Covid: WHO warns pandemic not over amid Europe case records
The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a warning to world leaders that the coronavirus pandemic “is nowhere near over”.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned against the assumption that the newly dominant Omicron variant is significantly milder and has eliminated the threat posed by the virus.
The intervention comes as some European nations saw record new case numbers.
France reported nearly half a million new daily cases on Tuesday.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, more than 100,000 new infections were recorded in Germany within 24 hours on Wednesday.
Speaking during a news conference at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Dr Tedros told reporters that the Omicron variant had led to 18 million new infections across the world over the past week.
While the variant may prove to be less severe on average, “the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” he said.
“Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalisations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.”
He warned global leaders that “with the incredible growth of Omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge, which is why tracking and assessment remain critical”.
“I remain particularly concerned about many countries that have low vaccination rates, as people are many times more at risk of severe illness and death if they are unvaccinated,” he added.
The WHO’s emergencies director, Dr Mike Ryan, also warned that Omicron’s increased transmissibility is likely to drive a rise in hospitalisations and deaths, especially in nations where fewer people are vaccinated.
“An exponential rise in cases, regardless of the severity of the individual variants, leads to inevitable increase in hospitalisations and deaths,” he said.
Record daily case rises in Europe
New coronavirus infections have been growing across Europe as the new Omicron variant takes hold across the continent.
In Denmark, officials reported a record 33,493 new daily cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, while health authorities in Italy recorded 228,179 new infections, up from 83,403 the previous day. In Germany a record 112,323 new cases were reported on Wednesday, and the incidence rate of cases per 100,000 people also climbed to a new high of 584.4 over the past week.
France meanwhile reported 464,769 new daily infections on Tuesday, more than four times higher than Monday’s figure of 102,144 and a daily record for the pandemic. Infections have now climbed past a weekly average of over 300,000 new cases per day.
Amid the latest surge, French ministers are also facing a dispute with teachers’ unions, who have called for a second major strike this week to protest against the government’s Covid testing and isolation protocols, which they say are severely disrupting classes.
The move follows a one-day walkout last week that saw half of the country’s primary schools close.
Teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable, with many parents struggling to get vaccination appointments for their children and long lines forming outside pharmacies as students wait for tests.
French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. meanwhile. is facing calls to resign after it emerged he had announced a strict Covid-testing protocol for schools while he was on holiday in Ibiza.
There are however some early indications that the Omicron wave may have already peaked in some European countries.
In Ireland new cases have started to fall in recent days, with health minister Stephen Donnelly telling public broadcaster RTÉ that restrictions introduced over Christmas and the New Year period could be loosed by the end of the month.
Spanish government data has shown that new infections have started to fall for first time since the Omicron wave began two and a half months ago – although experts warned about reading too much into the data.
And in the UK, government ministers are set to review coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday amid a decline in daily infections
Americans can now order free rapid tests online
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After weeks of pharmacies selling out of rapid tests, Americans now have an easier option than scouring local retailers: a new government website that sends tests to your home.
COVIDTests.gov went live on Tuesday in a “limited capacity” to work out any issues ahead of an official launch on Wednesday, the White House said.
Any American can order rapid tests for free through the website, and they will be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. All that is required is a name and mailing address; no credit card information is needed.
But, there are some major limits: Each residential address is limited to four tests. And the tests will usually take seven to 12 days to ship, the White House said.
President Biden has been facing pressure to expand access to testing given the shortages of rapid tests at retailers, as well as long lines at testing sites.
Many experts say the White House should have acted months ago to set up the kind of free rapid test program that is now launching.
With a limit of four tests per address, the website alone will not provide for the kind of frequent testing that many experts have called for.
Other option: As of Saturday, health insurers are also now required to cover up to eight rapid tests per month, though that process can be cumbersome in that it often requires people to pay up front and then submit their receipts for reimbursement from their insurer.
Pfizer says antiviral effective against omicron
© Associated Press/Mark Lennihan
Lab studies show Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid to be effective against the omicron variant, the company announced Tuesday.
Pfizer said three separate lab studies showed nirmatrelvir, the drug’s main protease inhibitor, maintains its effectiveness against omicron. A protease inhibitor is a class of drugs that stop a virus from replicating.
Pfizer announced the findings in a press release and said it was submitting them to pre-print medical journals.
The emergence of the omicron variant has led to questions about the effectiveness of Paxlovid, as well as other COVID-19 treatments, because the variant has many more mutations compared to earlier strains.
Paxlovid is seen as a major step forward in the fight against the virus, with trials showing that it reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent in high-risk patients. Some experts have suggested that because the drug is a protease inhibitor, it won’t be as limited by mutations as other types of treatments.
The Food and Drug Administration last month authorized Paxlovid for use in high-risk patients. The fact that Paxlovid is a pill rather than an injection, as in previous treatments, is expected to make it more accessible and easier to take.
AT LEAST 20 PERCENT OF AMERICANS HAVE BEEN INFECTED WITH CORONAVIRUS
At least 20 percent of Americans have now been infected with COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The data shows more than 66,400,000 Americans have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began in early 2020. The country has seen more than 850,000 deaths.
The total number of Americans who had COVID-19 could be much higher due to asymptomatic cases.
About 63 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated, though that figure significantly varies by locality — from about 48 percent in Alabama and Wyoming to nearly 87 percent in Washington, D.C.
The omicron variant currently spreading across the country has proven far more transmissible than previous strains, even among vaccinated populations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the variant accounts for 98 percent of all new infections.