Asia, parts of Europe tighten COVID-19 measures due to Omicron

Though early-hit countries are on the downslope of their Omicron variant surges, others are battling rising cases, with some tightening their measures and others—such as China and Hong Kong—taking stronger steps as they try to head off steep rises.

Record cases in parts of Europe

Health officials in Europe have noted that Omicron seems to be spreading from the western part of the continent to the east, though some western countries are still reporting very high levels.  France today reported a new daily record high of 464,769 new cases, and health officials yesterday reported the highest hospitalization level since before COVID-19 vaccination began.

The Pasteur Institute yesterday projected that Omicron activity will probably peak in the middle of January, with hospitalizations expected to peak later in the month.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria today also reported record daily cases, with nearly 10,000, according to Reuters. The country has the European Union's lowest vaccination rate, and officials recently changed its trigger for COVID-19 measures, basing it on intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy rather than number of cases.

In Russia, city officials in Moscow extended work-from-home rules and guidance, imposed at the end of October, until Apr 1 as it braces for an Omicron surge. Russia battled a fourth COVID-19 wave in the fall, and the Omicron variant has been slower to gain traction, compared with other parts of the continent.

Asian countries take Omicron steps

Japan's COVID-19 cases have risen sharply since the first of the year, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida today signaled that he will tighten measures on dining and gatherings starting on Jan 21, according to Reuters. The rules will affect 13 regions, including Tokyo, and will last through Feb. 13.

The country is also speeding up its booster vaccination drive by 2 months amid the dramatic spike in Omicron infections.

In Hong Kong, health officials ordered the culling of about 2,000 hamsters after 11 from a pet store tested positive for COVID-19. Authorities said two groups of hamsters, imported from the Netherlands, were at high risk.

China has reported more Omicron variant detections, following the first confirmed cases in Tianjin last week. Beijing, where the Winter Olympics are slated to begin next month, reported its first case 2 days ago, triggering mass testing and contact tracing, according to the Washington Post. Also, the city of Shenzhen reported its first case.

More global headlines

  • A preprint study from Israeli researchers suggests that receiving at least two doses of vaccine may have a protective effect against long COVID. They compared symptom questionnaire answers of 951 people infected with COVID-19 with 2,437 uninfected people. Those who received two doses were no more likely to report long-COVID symptoms than those who weren't infected.

  • The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI) today announced that it and the Pasteur Institute in Senegal have signed an agreement to form a regional manufacturing hub for vaccines against COVID-19 and other diseases. Vaccine production is expected to start in the third quarter of 2022, with an initial goal of making 300 million doses. The partnership features a new fill-and-finish system using plastic pouches that can hold 200 doses, designed to ease cold-chain and transport challenges.

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Jan 16 that the COVAX program recently delivered its billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose, the largest vaccine procurement and distribution in its history, which has reached 144 countries.

  • The global COVID-19 total has climbed to 332,739,117 cases, and 5,551,803 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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