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Pandemic models say thousands will still get sick in coming weeks

A mobile COVID-19 testing site in Washington, Jan. 14, 2022.Tom Brenner/NYT

COVID-19 cases have fallen in Massachusetts after a surge driven by the Omicron variant swept across the US and the world. The winter surge has prompted many experts and officials to reemphasize the importance of masking indoors and social distancing, in addition to getting vaccinated, including booster shots.

Below, we’re gathering all the latest news and updates on coronavirus in New England and beyond.


 

Jan. 28, 2022

 

More than half of Virginia school districts are defying Youngkin’s mask-optional order — 3:46 a.m.

By The Washington Post

About a week after announcing his executive order making masks optional in schools throughout Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin, R, said on a radio show that school districts statewide had rushed to comply.

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“The reality is it’s about 25 out of our 130 school systems across Virginia who aren’t recognizing the rights of parents today,” Youngkin told conservative host John Fredericks on Monday, adding that the noncompliant districts were prioritizing “bureaucrats and politicians over the rights of parents.”

But a Washington Post analysis shows that the majority of Virginia public school districts — enrolling more than two-thirds of the state’s students — have opted to disobey Youngkin’s mask-optional order. As of Wednesday, two days after the order was supposed to take effect, 69 districts, or 53 percent, are still requiring masks for all students inside schools. Cumulatively, those districts enroll 846,483 students, or about 67 percent of the state’s public school student population. The divide falls along partisan lines, although not perfectly: Almost every district that opted to make masks optional is in a locality that voted for Youngkin in the 2021 gubernatorial election.

The widespread defiance suggests Youngkin will have enormous difficulty in enforcing his mask-optional mandate, which is already the subject of two lawsuits: one from parents in Chesapeake, and one from seven school boards that oversee some of the state’s largest, most prominent school districts. A hearing on the second suit is scheduled for next week. Youngkin has said he will use every tool at his disposal to carry out his order as those cases wind through the court system, and his spokeswoman did not rule out disciplining disobedient districts by yanking their state funding.

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It also raises serious doubts about the viability of Youngkin’s intense focus — both on the campaign trail and in his first days as governor — on the nation’s education culture wars, including his push for greater parental control over every aspect of education, from masking to which books appear on library shelves to the content of curriculums.


 

Jan. 27, 2022

 

Marvel actress Evangeline Lilly says she went to D.C. for anti-vaccine rally — 10:07 p.m.

By Lauren Booker, Globe Staff

Marvel star Evangeline Lilly said she was a part of the COVID-19 anti-vaccine rally in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.

Lilly, who played the Wasp in “Ant-man and the Wasp,” posted on her Instagram Thursday that she went to the nation’s capitol to”support bodily sovereignty while Canadian truckers were rallying for their cross-country, peaceful convoy in support of the same thing.”

In the post, Lilly said she is against people being forced to inject something into their body “under any threat whatsoever,” including job loss.

Union fight with Wu over COVID-19 vaccination is dominating her early tenure — 10:02 p.m.

By Danny McDonald, Globe Staff

It was the latest turn in the political fight that continues to dominate Mayor Michelle Wu’s early tenure as city executive: on Thursday, a judge with the Massachusetts Appeals Court effectively paused Boston’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate days before the city planned to place unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave.

In an order, the judge issued a temporary stay, pending review of a judicial decision made earlier this month declining to block the vaccine requirement, as sought by a trio of public safety unions.

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Father of unvaccinated man denied heart transplant says his son has received a heart pump — 8:32 p.m.

By Brittany Bowker, Globe Staff

The family of a Massachusetts man who claims he’s been denied a heart transplant because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19 is speaking out this week, saying they are devastated over a hospital policy that says he isn’t eligible to have the procedure.

David Ferguson Jr., known as D.J., has been receiving treatment at hospitals around Boston since late November after suffering complications from atrial fibrillation and deteriorating heart failure, according to a fundraising appeal set up by his mother, Tracey Ferguson.

The 31-year-old was told by Brigham & Women’s Hospital officials that he is ineligible for the transplant, according to the fundraising post, because he has not been vaccinated against the deadly virus.

Southwest Airlines CEO shifts on masks — 7:17 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Southwest Airlines Co.’s chief executive officer is weighing in again on measures to stop the spread of coronavirus -- and this time he’s firmly in the pro-mask camp as carriers struggle to cope with the omicron variant’s impact.

CEO Gary Kelly said on the airline’s quarterly conference call Thursday that now would not be the best time to lift a federal requirement for masks to be worn at all times on aircraft and in airports -- unless a person is eating or drinking. The mandate, which covers all transportation networks across the U.S., is set to expire March 18.

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Kelly’s comment follows his controversial remarks during a U.S. Senate committee hearing in December that masks didn’t add much, “if anything,” to fight the virus on airplanes. Kelly himself came down with Covid-19 days later.

Anti-mask anger forces Colorado children’s museum to close — 6:28 p.m.

By The Associated Press

A Colorado children’s museum is the latest casualty of harassment by people angry over mask mandates designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, for decades a popular downtown attraction primarily devoted to those age 8 and under, temporarily closed on Wednesday because of escalating harassment of staff by adult visitors angry over a mandate requiring anyone age 2 and older to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.

“We know the stress of the last two years has taken a toll on everyone in our community, but regrettably some guests who object to the Museum’s mask policy have been inappropriately directing their anger toward our staff,” the museum said in a statement announcing the closure, which began Wednesday.

Its doors will stay closed until Feb. 4 to give staff members a break and to evaluate how the museum can respond to aggression by visitors in the future, the statement said.

“To our members and guests who respect our mask policy and cooperate with out staff, thank you. We are sorry that the unacceptable behavior of others means you cannot enjoy the Museum at this time.”

Mass. reports 18,536 new coronavirus cases among public school students and 3,150 among staff — 5:44 p.m.

By Colleen Cronin and Felicia Gans, Globe Staff

COVID cases in the Massachusetts public schools decreased for a third consecutive week, as state education leaders on Thursday reported 18,536 new cases among students and 3,150 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday.

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The 21,686 total cases were 11,223 fewer, or about 34 percent fewer, than those reported last week. Total cases had started decreasing three weeks ago, during the week that began Jan. 6, but this reporting period only marks the second time since early December that both staff and student cases have decreased.

See the latest town-by-town COVID-19 data — 5:35 p.m.

By Ryan Huddle and Peter Bailey-Wells, Globe Staff

The Department of Public Health released new town-by-town data for coronavirus cases and vaccinations on Thursday. It’s the latest set of such data showing how the virus has impacted individual communities throughout Massachusetts.

8,616 confirmed cases and 84 deaths. See today’s COVID-19 data from Mass. — 5:10 p.m.

By Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Thursday reported 8,616 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 23,592 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 84 new confirmed deaths.

Batch of vaccine bills heard by committees in N.H. — 4:04 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The coronavirus isn’t the only thing mutating in New Hampshire. Multiple variants of pandemic-inspired legislation also are spreading through the Statehouse.

Committees held public hearings on nearly a dozen bills related to vaccines this week, including House Speaker Sherm Packard’s attempt to block federal vaccine mandates. It was written before the Supreme Court halted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on US businesses with at least 100 employees, and Packard said he is open to amendments.

State appeals court pauses vaccination mandate for Boston city workforce — 2:54 p.m.

By Danny McDonald, Globe Staff

A judge with the Massachusetts Appeals Court has temporarily paused Boston’s vaccination mandate for its city workforce that was set to go into effect Monday.

In a Thursday order, the judge issued a temporary stay, pending review of a judicial decision made earlier this month that denied a request from three unions for a preliminary injunction.

That order is the latest turn in a clash that has pitted Mayor Michelle Wu’s new administration against municipal unions over her attempt to require the city’s 18,000-plus workers be vaccinated in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public.

Hong Kong cuts strict quarantine orders for travelers to 14 days — 1:17 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Authorities in Hong Kong said Thursday that they will shorten mandatory quarantine requirements for incoming travelers from 21 days to 14, easing a policy that some say was chipping away at the city’s status as an international financial hub. Starting Feb. 5, all arrivals will be subjected to a 14-day hotel quarantine, followed by seven days of self-monitoring at home without curbs on their movements but with two days of mandatory testing. City Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the measures would “ensure consistencies” and were based on science after experts had found the Omicron variant’s incubation period to be “relatively short.”

