WHO warns world cannot ‘boost its way out’ of pandemic

The World Health Organization chief warned Wednesday that the rush in wealthy countries to roll out additional COVID vaccine doses was deepening the inequity in access to jabs that is prolonging the pandemic.

“No country can boost its way out of the pandemic,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Meanwhile, a new South African study, along with data on hospitalisations and deaths in the country’s fourth wave of COVID infections, suggest that the risk of severe disease is lower with Omicron than with previous variants, a top scientist has said.

South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic Omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts said earlier.

Here are the latest updates:

Omicron complicates holiday travel plans across the US

Americans are facing a second Christmas of upended holiday plans, with a surge in COVID-19 infections fueled by the now-dominant Omicron variant forcing some people to cancel their travel and fret about whether it is safe to visit loved ones.

Carmen Rivera and her fiancee Jasmine Maisonet made the painful decision to cancel their flights to visit family in Florida and Puerto Rico after Maisonet was exposed to an infected co-worker and tested positive for COVID-19.

Read more here.

People queue for coronavirus tests on East 14th Street in Manhattan, New York City, US, December 22, 2021 [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

Biden says he was tested virus, no results yet

US President Joe Biden said he received another COVID-19 test on Wednesday, five days after exposure to the virus from a member of his staff, but has not received the results yet.

Biden tested negative for the virus three days after he was exposed. The president made the comments to reporters after public remarks during a meeting on the status of the U.S. supply chain.

Pfizer oral COVID pill gets US authorisation for at-home use

Pfizer Inc said the US Food and Drug Administration authorized its antiviral COVID-19 pill, making it the first at-home treatment for the coronavirus that is expected to become an important tool in the fight against the fast spreading Omicron variant.

Data from Pfizer’s clinical trial showed its two-drug antiviral regimen was 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness.

Blanket booster drives risk prolonging pandemic: WHO chief

The head of the World Health Organization warned that blanket booster programs in rich countries risk prolonging the world’s battle with COVID-19 and said that “no country can boost its way out of the pandemic.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the priority must be to reduce deaths and help all countries meet minimum vaccination targets that many still haven’t reached.

Moreover, he noted that “the vast majority of hospitalisations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, not unboosted people”.

Italy reports more than 36,000 new cases

Italy reported 146 coronavirus-related deaths against 153 on Tuesday, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 36,293 from 30,798.

Italy has registered 136,077 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 5.5 million cases to date.

Britain reports record 106,122 new infections

The United Kingdom reported more than 100,000 new daily coronavirus cases for the first time since widespread testing was introduced, with 106,122 compared with 90,629 on Tuesday.

There were 140 deaths within 28 days of a positive case, down from 172 the previous day, according to government data.

The UK has recorded over 11.5 million cases since the pandemic began in March 2020 [File: Andy Rain/EPA]

Too soon to say if Omicron more transmissible than Delta: WHO

The World Health Organization does not yet have enough data on the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus to say if it is more transmissible than the Delta variant, an official said, almost a month after South Africa first raised the alarm about its emergence.

“We do have some data suggesting that rates of hospitalisation are lower,” WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing with media.

Advisor: Omicron doubles or triples infection risk while flying

Aircraft passengers are twice or even three times more likely to catch Covid-19 during a flight since the emergence of the omicron variant, according to the top medical adviser to the world’s airlines.

The new strain is highly transmissible and has become dominant in a matter of weeks, accounting for more than 70 percent of all new cases in the US alone.

Read more here.

Business class may be safer than more densely packed economy cabins, said David Powell, physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, which represents almost 300 carriers worldwide [File: Bloomberg]

NHL says players will not participate in Beijing Winter Games

The National Hockey League said it will not send its players to compete in the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics after the regular season schedule was disrupted due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events – 50 games already have been postponed through December 23 – Olympic participation is no longer feasible,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

Britain to vaccinate vulnerable younger children

Britain said it would start vaccinating vulnerable children aged five to 11 against COVID-19 after the country’s medicines regulator approved the use of a lower dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in that age group.

The children will receive two 10-microgram doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – a third of the adult dose – with an interval of eight weeks between the first and second doses, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said.

UK Schools Remain Open To Support Children Of Key Workers During Coronavirus LockdownBritain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it had approved the new age-appropriate Pfizer-BioNTech after finding it was ‘safe and effective’ for children aged five to 11 [File: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

Nigeria destroys 1 million expired vaccine shots

Authorities in Nigeria have publicly destroyed over one million expired doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine even as the West African country’s vaccination rate has almost doubled in the last one week amid a spike in confirmed infections.

The expired doses – numbering 1,066,214 – were destroyed in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, a week after the nation said it will no longer accept donated COVID-19 vaccines with short shelf lives.

Al Jazeera’s Fidelis Mbah reported from Abuja that the government’s very public display of destroying the vaccines was to assure citizens whatever jabs were administered, were of “good quality” – amid conspiracies and false information against vaccines in the country.

Rea more here.

Unless poor nations vaccinated, new variants will keep coming: Academic

Bharat Pankhania of the The University of Exeter Medical School told Al Jazeera THAT unless poor nations are fully vaccinated, richer nations immunising their populations multiple times will not stop variants emerging.

“Again, the richer nations can do whatever they like, because they’ve got the vaccines, supplies, and they can immunise their population once, twice, thrice,” he said from Bath, UK.

However, he said: “If you do not suppress infections in vulnerable countries where you have a lot of immune suppressed people, then you will get the drive for variants to emerge. And Omicron is one such example. And we can definitely get other variants which will again be a setback.”

World’s children bearing brunt of pandemic, Vatican studies say

The world’s children are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, with marked increases in violence, abuse, child labour, lost schooling, and malnutrition, two Vatican studies said on Wednesday.

The studies, based on academic, scientific, United Nations data and other source material, were produced by the Vatican’s development office and the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“Reports of violence, abuse, and exploitation of children have sharply increased since the pandemic began. Poorer communities disproportionately bear these adversities,” one of the studies said.

France cancels order for Merck’s antiviral drug

France has cancelled its order for Merck & Co’s COVID-19…

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