVID-19 on our website: www.caromonthealth.org/vaccine

Biden to address nation, US reports 1M cases in a day; omicron 95% of cases: COVID updates – USA TODAY

President Joe Biden will address the American public Tuesday about the omicron variant as COVID-19 cases continue surging to record levels following the holidays. 

Nearly 1 in 100 Americans have tested positive for the virus in just the last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over 1 million cases were reported in the U.S. on Monday alone, although many of the cases were likely backlogged from the New Year’s weekend. 

While the holidays have likely muddled daily COVID-19 case counts, the spike in coronavirus cases nationwide shows a clear trend of yet another wave of the virus – and it’s likely that not all cases are being reported from at-home tests. Just before the new year, Biden put $137 million toward expanding production of at-home tests.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with the White House COVID-19 Response Team. They’ll be briefed on resources being sent to states and local communities to help with staffing needs and hospital capacity, expanding access to COVID-19 treatments and the latest data on the omicron variant.

Also in the news:

► Pandemic-caused shortages of airline workers combined with a winter storm that hit the mid-Atlantic on Monday were again causing thousands of flight delays and cancellations Tuesday, according to FlightAware.

► The omicron variant accounted for more than 95% of all new cases in the week that ended Saturday, the CDC says. That is up from 77% the previous week

►Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is the latest lawmaker to test positive, posting on Twitter Monday that he is “asymptomatic and feel fine.”

► Access to many indoor public places across Chicago and much of Cook County requires proof of vaccination effective Monday. Some communities say they won’t enforce the mandate. Houses of worship are among exempt locations.

► New infections reported globally are up 83% over the previous week. The world is now reporting more than 11 million cases a week.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 56 million confirmed COVID-19 cases – or one for every six people in the country – and more than 827,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 292.6 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. More than 205.8 million Americans – 62% – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC

📘 What we’re reading: In anticipation of steep challenges reopening schools amid an omicron-driven surge of COVID-19 infections, districts plan to ramp up coronavirus testing when classes resume in January. Leaders are still scrambling to work out the details – leaving big questions about safety and logistics.

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Teacher vote today could shut down Chicago schools tomorrow

Chicago teachers were expected to vote Tuesday on whether they want to switch to remote learning because of the surge in COVID-19 cases, according to a teachers union spokesperson. The school district has ordered teachers back to their classrooms. Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said classes, in-person and remote, will be canceled for 330,000 students at least for Wednesday if teachers vote for remote learning. He said students are safer in schools, and noted that restaurants and other public places remain open.

“The commitment I have to families is that I have to have a plan that prioritizes them, their children,” Martinez said.

Chicago has reported record numbers of new cases in recent days, and hospitalizations are up 22% from the week prior, according to city data. 

Maryland declares state of emergency; hospitalizations hit record

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency Tuesday and mobilized 1,000 members of the National Guard to assist state and local health officials with the pandemic response. Maryland reached a record high 3,057 hospitalizations, up more than 500% in less than two months. The newest projections show that COVID-19 hospitalizations could reach more than 5,000 – more than double the previous peak, Hogan said.

“The truth is that the next four to six weeks will be the most challenging of the entire pandemic,” he said.

CDC: Get the Pfizer booster 5 months after second jab

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday updated its recommendation for when many people can receive a booster shot, shortening the interval from six months to five months after the second shot for people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The booster interval recommendation for people who received the J&J vaccine (two months) or the Moderna vaccine (six months), has not changed. The CDC also is now recommending that moderately or severely immunocompromised 5- to 11-year-olds receive an additional primary dose of the vaccine 28 days after their second shot. Only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for children 5-11. The recommendations follow similar decisions announced Monday by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Today’s recommendations allow for more people to get a boost of protection as we face #Omicron & ensure that vulnerable children can get an additional dose for protection against #COVID19,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky tweeted.

Judge backs Navy sailors who challenged military vaccine mandate

A federal judge in Texas has issued a preliminary injunction banning the Pentagon from punishing 35 Navy Seals and sailors who refused to get vaccinated saying it violated their religious freedoms. The Pentagon has mandated vaccination for all active-duty troops. Thousands of military members have requested religious exemptions, but none have been granted. Judge Reed O’Connor, appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote that the loss of religious liberties “outweighs any forthcoming harm” to the military.

“Our nation asks the men and women in our military to serve, suffer, and sacrifice,” O’Connor wrote. “But we do not ask them to lay aside their citizenry and give up the very rights they have sworn to protect.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who filed a brief in support of service members, called the decision “a big victory against Biden’s tyrannical COVID mandate that would undermine religious freedom and hurt our national security.”

Hospitalizations fueled by omicron variant surge rising sharply

The United States again has more than 100,000 COVID-19 patients in hospital beds, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data shows. Hospitals on Monday reported 102,486 patients in hospital beds, up about 26% from a week earlier. About as many people are in hospital beds now as when the delta variant peaked in mostly southern states in September. The federal database shows about 142,000 COVID-19 patients were in hospital beds in January 2021.