Hong Kong’s 21-day quarantine has in recent months pushed businesses and expatriates to relocate, unwilling to bear the mental and financial cost of the restrictions. It has also added to the cost of operating in Hong Kong, and Western chambers of commerce say the policy made city a less attractive place for businesses. Hong Kong reported 164 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest in a single day since January 2020.

The government has been following a strict “dynamic zero infection” strategy since late December, a “mainland strategy requirement” to cut transmission chains and stop the virus from spreading. Additional measures, such as flight bans on eight countries considered high-risk - including the United States and the UK - will be extended until Feb 18. Social distancing curbs, including the closure of gyms, bars and salons, will remain in place for the next two weeks. Starting from late February, vaccination passes will also be required to enter most indoor venues and government facilities.

Mass. on ‘back side’ of Omicron surge, Baker says — 12:48 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday said the state has seen the worst of the Omicron-fueled COVID-19 surge that’s strained hospitals in recent weeks.

“We are definitely on what I would call the back side of the Omicron surge,” Baker said during his regular appearance on GBH Radio. “That’s clear looking at both the daily case counts and the wastewater that we track pretty religiously and have for the better part now of almost two years. The hospitalization rates are also coming down. And we are now basically doing what I think is a pretty useful review of hospitalizations with our colleagues in the hospital community.”

Beware the other side of the COVID-19 curve: Pandemic models say thousands will still get sick in coming weeks. — 11:47 a.m.

By Martin Finucane and Ryan Huddle, Globe Staff

Many people will still get ill even as COVID-19 case counts decline from the peak of the Omicron surge in Massachusetts, experts caution, emphasizing the need to continue to take precautions.

And the numbers are enough to give you pause. Pandemic models suggest tens of thousands of cases will be reported in the next few weeks.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ensemble model, updated weekly, predicts that in the four weeks from Jan. 22 to Feb. 19, there will be about 243,000 cases reported in the state, with the daily average sinking to 5,188 on Feb. 19. The model combines a number of models, created by a variety of research groups, that are both more and less pessimistic.

Sarah Palin dines in NYC restaurant after testing positive for COVID and defying vaccine requirements — 11:43 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who is unvaccinated and revealed this week that she tested positive for coronavirus, dined again at a New York City restaurant Wednesday night, flouting local health and safety measures calling for positive cases to isolate.

Elio’s, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, has faced blowback after Palin dined indoors at the establishment on Saturday, in violation of the city’s dining mandate for people to show proof of vaccination. The Manhattan judge in Palin’s defamation trial against the New York Times revealed Monday that the proceedings would be delayed because the Republican tested positive for the virus. It’s unclear when Palin first tested positive.

Trudeau isolating after COVID exposure, says tested negative — 11:04 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is isolating for five days after being exposed to COVID-19, but has tested negative on a rapid test. In a tweet Thursday morning, Trudeau said he learned Wednesday night he had been exposed but didn’t specify when or where.

“I feel fine and will be working from home,” the prime minister said, adding his isolation is required by Ottawa’s local public-health guidance. “Stay safe, everyone -- and please get vaccinated.” Trudeau appeared alongside Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly and Defense Minister Anita Anand at an in-person news conference on Wednesday afternoon after concluding a three-day virtual cabinet retreat.

The prime minister’s office said the exposure happened later in the day, after the event. It wasn’t immediately clear if any other cabinet ministers are in isolation. Joly has likely already had COVID-19 recently, having tested positive on a rapid test Dec. 20.

US jobless claims decline for first time in four weeks — 9:23 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Applications for US state unemployment insurance fell for the first time in four weeks, partially unwinding a recent spike in claims due to the Omicron variant.

Initial unemployment claims totaled 260,000 in the week ended Jan. 22, down 30,000 from the prior period, Labor Department data showed Thursday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 265,000 applications.

Applications declined after a surge in recent weeks amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases across the country. Claims have largely been falling in the past year as companies are desperate to retain and attract talent amid ongoing labor shortages.

US economy grew 5.7 percent in 2021 in sharp rebound from pandemic recession — 9:14 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The US economy grew 6.9 percent last quarter and 5.7 percent for all of 2021 in sharp rebound from the pandemic recession of 2020.

Most COVID patients in England aren’t in hospital for the virus — 8:05 a.m.

By Bloomberg

More than half of COVID patients in hospitals across England are there largely for reasons unrelated to the virus, National Health Service data showed, providing further evidence that the omicron variant isn’t driving a surge in disease severity.

Out of the 13,023 patients in hospitals with confirmed COVID-19, more than 6,700 were admitted for other conditions -- think a broken leg or a heart attack -- on Tuesday, according to NHS estimates. Last weekend marked the first time that hospitalizations with COVID exceeded those driven by COVID since the data tracking started last year.

The UK is loosening restrictions put in place in December in an attempt to transition toward a phase of living with the virus. Despite cases hitting record highs at the beginning of January, deaths and hospitalizations have remained below those seen in previous waves.

The situation across regions mirrors the national picture. In London, 64 percent of 2,529 COVID patients were primarily being treated for reasons that weren’t virus-related, the data showed.

College students return to Providence to find high COVID-19 case counts, mixed levels of concern — 6:17 a.m.

By Colleen Cronin, Globe Correspondent

Robert Hollander, a junior at Providence College, had made it nearly two years into the pandemic unscathed.

Hollander didn’t test positive for COVID-19 when a spike in cases forced the campus into lockdown during the fall of 2020. H escaped the virus when most of his friends got it last spring. But last month, his luck ran out.

While the Omicron variant began causing record-breaking coronavirus surges across the globe, Hollander tested positive. Inoculated with only one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he hadn’t yet gotten his booster shot; while he didn’t feel any symptoms, his sister, who also tested positive, felt horrible.

Denmark declares COVID no longer poses threat to society — 4:17 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Denmark will end virus restrictions next week and reclassify COVID-19 as a disease that no longer poses a threat to society, even as infections hit a record high.

The Nordic country won’t extend the pandemic measures beyond Jan. 31, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Wednesday.

Denmark’s decision on reclassifying the virus dramatically pushes forward an idea that’s emerged recently in Europe — that it’s time to start thinking about COVID as endemic rather than a pandemic. However, World Health Organization experts have warned against complacency.

The easing of curbs also echoes recent moves elsewhere — including Ireland and the UK — to scale back restrictions amid signs that Omicron is less dangerous than earlier variants of the virus.

There’s also a sense that restrictions just aren’t able to stop the highly transmissible Omicron strain. About one million Danes have been infected in the last two months alone, though hospitalizations in the country are declining. The nation of 5.8 million people has 44 COVID-19 patients in intensive-care units, down from 73 two weeks ago.

“The pandemic is still here but with what we know, we now dare to believe that we are through the critical phase,” Frederiksen said, calling the development “a milestone.”

The disease is spreading faster in Denmark after a sub-variant of Omicron, BA.2, became the dominant version of the virus in the second week of the year.

US coronavirus hospitalizations slow, with the Northeast showing a steep decline — 2:14 a.m.

By The Washington Post

The winter surge of coronavirus hospitalizations that reached all-time highs in the United States is showing signs of slowing, reflecting sharp declines in states of the Northeast that were the first to be battered by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

But in some corners of the nation, hospitals continue to reel from waves of Omicron infections, creating chaos as droves of patients seek care during an already busy season, and front-line workers head to the sidelines in greater numbers than at any point in the pandemic. Some hospitals are finding valuable medical supplies harder to come by, even as the days of widespread shortages of personal protective equipment have passed.

Trouble enforcing mask policy leads Denver children’s museum to close for 10 days — 1:18 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Throughout the pandemic, unruly passengers and hostile customers have lashed out at workers for trying to enforce mask mandates in airplanes and restaurants. Now, the staff of a children’s museum in Colorado is feeling the wrath of Americans fed up with life in a pandemic.

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus announced Tuesday that it will close for 10 days so it can take a break from customers who have been resisting its mask requirements.

“We know the stress of the last two years has taken a toll on everyone in our community, but regrettably, some guests who object to the Museum’s mask policy have been inappropriately directing their anger toward our staff,” the museum said in a statement on its website.

In accordance with Denver’s public health order, masks are required inside the museum for patrons 2 years and older, no matter their vaccination status, per its website.

The museum won’t accept visitors from Jan. 26 through Feb. 4, the statement said, “so that we can support our staff and bolster our policies with the hope of preventing this type of behavior in the future.”

