Coronavirus News Briefing – Nov. 29: Omicron Variant Poses ‘Very High Risk,’ Says WHO

Japan Closes Its Borders to Foreign Nationals

By Anna Breuer on 29 November 2021
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Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto

The World Health Organization warned that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus poses a “very high” risk just as governments across the globe rushed to stem the spread of the virus with border closure after border closure, moves reminiscent of the earliest days of the pandemic.

Scientists continue to say that the risk posed by omicron is unknown as they race to determine if existing vaccines would work against it.

Meanwhile, Japan joined Israel and Morocco in banning all foreign nationals from entering the country.

In a statement, the WHO said that omicron’s “high number of mutations” could foreshadow “future surges of Covid-19, which could have severe consequences.”

Thirteen cases of the omicron variant were identified in Portugal, all tied to a football (soccer in the U.S.) club, the Belenenses.  One player had recently returned from South Africa and as many as 17 members of the team tested positive for Covid prior to a match between that team and Benfica in Portugal’s top professional league.  The match was called off during the second half, after one of seven remaining Belenenses players said he was unable to continue, leaving the team without the minimum number of players.

Czech President Milos Zeman formally appointed Petr Fiala as the country’s new prime minister on Sunday from within an acrylic glass box while accompanied by healthcare workers in hazmat suits after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier in the week.  Everyone present donned a face mask for the occasion.

Meanwhile, Austria announced that the penalty for evading the vaccination mandate that starts in February will be €7,200.  The mandate requires everyone residing in the Alpine nation to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Finally, police in the Netherlands reported the arrest of a married couple after the pair “fled” a quarantine hotel.  The two – a 30 year-old Spanish man and a 28-year-old Portuguese woman – had arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Friday from South Africa.  The couple had been on a flight where 10% of the passengers had tested positive for Covid.  All 600 passengers were ordered into mandatory hotel quarantine as a result.

As of Monday morning, the world has recorded 261.9 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.3 million new cases, and over 5.2 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 236.6million people worldwide have recovered from the virus.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 83,365, a 3% increase.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 961, a decrease of 10% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Monday, recorded 49.1 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 799,414. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, almost 34.6 million, and a death toll of 468,790, although experts believe that both numbers are in reality significantly higher.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 614,314, and has seen 22.1 million cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Monday, 231.4 million people in the United States – or 69.7% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 59.1%, or 196.2 million people, are now fully vaccinated, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 454.4 million. Breaking this down further, 82.2% of the population over the age of 18 – or 212.3 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 70.1% of the same group – or 183.1 million people – is fully vaccinated.

Some 54.1% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 7.9 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 5.7% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 65% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine. In countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, Syria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda, for example, vaccination rates remain in the single digits, if not lower.

Figures from the World Health Organization show that well-off countries are vaccinating people at the rate of one person per second, while the majority of poor countries have yet to give a single dose to its citizens.

It is critical that the world do a better job of sharing vaccines with poorer nations.

Sharing vaccines is not merely a form of charity.  Rather, the equitable distribution of vaccines is in every country’s health and economic interest and no country will be able to move past the pandemic until other countries have recovered as well.

Jonathan Spira contributed to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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