Hospitals also said in the latest week they had admitted about 152,000 COVID-19 patients, up 46.5% from the previous week. About 19,000 COIVD-19 patients are in intensive-care beds, up 8.6% from the previous week.

Experts say the omicron variant sweeping the nation might be milder than earlier versions of the coronavirus, so a lower percentage of infected people could require hospitalization. But hospital beds are filling up because so many more people are getting infected than ever before.

Vaccination is key. The hospitalization rate for adults 18 years and older from September through November was about nine times higher in unvaccinated people than those who were vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. 

Mike Stucka

COVID-positive employees with symptoms can work at R.I. hospital

A state-run hospital in Rhode Island has declared a staffing crisis and notified employees with “mild symptoms” of the virus that causes COVID-19 that they can work. A memo obtained on Monday by The Providence Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, advised employees that “we have officially notified (the Rhode Island Department of Health) that we are in such a staffing situation.”

The memo went out on New Year’s Day, at a point when the Department of Health was publicly stating that no hospital in Rhode Island had declared the need to bring back infected employees.

“No, no facility has reported to us yet that they are in a position that requires COVID-19 positive health care providers to be working,” Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken told The Journal over the weekend. “If a facility does reach that point, that information would be posted publicly so patients and families would be aware,”

On Monday, Wendelken told The Journal that information was accurate then, but fluid. 

Lynn Blais, president of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals, representing more than 7,000 nurses and health professionals, said her union “is unequivocally opposed” to the state’s decision to allow COVID-19 positive health care workers to work. 

“First and foremost, we believe that it’s critically important to ensure a healthy workforce in which health care workers are not spreading the virus to other workers and, more importantly, to at-risk patients who are susceptible to the most harmful effects of the virus,” she said.

– Katherine Gregg, The Providence Journal

COVID-19 cases, test shortages are closing schools across the country

A majority of schools opened in-person Monday for their spring semester start, but a growing number have shifted abruptly to remote learning again amid the omicron-fueled surge in COVID-19 infections and subsequent staffing shortages.

Public and scientific sentiment is on the side of in-person learning, and parent groups nationwide called Monday for schools to stay open. But districts in and around Detroit, Atlanta, Newark, New Jersey and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as individual schools elsewhere, nonetheless reverted to virtual learning for days or weeks, mostly because of staff shortages due to illness or quarantine. 

“We recognize there may be some bumps in the road, especially this upcoming week when superintendents, who are working really hard across the country, are getting calls saying that some of their schools may have 5 to 10% of their staff not available,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on Fox News Sunday.

Some districts that aimed to increase rapid testing for COVID-19 as a layered mitigation tactic are also struggling to secure the necessary supplies.

“There definitely is a problem right now with testing supplies, and that certainly does impact mitigation,” Linda Mendonca, president of the National Association of School Nurses, said Monday. Read more here.

– Erin Richards, USA TODAY

Tested positive for COVID-19? Do you need to isolate or quarantine? 

Testing positive for COVID-19 starts a confusing, disruptive and at times frightening process – one that millions of Americans will likely go through in the coming weeks.

There is a difference between isolation and quarantine. Quarantine means keeping someone who was in close contact with someone who has COVID away from others. Isolation means keeping someone who is sick or tested positive for COVID-19 without symptoms away from others, even in their own home, according to the CDC.

If you are fully vaccinated you do not need to quarantine unless you have symptoms. But the CDC says isolating is a necessary step if you test positive whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, and whether you have symptoms or feel fine.

The CDC in late December shortened the time it recommends people isolate, saying: “People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.” 

Read the CDC’s updated guidance on isolating and quarantining.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Twitter permanently suspends Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account over COVID-19 misinformation – The Verge

Twitter has permanently suspended Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account for repeatedly violating the platform’s rules on COVID-19 misinformation, as noted in a report by CNN. Since the ban only affects Greene’s personal Twitter account, @mtgreenee, she can still access and tweet from her governmental account, @RepMTG.

In a statement to The Verge, Twitter spokesperson Katie Rosborough explains that the platform “permanently suspended” Greene’s account “for repeated violations” of the platform’s COVID-19 policies. “We’ve been clear that, per our strike system for this policy, we will permanently suspend accounts for repeated violations of the policy,” she adds.

Twitter implemented a five-strike system in March 2021, which puts a lock on users’ accounts if they post tweets containing misinformation about COVID-19 — the more strikes a user accrues, the longer they’re temporarily barred from their account. If a user receives five strikes, however, their account gets permanently suspended. Twitter didn’t confirm which tweet was Greene’s final strike.

Greene responded to the situation in a post on Telegram and Facebook. “Twitter is an enemy to America and can’t handle the truth,” Greene states. “Social media platforms can’t stop the truth from being spread far and wide.” She also claims she was suspended for tweeting out data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a database that stores information about potential adverse reactions to vaccines — including the COVID-19 vaccines.

Last year, Greene was suspended from Twitter several times for violating the platform’s policies. Her account was temporarily banned for violating Twitter’s civic integrity policy, and was later suspended on two separate occasions after tweeting misleading information about COVID-19.