In an emailed statement, president and CEO Michael Yankovich said the museum cannot publicly disclose details about the incidents leading to the closure, but he called them “demoralizing” and said they have become increasingly intense and frequent. He added that specifics about updates to the museum’s policies will be posted on its website before it reopens.

The Children’s Museum of Denver said in its statement that all reservations are canceled during its temporary closure. The museum thanked and apologized to customers who have cooperated with staff and complied with the policy. “We are sorry that the unacceptable behavior of others means you cannot enjoy the museum at this time,” the statement said.


 

Jan. 26, 2022

 

Boston police union rejects city’s offer that would incentivize officers to get vaccinated — 11:15 p.m.

By Nick Stoico, Globe Correspondent

Members of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association strongly rejected a proposed agreement with the city Wednesday that would have established a new benefit providing mental health and wellness days for all vaccinated officers.

The agreement aimed to provide more incentives for patrol officers to get vaccinated, but it was turned down with more than 800 members voting against it out of about 900 who cast votes, union officials said.

Moderna begins testing Omicron-matched COVID shots in adults — 11:00 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Moderna has begun testing an Omicron-specific COVID-19 booster in healthy adults.

The company announced Wednesday that the first participant had received a dose. Earlier this week, competitor Pfizer began a similar study of its own reformulated shots.

It’s not clear whether global health authorities will order a change to the vaccine recipe in the wake of the hugely contagious Omicron variant. The original vaccines still offer good protection against death and severe illness. Studies in the US and elsewhere show a booster dose strengthens that protection and improves the chances of avoiding even a milder infection.

Moderna pointed to a small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday that showed antibodies able to target Omicron persisted for six months after a booster dose, although the levels were dropping.

Moderna’s new study will enroll about 600 people who already have received either two doses of the company’s original shots or two plus a booster dose. All the volunteers will receive a dose of the experimental omicron-matched version.

England lifts COVID restrictions as Omicron threat recedes — 9:15 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Most coronavirus restrictions including mandatory face masks were lifted in England on Thursday, after Britain’s government said its vaccine booster rollout successfully reduced serious illness and COVID-19 hospitalizations.

From Thursday, face coverings are no longer required by law anywhere in England, and a legal requirement for COVID passes for entry into nightclubs and other large venues has been scrapped.

The government last week dropped its advice for people to work from home as well as guidance for face coverings in classrooms.

The so-called “Plan B” measures were introduced in early December to stop the rapid spread of the Omicron variant from overwhelming health services and to buy time for the population to get its booster vaccine shot.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government’s vaccine rollout, testing and development of antiviral treatments combine to make “some of the strongest defenses in Europe,” allowing a “cautious return” to normality.

But he added that “as we learn to live with COVID, we need to be clear eyed that this virus is not going away.” While infections continue to fall, health officials said that Omicron remained prevalent across the country, especially among children and the elderly.

Officials said that almost 84 percent of people over 12 years old in the UK have had their second vaccine dose, and that of those eligible, 81 percent have received their booster shot.

Hospital admissions and the number of people in intensive care units have stabilized or fallen, and daily cases have fallen from a peak of over 200,000 cases a day around New Year to under 100,000 in recent days.

Mostly educators of color could face termination due to vaccine mandate, Boston Teachers Union says — 7:00 p.m.

By Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools, already struggling to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of its students, could lose dozens of educators of color when the city’s new employee vaccine mandate takes effect Monday, according to the Boston Teachers Union.

The district’s potential loss of Black and Latino educators in the middle of the school year represents a significant potential unintended consequence of Mayor Michelle Wu’s policy aimed at achieving a fully vaccinated workforce and has raised questions about whether the district should have done more to coax hesitant educators toward vaccination. The loss could disrupt learning for many students and carry long-term implications in the district, where three-quarters of students are Black or Latino but only 42 percent of educators are. Studies show long-term academic benefits for students of color taught by people of their race.

“When I saw our numbers, I was very alarmed and started immediately raising the red flags,” said union president Jessica Tang. “We’ve worked so hard to increase teacher diversity in the first place.”

Massachusetts reports 7,918 coronavirus cases and 80 deaths — 6:09 p.m.

By Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Wednesday reported 7,918 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 27,180 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 80 new confirmed deaths.

The state also reported that 2,617 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. The seven-day percent positivity was 10.37 percent.

Moderna says Omicron antibodies from its booster fall sharply from initial peak, but are still present after six months — 5:36 p.m.

By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff

Virus-fighting antibodies that protect against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 persist six months after a booster of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, but decline from peak levels soon after the third shot, the Cambridge biotech said Wednesday.

A laboratory study found that the third shot of Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccine caused antibody levels to climb 20-fold within four weeks, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Five months later, antibody levels had fallen 6.3-fold, but were still detectable.

The laboratory study used blood samples from people who had received the booster shot and tested the antibodies against the Omicron variant. The research took place at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the federal agency that helped Moderna develop its vaccine, and at Duke University Medical Center.

Japan’s strict COVID entry ban is criticized at home and abroad — 5:04 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Delia Visser had dreamed of moving to Japan since spending time there as a teenager in 2014. After the country’s borders again slammed shut to non-resident foreigners in November, she switched her destination to South Korea.

Visser, now 25, is one of an estimated 150,000 would-be foreign students left in limbo by the ban. The measure, which also affects workers and business visitors, is by far the strictest among among the Group of Seven advanced nations.

That’s attracting a fresh round of criticism from the business community as well as students, as domestic virus case numbers hit records -- undermining the significance of a policy Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says slowed the flow of omicron cases into the country. A series of polls in December showed overwhelming public support for the ban, though, a key consideration for the government months ahead of an upper house election.

The government’s dilemma comes after a years long campaign to attract more overseas students to Japan, which was meant to help “open the country to the world.” The foreign student population rose to more than 310,000 in 2019, almost double the 2011 figure, only to slump in 2020. A similar pattern has played out with the foreign workers Japan has sought to bolster its aging and shrinking population.

By The Associated Press

The Navy said Tuesday that it has discharged 23 active duty sailors for refusing the coronavirus vaccine, marking the first time it has thrown currently serving sailors out of the military over the mandatory shots. It comes as the number of service members being discharged across the services due to the vaccine begins to climb.

The Army is now the only service that has not yet discharged any active duty personnel due to vaccine refusal.

The Marine Corps, as of late last week, had discharged 334 Marines, and the Air Force, as of this week, had discharged 111 airmen for refusing to get the shots.

Local researchers are ‘cautiously optimistic’ but keeping an eye on a new COVID sub-variant — 2:26 p.m.

Gal Tziperman Lotan, Globe Staff

Researchers in Massachusetts said they are keeping an eye on a new version of the Omicron variant, but emphasized that, while much remains unknown, the virus seems not to diverge too much from the original Omicron.

While it’s too soon to know exactly what that means for people who have already been infected with Omicron, experts said it’s possible they may have some degree of protection.

Sub-variant BA.2 — which has not been assigned a Greek letter — shares many characteristics with the COVID variant commonly known as Omicron, also called BA.1. So far, it has been found in Texas, Washington State, California, and New Mexico, and has been spreading rapidly in Denmark, South Africa, India, and the Philippines.

Handful of unmasked people disrupts Boston City Council meeting — 2:22 p.m.

By Danny McDonald, Globe Staff

A handful of people who refused to don masks at City Hall disrupted a Boston City Council meeting Wednesday afternoon.

In the middle of the meeting, the group of about a half-dozen people were asked by newly-minted Council President Ed Flynn to don masks, which are required in City Hall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When they refused, Flynn called a recess.

Flynn walked over to the group, seated in the first row of the gallery, try to reason with them, but they continued to heckle him. City Clerk Maureen Feeney and Councilor Frank Baker also spoke with the unmasked people, who continued to gripe about the city’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, including the city’s vaccination mandate.

Boston unions file appeal regarding vaccination mandate for city workforce — 1:59 p.m.

By Danny McDonald, Globe Staff

In the latest chapter of their fight against Boston’s vaccination mandate, a trio of municipal unions Wednesday filed an appeal of a recent court decision that rejected their attempt to block the enforcement of the Wu administration’s requirement for city workers.

“The city has not been collaborative with us,” said John Soares, president of Local 718, which represents Boston firefighters, at a news conference outside Dorchester’s Florian Hall Wednesday morning.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge earlier this month rejected a request from three public safety unions to block enforcement of Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Wu’s order eliminated the option for city workers to get regular COVID tests in lieu of the vaccine.

Virus count tops 70,000 new cases in Japan — 12:31 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Japan’s daily total of new novel coronavirus infections hit a record high on Wednesday, with the day’s figure exceeding 70,000, according to data being compiled by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Among prefectures that saw their own record highs on Wednesday, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 14,086 new cases, rewriting its previous high of 12,813 new cases, set on Tuesday.

Osaka Prefecture confirmed 9,813 cases on Wednesday, up from 8,612 on Tuesday and a record high for the second day in a row.

Aichi Prefecture also saw a record-high tally for a second consecutive day, at 4,663 new cases, while Fukuoka Prefecture reported 3,615 new cases, the highest ever for the prefecture.

German soccer coaches banned for using fake vaccine passes — 11:31 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Two German soccer coaches have been suspended from working in the sport after it was ruled Wednesday they used fake coronavirus vaccination records.

A disciplinary panel at the German soccer federation ruled former Werder Bremen head coach Markus Anfang and his assistant Florian Junge had obtained fake passes last year identifying them as being fully vaccinated.

The federation said Anfang and Junge used the passes to be exempt from virus testing at the club and presented them to local health authorities to avoid going into isolation after contact with an infected player.

Over 10 billion COVID vaccine doses administered across globe — 10:14 a.m.

By Bloomberg

More than 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across the globe, according to the latest tally from the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

The total is more than enough to give a dose to every person on Earth. But the milestone hides substantial inequality: Just over 13 months since the first vaccines went into arms, many wealthy, developed nations have achieved deep levels of vaccination across their populations. Many less-wealthy places, particularly in Africa, have not.

The wealthiest 107 countries in the world -- including China, the U.S. and Europe -- comprise 54 percent of the global population, but have used 71 percent of vaccines. Less wealthy places such as India, much of Africa and parts of Asia make up almost half of people on Earth and yet account for less than 30 perfect of shots given.

Sweden extends COVID curbs to February to tackle rampant spread — 9:30 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Sweden will extend its current rules to curb COVID-19 transmission, as health authorities expect that as much as 10 percent of the population could be infected by the virus in the next two weeks.

The government expects to be able to remove most restrictions from Feb. 9, Social Minister Lena Hallengren said at a press conference on Tuesday. Transmission is rampant in the country of 10.4 million people and vaccinations are proceeding at a fast pace, leading health authorities to estimate cases will begin to decline next month.

“We estimate that about half a million people are currently being infected by COVID-19 every week, and we hope that another half a million people a week will accept the offer to get vaccinated,” said Karin Tegmark Wisell, director-general at the Public Health Agency. “That will lead to a decline as there are fewer individuals who can be infected.”

Denmark seeks to loosen restrictions as hospitalizations decline with Omicron — 8:18 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Denmark wants to end virus restrictions and reclassify COVID-19 as a disease that no longer poses a threat to society, according to government documents seen by Bloomberg News.

The change is coming as the Nordic country registers record numbers of daily virus infections while hospitalizations are declining, indicating that Omicron is less dangerous than earlier variants of the virus.

2 women in Norway’s Olympic cross-country team have COVID-19 — 7:09 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Two members of Norway’s women’s cross-country ski squad have tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of next month’s Beijing Olympics, the team said Wednesday.

Heidi Weng and Anne Kjersti Kalvå contracted COVID-19 at a training camp in the Italian Alpine resort of Seiser Alm and are now isolating.

Norwegian cross-country manager Espen Bjervig said in a video call their participation in the Olympics was uncertain.

Team doctor Øystein Andersen said Italian rules mean that Weng and Kalvå will be in isolation for 10 days, until Feb. 3. The opening ceremony is on Feb. 4 and the Olympic cross-country skiing program starts the next day.

“This is a shocking situation,” Andersen said.

Weng is the top-ranked Norwegian and a five-time world champion.

“We have a reserve in the squad, and we also have other athletes who are accredited and can be ready,” Bjervig said of possible replacements. “But basically now the focus is on looking at the opportunities for those who have been taken out.”

Norway is the leading nation in cross-country skiing, with its women’s team winning three of the six events on the program at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

The team had planned to leave for Beijing on Thursday but will now be delayed.

The entire men’s team is also in isolation in Seiser Alm after head coach Arild Monsen tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Norway on Monday.

All eight team members were defined as a close contact of Monsen and were awaiting the results of PCR tests. They are now scheduled to depart for Beijing on Monday.

Austria to end lockdown for unvaccinated people Monday — 6:39 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Austria will end a lockdown for unvaccinated people from Jan. 31 after the rate of infected people requiring hospitalization remained low during the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The easing measure, announced by Chancellor Karl Nehammer, coincides with the introduction of mandatory vaccinations next month, with imposition of fines on dissenters beginning in mid-March.

The government will continue to monitor the development of the virus as new cases rise, Nehammer said, adding that a reduction in infections would allow for further easing measures.

People who aren’t inoculated against the virus still won’t be able to enter restaurants or hotels, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said at the same briefing.

Record weekly COVID cases last week, but deaths stable, WHO says — 6:24 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The World Health Organization said there were 21 million new coronavirus cases reported globally last week, the highest weekly number of COVID-19 cases recorded since the pandemic began. The number of deaths was largely unchanged, at more than 50,000.

In its weekly assessment of the pandemic, issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the number of new coronavirus infections rose by 5% and that the rate of increase appears to be slowing; only half of regions reported an increase in COVID-19. Earlier this month, the previous highest number of cases — 9.5 million — was recorded amid a 71% spike from the week before, as the hugely contagious omicron variant swept the world.

WHO said the biggest increase in cases was seen in the Middle East, with a 39% rise, followed by a 36% jump in Southeast Asia. Deaths increased in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, but fell in other regions.

On Monday, WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned against talk that the pandemic might be entering its “endgame,” warning that conditions remain ripe for new variants to emerge, with vast swathes of unvaccinated people in some countries amid rapid virus transmission. Still, Tedros said it might be possible for the world to exit the acute phase of the pandemic, if goals like immunizing at least 70% of each country’s population are met later this year.

Australia navy ship with infected crew offloads aid to Tonga — 5:18 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Australian navy’s largest ship docked at disaster-stricken Tonga on Wednesday and was allowed to unload humanitarian supplies in the South Pacific nation despite crew members being infected with COVID-19, officials said.

Nearly two dozen sailors aboard the HMAS Adelaide were reported infected on Tuesday, raising fears the mercy mission could bring the coronavirus to the small archipelago devasted by an undersea volcanic eruption and a tsunami on Jan. 15.

Most who test positive in UK COVID study had earlier infection — 3:56 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

About two-thirds of the participants in a large UK COVID-19 study who tested positive this month reported a previous infection with the virus, researchers found.

Another 7.5 percent said they suspected they’d had an earlier case, according to the React-1 study led by Imperial College London. Researchers looked at infections among some 100,000 volunteers from Jan. 5 to Jan. 20.

Cases in England reached a record early this month as Omicron became the dominant variant, the study also found. Infections among research participants rose to about 4.4 percent — a three-fold increase from December. The high proportion who reported earlier cases adds to evidence that Omicron can evade at least some of the defenses generated by infection with previous variants.

Deaths and hospitalizations were lower than in previous waves, even as the prevalence of the virus reached the highest level since the study began in May 2020. The peak of infections occurred around Jan. 5, before cases declined and then leveled off from the middle of the month.

The UK has been easing the “Plan B” COVID restrictions that were implemented across England in December when Omicron began spreading quickly through the population. People are no longer being asked to work from home, and rules forcing people to wear face masks in shops and on public transport will be dropped.

German lawmakers to debate possible COVID vaccine mandate — 2:48 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Germany’s parliament is set to hold its first debate Wednesday on a possible wide-ranging coronavirus vaccine mandate, with three options emerging: obligatory vaccinations for all adults or for everyone above 50, or no mandate at all.

German politicians of all stripes long insisted that there would be no vaccine mandate. But the tide turned late last year amid frustration that a large number of holdouts was hampering the fight against COVID-19.

Chinese mRNA vaccine may fall short of Pfizer, Moderna shots — 2:15 a.m.

By Bloomberg

A vaccine being developed in China using messenger RNA, the new technology that has become the backbone for immunizing much of the world, may fall short of the benefits generated by shots from Pfizer Inc., BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc.

The first published study of the experimental vaccine from Walvax Biotechnology Co., Suzhou Abogen Biosciences Co. and the Chinese military generated twice the level of neutralizing antibodies seen in people who had recovered from a COVID-19 infection, though only at an intermediate dose. People given slightly more or slightly less produced fewer of the protective antibodies than those who recovered from an earlier infection, the study found.