Europe Fights Record Covid-19 Cases, Looks Ahead to Reopenings – The Wall Street Journal

Europe rang in the New Year in a subdued fashion, as several countries reported record Covid-19 infections and governments considered how to contain the virus when workers return to offices and children go back to school.

Fireworks displays and large public gatherings were scrapped or scaled back for New Year’s Eve across the continent despite early data suggesting the Omicron variant produces a milder form of disease than its predecessors. Hospitals are bracing for a flood of patients because of increased social contacts over the festive period and the high transmissibility of the strain.

“We all know the coming weeks will be difficult,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in his New Year’s Eve address, as the country reported more than 232,000 new coronavirus infections, a pandemic record.

But he said he was hopeful that France’s relatively high vaccination rates would enable the country to avoid the tighter restrictions that have been imposed in other parts of Europe.

While many cities, including Paris, canceled fireworks displays, bars and restaurants remained open. And though hospital admissions are rising faster than before, the number of more-serious admissions to intensive-care units remain relatively flat week to week. “I want to believe, with you, that 2022 could be the year we leave behind this epidemic,” Mr. Macron said.

The cautious optimism was underpinned by signals from South Africa, where Omicron was first detected in November, that the variant has now peaked. Data from the U.K. also indicated the disease caused by Omicron is less severe than the Delta strain that was until recently most prevalent.

People at a facility for elderly people in France, watched President Emmanuel Macron deliver his New Year wishes on Friday.

Photo: jean-francois monier/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Scientists, however, have cautioned that the impact of the variant in Europe may differ from that in South Africa, which has a young population and likely some degree of immunity to severe disease owing to high levels of prior infection. It is also summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and the virus tends to spread more easily in winter, when people gather indoors.

Although in retreat in some countries north of the Alps such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, the new variant now has Southern Europe firmly in its grip, with Italy and Spain recording their highest daily infection numbers of the pandemic. Southern countries had hoped relatively high vaccination rates and milder winter weather would stave off the worst of the new variant.

Confirmed new Covid-19 infections in Italy hit a pandemic record of more than 144,000 on Friday. In Spain, confirmed cases also surpassed 100,000 a day as the year drew to a close. Cases in Portugal and Greece have been rising rapidly, too

Hospital admissions in Italy have also been increasing, but, as in other European countries, the pressure on healthcare systems remains significantly lower than a year ago, a sign of the continued efficacy of mass vaccinations.

Even so, the U.K., which has led one of the fastest booster campaigns, is setting up temporary units to expand hospital capacity in anticipation of a possible surge of patients after Christmas and New Year.

Guests at a New Year’s party in Rome take Covid-19 tests.

Photo: Luciano Del Castillo/Zuma Press

At the same time, European authorities are preparing for the reopening of schools this month, with most governments looking for ways to keep students in class despite the surge in infections.

Authorities in Germany and neighboring Austria have pledged to keep schools after facing criticism from experts and parents for closures during the earlier stages of the pandemic.

The British government also says keeping children in class is a priority and is planning for schools to open as normal this month. Pupils in English secondary education will be expected to take a test when they return and then test themselves twice weekly. The education secretary launched an appeal for former teachers to come forward to work in schools that are hit hard by staff illnesses.

Despite these measures, schools are also being told to plan for the worst.

“I ask that you review your existing contingency plans to ensure you are well prepared to implement them in case of any future changes,” Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi wrote to schools recently. Some schoolchildren took laptops home at the beginning of the holiday period in case their schools were shut on their return and remote schooling had to resume.

People gather at the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Photo: JAVIER BARBANCHO/REUTERS

Schools in France are also slated to reopen as planned on Monday after the holiday break, though trips to indoor locations like theaters are to be delayed. Children will have to stay home when teachers are absent and can’t be replaced, rather than sitting in on other classes, the education ministry has said.

The French Parliament is also debating a new emergency law that will turn France’s health pass into a vaccine pass—meaning that a recent negative Covid-19 test would no longer suffice to access venues such as restaurants, cinemas, long-distance transportation and some large shopping centers.

Italy’s government is due to decide this week whether to tighten rules for workplace health certificates, requiring all workers to show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 to enter offices, stores and factories. Until now, a negative test has also sufficed.

The approach is similar to that in Germany and Austria, which have driven down recent Covid-19 waves by tightening social-distancing restrictions, above all for unvaccinated people. The approach has proved politically divisive in Italy, however, with antiestablishment politicians reluctant to push people too far toward de-facto mandatory vaccination.

Elsewhere, new infections in Saudi Arabia have jumped 34-fold over the past month, with 819 cases reported Friday, the highest level since the summer.

The authorities this week reinstituted a mask mandate in public places including outdoor events amid a weekslong festival in the capital, Riyadh. They have also restored social-distancing measures at the Grand Mosques in Mecca and Medina, where millions of Muslims make pilgrimages each year.

The Omicron Variant

Write to Isabel Coles at isabel.coles@wsj.com, Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com and Marcus Walker at marcus.walker@wsj.com

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