Beijing sees uptick in COVID cases ahead of Olympics — 1:03 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Chinese capital reported 14 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as it began a third round of mass testing of millions of people in the run-up to the Winter Olympics.

The mass testing announcement, made late Tuesday by Beijing’s Fengtai district on its social media account, prompted complaints from some residents who were asked to line up yet again outside as daytime temperatures hovered around freezing.

Beijing has stepped up China’s already strict pandemic response measures as it tries to quash any outbreaks ahead of the Olympics, which open in nine days. The city announced this week that anyone who buys fever, headache or two other types of medicine will be subject to a COVID-19 test within 72 hours.

All 2 million residents in Fengtai district, where most of the cases in Beijing have been found, are being tested for the third time since last weekend. Testing was also being carried out for residential communities and neighborhoods elsewhere in Beijing.

About 90 people commented online on the mass testing announcement, mostly making complaints. Some said the frequent testing wastes resources, disrupts work and daily life, and burdens health care workers and community officials.

China reported 24 new local cases in the latest 24-hour period, including the 14 in Beijing. That was up from five cases in Beijing and 18 nationwide the previous day.


 

Jan. 25, 2022

 

S. Korea tests new virus steps as infections reach new high — 10:54 p.m.

By The Associated Press

South Korea on Wednesday began enforcing new COVID-19 response measures, including reduced quarantine periods and expanded rapid testing, as its new cases jumped nearly 50% in a day.

The 13,012 new cases were 4,400 more than the previous single-day high of 8,571 set on Tuesday. It underscores the speed of transmissions driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, which became the country’s dominant strain just last week.

New research hints at 4 factors that may increase chances of long COVID — 10:37 p.m.

By The New York Times

It is one of many mysteries about long COVID: Who is more prone to developing it? Are some people more likely than others to experience physical, neurological or cognitive symptoms than can emerge, or linger for, months after their coronavirus infections have cleared?

Now, a team of researchers who followed more than 200 patients for two to three months after their COVID diagnoses report that they have identified biological factors that might help predict if a person will develop long COVID.

COVID-19 infections in England start to slow down, study shows — 10:10 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

COVID-19 cases in England reached a record early this month before slowing, according to a large study that captured the rise of the Omicron wave.

Infections among research participants rose to about 4.4% — a three-fold increase from December — as Omicron took over as the dominant variant, according to the React-1 study led by Imperial College London. Researchers looked at infections among some 100,000 volunteers from Jan. 5 to Jan. 20.

Deaths and hospitalizations were lower than in previous waves, even as the prevalence of the virus reached the highest level since the study began in May 2020. The peak of infections occurred around Jan. 5, before cases declined and then leveled off from the middle of the month.

The UK has been easing the “Plan B” COVID restrictions that were implemented across England in December when Omicron began spreading quickly through the population. People are no longer being asked to work from home, and rules forcing people to wear face masks in shops and on public transport will be dropped Jan. 27.

“There is good news in our data in that infections had been rapidly dropping during January, but they are still extremely high and may have recently stalled at a very high prevalence,” said Paul Elliott, director of the React program from Imperial’s School of Public Health.

New Zealand to reduce isolation times in phased Omicron response — 9:34 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

New Zealand will reduce coronavirus isolation periods and change the definition of contacts as it battles an outbreak of the more infectious Omicron variant.

The government plans three phases, with the first now underway as policy makers take a “stamp it out” approach, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said Wednesday in Wellington. Phase two will occur when Omicron cases have spread in the community and phase three will be when there are thousands of cases a day.

“As case numbers grow both testing and isolation approaches will change in response,” Verrall told reporters. “We have planned for scenarios when there could be tens of thousands of cases a day.”

Australians can be fined $1,000 for not reporting a positive rapid test. In Massachusetts, reporting a test isn’t even possible. — 8:40 p.m.

By Hanna Krueger, Globe Staff

If a person in Sydney tests positive for COVID using an at-home rapid test but fails to report it to authorities, they could be slapped with a $1,000 fine. Halfway around the world in Massachusetts, however, even someone eager to report a positive at-home test has no means of alerting health authorities.

In the past few months, at-home rapid tests have ballooned in popularity as quick screening tools to slow the spread of the virus. Federal and state officials have slowly begun distributing the tests at little or no cost to residents. And the general public — aware of Omicron’s sharp rise, but uninterested in further lockdowns — gobbled them up, stalking pharmacies before dawn and scouring online inventory.

But even with thousands of COVID-19 infections being officially reported every day in Massachusetts, that data likely underestimates the prevalence of the virus, as countless positive rapid tests go unreported, quietly discarded into bathroom wastebaskets.

New York mask mandate back in effect after judge grants stay — 8:26 p.m.

By The New York Times

New York’s indoor mask mandate will remain in effect after an appeals court judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling from a day before that had abruptly struck down the policy and created confusion across schools and businesses.

The decision Tuesday came one day after a ruling by Justice Thomas Rademaker, of state Supreme Court in Nassau County, who had said the rule requiring masks violated the state Constitution.

His ruling had abruptly nullified part of the rule imposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul last month, amid a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant, that required masks or proof of full vaccination at all indoor public spaces statewide.

CDC study finds shorter hospital stays during Omicron wave, even as infections and death toll mount — 6:56 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Federal health officials reported Tuesday that the Omicron variant caused less severe illness in hospitalized patients than earlier virus lineages, even though its explosive transmissibility has caused far more infections and led to more than 2,200 deaths a day on average, one of the highest tolls since early last year.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that people hospitalized with the Omicron variant had shorter stays and less frequent admission to intensive care compared with those hospitalized with other coronavirus variants.

Despite record infections and hospitalizations caused by Omicron, the percentage of hospitalized patients with severe illness are lower compared with those in earlier pandemic waves. That lower disease severity is partly the result of immune protection from higher vaccination coverage among those 5 and older, booster use and prior infection, as well as the potential lower virulence of the virus itself, according to the report. Other studies have suggested the variant is less able to penetrate deep in the lungs.

Mass. reports new breakthrough cases, raising total to 7.6 percent of fully vaccinated people — 5:00 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman

Massachusetts on Tuesday reported 46,092 more COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated people since last week, bringing the total since the beginning of the vaccination campaign to 394,602 cases, or 7.6 percent of all fully vaccinated people. It’s the first time since the Omicron-driven surge began that the number of new breakthrough cases decreased over the previous week.

Neil Young reportedly fights Spotify over Rogan and COVID — 4:40 p.m.

By The Associated Press

It’s Neil Young vs. Joe Rogan for the allegiance of Spotify. Or is it?

The veteran rocker fired off a public missive to his management on Monday, demanding that they remove his music from Spotify in protest of Rogan spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine on his popular podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

But the letter soon disappeared from view on Young’s website, and on Tuesday afternoon music fans could still listen to “Heart of Gold,” “Rockin’ in the Free World” and other Young hits on the popular streaming site.

Representatives for Young and Spotify did not return repeated requests for comment on Tuesday.

Almost half the world trails IMF vaccine targets to end pandemic — 3:37 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Almost half the world’s nations, including the vast majority of those in Africa, trail the vaccination level that the International Monetary Fund set as a target for the end of last year in order to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eighty-six out of 206 countries had less than 40 percent of their population immunized as of Dec. 31, according to IMF staff calculations and estimates based on Our World in Data. More than half of the nations that are behind are in Africa, and more than two dozen countries on that continent have less than 10 percent of people fully vaccinated.

The total shortfall in administered vaccine doses globally was 974 million.

Charts show hospitalizations edging down in Mass. as Omicron weakens, but deaths are still rising — 2:39 p.m.

By Martin Finucane and Ryan Huddle, Globe Staff

As Omicron retreats, the number of Massachusetts COVID-19 cases reported daily has continued to decline sharply. Encouraging declines have also been reported in the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive and in the amount of the virus detected in Boston area waste water.

But COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, which lag behind case numbers because of the time it takes for people’s condition to worsen, haven’t seen the same decreases. Hospitalizations in the state have only fallen slightly, while deaths are actually ticking up.

Elton John postpones Texas concerts after getting COVID-19 — 2:14 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Despite being vaccinated and boosted, Elton John has contracted COVID-19 and is postponing two farewell concert dates in Dallas. John “is experiencing only mild symptoms,” according to a statement. “Elton and the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour look forward to returning to the stage shortly.”

John was due to hit the American Airlines Center stage in Dallas on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26 but fans “should hold on to their tickets as they will be honored at the rescheduled dates to be announced soon.” John’s rescheduled 2020 North American tour kicked off on Jan. 19 in New Orleans and was scheduled to make stops in Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, New York and Miami.

John previously said he was postponing European dates on his world tour until 2023 so that he can have an operation on an injured hip.

FDA halts ineffective COVID treatment drugs, Florida governor disapproves — 1:35 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis vowed Tuesday to fight a decision from federal health regulators to block two coronavirus antibody treatments after the drugs were found to be ineffective against the widespread Omicron variant.

The Republican governor’s comments come a day after the US Food and Drug Administration moved to revoke emergency authorization for antibody drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly. The drugs, which were purchased by the federal government and administered to millions of Americans, had become a centerpiece of DeSantis’ coronavirus response as he resisted vaccine mandates and other safety measures. The governor did not elaborate on how he plans to oppose to the FDA decision.

RFK Jr. apologizes after criticized for Anne Frank comment — 12:40 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., apologized Tuesday for suggesting things are worse for people today than they were for Anne Frank, the teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp after hiding with her family in a secret annex in an Amsterdam house for two years.

Kennedy’s comments, made at a Washington rally on Sunday put on by his anti-vaccine nonprofit group, were widely condemned as offensive, outrageous and historically ignorant. It’s the second time since 2015 that Kennedy has apologized for referencing the Holocaust during his work sowing doubt and distrust about vaccines.

“I apologize for my reference to Anne Frank, especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors,” Kennedy said in a tweet Tuesday morning. “My intention was to use examples of past barbarism to show the perils from new technologies of control. To the extent my remarks caused hurt, I am truly and deeply sorry.”

The EU’s pandemic recovery bond sales may pick up in mid-2022 — 11:39 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The European Union may increase bond issuance to finance its recovery from the pandemic in the second half of this year.

The bloc plans to sell 50 billion euros ($56 billion) of so-called NextGenerationEU bonds in the first six months of 2022, and potentially “a little bit more” in the second half, Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday.

The EU is on track to raise around 150 billion euros a year by 2026 as part of its recovery program, which finances grants and loans to member states. It has already issued 73.5 billion euros of such bonds, according to European Commission data.

Pandemic could be stabilizing, but ‘our work is not done,’ says WHO — 10:34 a.m.

By The Washington Post

There is hope in the air. Growing global immunity from the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, coupled with encouraging downward trends of infections in a number of countries, seems to have caused a shift in tone among global public health officials, who are oh-so-cautiously signaling the pandemic may be entering a more manageable stage.

The World Health Organization marked two years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe and central Asia on Monday and said it was “entering a new phase.”

“The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention,” Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a statement.

95 percent of Providence city employees are at least partially vaccinated — 9:36 a.m.

By Dan McGowan, Globe Columnist

Providence officials say 95 percent of city employees are now compliant with a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy that took effect on Jan. 14, and disciplinary measures will be taken for those who don’t have at least one shot by next month.

In the police department, 87 percent of sworn personnel have received at least one shot of the vaccine, up from 76 percent in November. The city doesn’t collect data from approximately 3 percent of officers because they are on some form of leave.

Downing Street lockdown parties will be investigated by police, raising stakes for Boris Johnson — 9:15 a.m.

By The New York Times

London’s Metropolitan Police announced Tuesday a criminal investigation into parties allegedly held at the prime minister’s office and residence at 10 Downing Street during Britain’s coronavirus lockdowns, a development sure to raise the pressure on the government.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the force was looking into “potential breaches” of lockdown rules over the past two years, not only at Downing Street but also in other government buildings in London.

In remarks at London City Hall, she promised that the police would investigate “without fear or favor,” adding that “I absolutely understand that there is deep public concern about the allegations that have been in the media over the past several weeks.”

GE misses sales expectations in setback for Larry Culp’s turnaround — 9:03 a.m.

By Bloomberg

General Electric missed Wall Street’s sales expectations for the fourth quarter as it grappled with worsening supply chain pressures and effects of the Omicron variant, a stumble for Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp as he readies a plan to break up the conglomerate starting next year.

Revenue in the period slipped to $20.3 billion, GE said Tuesday in a statement. That was below the $21.4 billion average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“Supply-chain challenges, commercial selectivity and uncertainty surrounding the US wind production tax credit impacted our top line,” Culp said in the statement. Still, the CEO said there are opportunities for sustainable, profitable growth in the near term, particularly as its aviation unit recovers.

Holocaust Museum criticizes RFK Jr. for Anne Frank comment — 8:05 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was “reckless” and “outrageous” when he suggested things are worse for people today than they were for Anne Frank, the teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp after hiding with her family in a secret annex in an Amsterdam house for two years, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum said.

“Making reckless comparisons to the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews, for a political agenda is outrageous and deeply offensive. Those who carelessly invoke Anne Frank, the star badge, and the Nuremberg Trials exploit history and the consequences of hate,” the museum said Monday in a statement posted to Twitter.

Pfizer opens study of COVID shots updated to match Omicron — 7:05 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Pfizer has begun a study comparing its original COVID-19 vaccine with doses specially tweaked to match the hugely contagious Omicron variant.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced the study on Tuesday.

COVID-19 vaccine makers have been updating their shots to better match Omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed.

South Africa finds 62 percent of COVID health-equipment deals irregular — 6:17 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

A South African law-enforcement agency said its investigation into some of the health-equipment contracts awarded by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic found almost two-thirds of them were irregular.

The Special Investigation Unit probe found that 2,803 of 5,467 deals worth 14.3 billion rand ($935 million) were improper, according to a statement emailed by the presidency on Tuesday. President Cyril Ramaphosa authorized the investigation into the contracts in mid-2020.

“It is unacceptable that so many contracts associated with saving lives and protecting livelihoods were irregular, unlawful or fraudulent,” Ramaphosa said in the statement. “This investigation demonstrates our determination to root out corruption and to deal with perpetrators.”

The National Prosecuting Authority and other law-enforcement agencies may use the SIU’s investigations to file criminal charges against people in the public and private sectors, the presidency said.

Abu Dhabi says vaccinated tourists need no boosters to enter — 4:16 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have published new information about the capital’s entry requirements, saying that unlike residents and citizens, vaccinated tourists do not need to show proof of a booster shot to cross into Abu Dhabi.

The tourism-specific change comes as confusion swirls around entry rules for Abu Dhabi, which has taken a more stringent approach to containing the coronavirus than its freewheeling neighbor, Dubai.

The pandemic has prompted Abu Dhabi to erect a hard border with Dubai, forcing all drivers to come to a halt for vaccination and COVID checks on what once had been a wide, empty highway before the virus struck.

Ever-changing requirements have caused some headaches for commuters, with drivers from Dubai who had not received booster shots unexpectedly turned away from the capital last week. The emirate later clarified that all citizens and residents seeking entry must now show proof of a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated and maintain a “green status” on the government health app.

The updated Abu Dhabi tourism website now says that the new rule does not apply to international visitors, who may enter the city-state if they have received both doses. State media reported the update on Monday.

All visitors, whether residents or tourists, also must present a negative virus test taken within the last two weeks to gain entry to the capital and to its public places, including malls and gyms.

Israeli expert panel advises 4th vaccine dose for adults — 3:38 a.m.

By The Associated Press

An expert panel on Tuesday advised the Israeli government to begin offering a fourth vaccine dose to everyone over the age of 18, citing research showing it helps prevent COVID-19 infection and severe illness.

The advisory committee said research shows a fourth dose provides three to five times the level of protection against serious disease and double the protection against infection compared to three doses. The Health Ministry’s director must approve the recommendation.

Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk as it struggles to contain a wave of infections fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. It began offering third doses to the general population last summer.

Figures from Israel’s Health Ministry show there are currently some 580,000 active patients, with just 845 listed as seriously ill. Nearly half the population has received a third dose and more than 600,000 have gotten a fourth. Israel has reported 8,487 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020. It has gathered extensive data that is informing other countries’ responses to the pandemic.

New Zealand to proceed with phased border reopening in February — 12:25 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

New Zealand will proceed with plans to start a phased reopening of the border from the end of February even as the infectious Omicron variant starts to take hold in the community.

The initial phase will allow New Zealanders living in Australia to return home and undertake self-isolation rather than a lengthy stay in a managed isolation hotel. In December, the government pushed out the original start date of Jan. 17 citing the need for more people to be boosted to combat Omicron.

“We will likely confirm the specific date at cabinet in the following two weeks,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at news conference Tuesday in Wellington. “We’ve made no decision to steer away from the guidelines we gave at the end of the year. We know now we are dealing with Omicron in the community and so no changes have been made to those settings at this stage.”

New Zealand’s border has been shut to foreigners since March 2020 but citizens and permanent residents have been able to return provided they undergo managed isolation. The government planned to progressively allow more people to self-isolate rather than stay in government-run hotels in order to open the nation to the world, including eventually letting vaccinated foreigners enter the country from April 30.

The self-isolation requirement for arrivals will be an important shield to limit new Omicron cases, Ardern said. New Zealand moved to tighter COVID restrictions late Sunday as cases began appearing in the community. Ten new Omicron cases were reported Tuesday taking the total to 29, but some large private events are being assessed as exposure events

Report: Anti-corruption fight is stalled, COVID not helping — 12:07 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Most countries have made little to no progress in bringing down corruption levels over the past decade, and authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic in many places has weighed on accountability, a closely watched study by an anti-graft organization found Tuesday.

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perception of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, found that “increasingly, rights and checks and balances are being undermined not only in countries with systemic corruption and weak institutions, but also among established democracies.”


 

Jan. 24, 2022

 

Japan’s so overloaded by Omicron it’s starting to confirm cases without testing — 11:51 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

A COVID test may not be needed to be counted as infected in Japan, as an Omicron surge quickly overtakes the country’s health-care resources and forces the government to find workarounds.

People who have close contact with a COVID patient and later became symptomatic can be considered infected, according to a statement on the government’s website. Mild cases in vaccinated people under age 40 who don’t have underlying conditions and aren’t at high risk can test at home to confirm an infection. They can be referred to follow-up centers for monitoring until they recover, according to the statement.

The speed of the latest outbreak is creating a shortage of tests and spurring a change in how the virus is handled in Japan, which treats COVID patients through local public health centers and tracks infections and hospitalizations by default. Daily new cases jumped to over 40,000 on Monday from double digits just six weeks ago, pushing the country to put more than half its prefectures under a state of quasi-emergency. The move allows local governments to request restrictions on social activities as hospital beds fill.

The US Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention raised the travel advisory for Japan to level 3 on Tuesday, the second highest on a scale of zero to 4, from level 1. The American health agency warned visitors should be fully vaccinated before entering the country since they may be at risk for getting and spreading the variant.

New York judge rules state’s mask mandate is unconstitutional and can’t be enforced — 11:35 p.m.

By The New York Times

A New York state judge ruled Monday that the state’s mask mandate was enacted unlawfully and is now void, according to court documents.

In December 2021, amid a winter virus surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul renewed a mask mandate at all indoor public places throughout the state — including schools and nursing homes, and on public transit — to last a month. The state Health Department then extended the mandate an additional two weeks, to expire Feb. 1.

Neil Young threatens to delete Spotify catalog over Joe Rogan vaccine misinformation — 10:32 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Singer Neil Young has demanded that his music be removed from Spotify over concerns that the platform’s most popular podcaster, Joe Rogan, is spreading vaccine misinformation, Rolling Stone magazine reported.

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform. They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” he wrote in a letter to his record company and management team, according to the magazine.

Omicron offers hope that coronavirus pandemic could stabilize, WHO official says — 9:16 p.m.

By The New York Times

The astonishing spread of the Omicron variant could help set the stage for the pandemic to transition from overwhelming to manageable in Europe this year, a top health official said Monday, potentially offering the world a glimpse at how countries can ease restrictions while keeping the virus at bay.

That hint of hope came with a heavy dose of caution: Immunity from the surge of infections will probably wane, and new variants are likely to emerge, leaving the world vulnerable to surges that could strain health systems. In the United States, where vaccination rates are lower and death rates are considerably higher than in Western Europe, there are bigger hurdles on the path to taming the pandemic.

Dr. Hans Kluge, director for the World Health Organization’s European region, warned in a statement released Monday that it was too early for nations to drop their guard, with so many people unvaccinated around the world. But, he said, between vaccination and natural immunity through infection, “Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization.”

David Perdue tests positive for COVID-19 after campaign stop in Georgia — 8:57 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate David Perdue tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

Campaign spokesperson Jenni Sweat said Perdue, a former US senator, recorded a positive result “during routine COVID-19 testing.” Sweat said Perdue is vaccinated and boosted against the respiratory virus. She said Perdue did not have a fever and wasn’t experiencing symptoms as of Monday evening.

Perdue had spoken earlier Monday at the Faith & Freedom luncheon in downtown Atlanta, where most attendees were unmasked. Sweat said Perdue notified the organizers of the gathering of his positive test.

Sweat said Perdue will isolate and “looks forward to being back out on the campaign trail as soon as possible.” He spoke over the internet to a group of Hall County Republicans on Monday evening and Sweat said he plans to campaign virtually while isolating.

Perdue is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp and others for the 2022 Republican nomination for governor. Former President Donald Trump urged Perdue to run, targeting Kemp for not overturning Georgia’s election.

SJC extends jury trial pause in Mass. by two weeks — 5:35 p.m.

By Breanne Kovatch, Globe Correspondent

Jury trials in Massachusetts state courthouses will remain paused until Valentine’s Day because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the Supreme Judicial Court said Monday.

In first COVID-19 data report since Friday, Mass. reports 24,512 confirmed cases — 5:19 p.m.

By Globe Staff

In its first COVID-19 data report since Friday, Massachusetts on Monday reported 24,512 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 66,418 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also said 78 new confirmed deaths were reported on Friday.

FDA to halt use of two therapies for Omicron — 2:37 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

The US Food and Drug Administration is poised to restrict two monoclonal antibodies, saying the COVID-19 treatments shouldn’t be used in any states because they are ineffective against the dominant Omicron variant, the Washington Post reported, citing two senior administration health officials.

The Biden administration will pause distribution of the therapies, manufactured by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, to the states, the newspaper said.

Several therapies remain effective against Omicron, including sotrovimab — a monoclonal antibody made by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology — and antiviral pills by Pfizer and by Merck and its partner, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the article said, citing administration officials.

UK Minister quits over government inaction following COVID loan fraud — 12:38 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

A UK minister in the ruling Conservative Party resigned after accusing Boris Johnson’s government of failing to properly root out fraud in a loan program introduced to help businesses though the pandemic.

Theodore Agnew, a Treasury and Cabinet Office responsible for Whitehall efficiency, told the House of Lords on Monday that oversight by the Business Department and British Business Bank of the Bounce Back Loan Scheme had been “nothing less than woeful.”

“They have been assisted by the Treasury who appear to have no knowledge or little interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or society,” he said, in a dramatic statement from the government bench. Opposition peers applauded as he left the chamber, saying: “Thank you and goodbye.”

Sarah Palin tests positive for COVID on eve of New York Times trial — 11:34 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin tested positive for COVID-19 just before the trial in her closely watched defamation suit against the New York Times was set to begin.

US District Judge Jed Rakoff announced Palin’s positive result in court Monday morning, the same day opening statements in the case were scheduled to begin. Noting that the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is unvaccinated. the judge said Palin tested positive in home tests Sunday night. She has a 10:15 a.m. appointment for another test to confirm whether she has the virus, her lawyer said.

If Palin tests positive again, the trial will be postponed until at least Feb. 3, Rakoff said. If she continues to test positive, it may be months before the trial can be rescheduled, he said.

Head of US Special Operations Command has COVID-19 — 10:55 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The head of the US military’s Special Operations Command has tested positive for COVID-19, the command said Monday.

Gen. Richard D. Clarke has very mild symptoms and is working remotely, said Col. Curt Kellogg, his spokesman. Kellogg said Clarke hasn’t been physically in the presence of any senior Defense Department leaders or other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this month. Berger is fully vaccinated and got the booster shot.

Clarke is the latest member of the Joint Staff to get the virus. The chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, and the Marine commandant, Gen. David Berger were among the latest to have positive tests. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also had the virus earlier this month.

More than 94 percent of Boston city workers vaccinated, Mayor Wu says — 10:36 a.m.

By Travis Andersen and Emma Platoff, Globe Staff

Mayor Michelle Wu said Monday that more than 94 percent of Boston’s municipal workforce is now vaccinated against COVID-19, and she added that city employees have one more week to comply with the mandate.

Wu provided the update during a City Hall news conference, as some firefighters and other workers protested the mandate outside. “I’m incredibly encouraged by this progress, and we continue to have very productive conversations with our union partners about the collective bargaining impacts,” Wu said. “And we are giving this one more week to make sure that we realize that progress.”

Meanwhile, demonstrators spoke out against the mandate outside City Hall. “There are viable, common-sense solutions to this issue that don’t involve placing Boston firefighters on the unemployment line,” said Sam Dillon, a Boston firefighter and board member of Local 718, referring to the looming termination for workers who don’t comply.

SCOTUS won’t hear pandemic proxy voting dispute — 10:33 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Supreme Court has rejected a challenge from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to the proxy voting Democrats put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

McCarthy had sought a declaration that proxy voting, an absent representative giving authority for someone in attendance to cast his or her vote, was unconstitutional. As is typical, the high court said nothing in rejecting the challenge Monday.

House lawmakers voted by proxy for the first time in May 2020 following a House rules change. The change was intended to strike a balance between working from home during the coronavirus outbreak and honoring the Constitution’s requirement to be “present” and voting.

Lower courts had agreed the lawsuit should be dismissed because each house of Congress can set its own rules for voting.

WHO says Omicron’s spread could end ‘emergency phase’ of pandemic — 9:54 a.m.

By The New York Times

The pandemic that has convulsed the world for more than two years is entering a “new phase,” and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant offers “plausible hope” for a return to normalcy in the months ahead, the World Health Organization said in a statement released Monday.

Dr. Hans Kluge, the director for the WHO’s European region, warned that it was too early for nations to drop their guard, but he said that between vaccination and natural immunity through infection, “Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization.”

His comments echoed the optimism of other leading public health officials around the world, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser for the coronavirus.

UK to end COVID testing for vaccinated travelers — 8:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

The UK will stop requiring vaccinated travelers to take a COVID-19 test after arriving in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

The new rules come on the heels of a recent lifting of pre-flight test requirements, and are part of a general easing of COVID-19 restrictions as the UK starts to treat the virus as endemic.

“So what we’re doing on travel, to show that this country is open for business, open for travelers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated,” Johnson told broadcasters Monday in a pooled interview.

Fourth vaccine shot gives infection protection, Israel says — 6:39 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

A fourth vaccine dose for older adults leaves them better protected against coronavirus infection than peers who received three shots, a study released by Israel’s health ministry found.

The preliminary analysis compares data from about 400,000 people aged 60 and over who received a fourth dose in January and some 600,000 people in the same age group who got only three doses -- with the third shot administered four months or more previously.

The researchers found that those who had the fourth dose had twice the protection from infection as the others, and at least three times the protection from severe illness. The great majority of people in Israel have received the Pfizer Inc. vaccine.

Czech cases touch pandemic Sunday high — 5:40 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

The Czech Republic had 12,889 new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours through Sunday, the highest number for a Sunday since the beginning of the pandemic.

As the highly infectious Omicron variant rages through the nation of 10.7 million, 1,448 patients were hospitalized with coronavirus, according to the health ministry data.

Singapore vaccine demand for kids rises — 4:33 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

About 70% of Singapore’s primary school students have signed up to be vaccinated, with more than 60% having had their first vaccines, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post.

Overall 160,000 aged 5-11 have had first dose, 13,000 have had their second dose, according to the ministry.

Diplomats at Beijing Olympics risk 21 Days in quarantine — 2:53 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

China warned foreign diplomats attending the Winter Olympics opening ceremony they could face 21 days in quarantine if they are deemed close contacts of positive cases in the audience.

The notice, sent to diplomatic missions and seen by Bloomberg News, came amid a long list of measures that attendees must comply with to attend the Feb. 4 event.

India wave may have peaked — 1:47 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

India’s current wave of infections may have peaked on Jan. 23 after surging more than 40-fold within a month, according to a note by Cambridge University’s India COVID-19 tracker. It matches the estimates from a team of researchers including Manindra Agrawal, who correctly predicted the peak of the deadly delta-led wave last year. The country added 306,064 new cases Monday, taking total infections since the start of the pandemic to 39.5 million.

India has stepped up screening for all Omicron lineages and threat levels remain high in view of increasing hospitalizations and patients needing intensive care, the government said Sunday. Reported deaths rose 439 to a total of 489,848 since the pandemic started.

Monthlong pandemic lockdown lifted on China’s Xi’an — 12:08 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Authorities have lifted a monthlong pandemic lockdown on the northern Chinese city of Xi’an and its 13 million residents.

The announcement Monday followed the restart of commercial flights from the city the day before.


 

Jan. 23, 2022

 

Airlines urge UK to drop restrictions for vaccinated travelers — 9:37 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Airline bosses are urging UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid to restore restriction-free international travel at least for the fully vaccinated, citing evidence that recent curbs haven’t been effective in preventing the spread of Omicron.

In a letter to Javid, chief executives of British Airways, Ryanair and other carriers asked for a clear protocol for managing future outbreaks “without recourse to knee-jerk universal testing or hotel quarantine.” They also called on the UK to rule out border closures and flight bans in response to future variants of concern.

“Living with COVID means getting back to normality, being vigilant against variants and keeping the red list in our back pocket, but removing across-the-board restrictions in the same way we have done for hospitality and the domestic economy,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive at Airlines UK. The UK saw a 71% slump in 2021 international departures compared to 2019, the trade body for British registered airlines said.

Airlines UK also demanded the end of testing for fully vaccinated passengers, amid reports that Javid may scrap the requirement for a negative rapid test by day two of arrival in the UK as soon as this week.

Gonzaga suspends John Stockton’s season tickets over mask rule — 7:57 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Gonzaga has suspended John Stockton’s basketball season tickets after the Hall of Fame point guard refused to comply with the university’s mask mandate.

Stockton, one of Gonzaga’s most prominent alums, confirmed the move in a Saturday interview with The Spokesman-Review.

“Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit,” Stockton said. “And therefore they received complaints and felt like from whatever the higher-ups — those weren’t discussed, but from whatever it was higher up — they were going to have to either ask me to wear a mask or they were going to suspend my tickets.”

Wu extends deadline for city workers to get vaccinated — 7:08 p.m.

By Maysoon Khan, Globe Correspondent

Mayor Michelle Wu is again extending the deadline for city workers to satisfy Boston’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, officials said Sunday, one day before the city was set to begin placing municipal employees on unpaid administrative leave for not complying with the requirement.

As the city continues to have productive conversations with municipal unions, no employees will be placed on leave or disciplined between Jan. 25 and Jan. 30, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. As of 2 p.m. Sunday, there were 18,265 city employees in compliance with the policy, officials said.

This announcement comes after heavy pushback against the mandate from municipal unions and workers, including vocal protests of Wu at official events and outside her Roslindale home, the Globe reported.

US COVID vaccinations are slowing down — 6:50 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

The US reported on Sunday 694,000 vaccine new doses administered, the lowest number since October, amid a general decline in vaccinations despite near-record high infections and hospitalizations.

Vaccinations peaked last April at more than 4.5 million daily shots, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, and have largely been on the decline since. The availability of booster shots, the expansion to younger age groups and vaccine mandates briefly boosted numbers that are now dropping toward the lowest points since vaccinations were rolled out in December 2020.

Of the eligible populations, 67.4% of Americans are fully vaccinated and 43% have received booster shots, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Too early to end school masking, former head of FDA says — 4:24 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

It’s too soon for schools to lift student mask mandates, but public health officials officials need to be clearer about how long they are needed, said Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the US Food and Drug Administration.

“To withdraw it right at the peak of the epidemic, I think it’s imprudent. We should wait,” Gottlieb, a Pfizer Inc. board member, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“But this whole COVID epidemic, I think, has been colored by the fact that policymakers have not prescribed clear endpoints,” he said. “I think parents are willing to tolerate masks in schools, recognizing it’s very disruptive to children if there is an end date to it.”

Anti-vaccine activists march in D.C. — a city that mandates COVID vaccines — to protest mandates — 2:06 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Thousands of protesters from across the country - including some of the biggest names in the anti-vaccination movement - gathered Sunday for a rally against vaccine mandates in the nation’s capital.

Almost two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 860,000 Americans, the gathering on the National Mall was a jarring spectacle: A crowd of demonstrators, many unmasked, decrying vaccine mandates in the middle of a city that has adopted mask and vaccine mandates to reduce sickness and death from the surge of the virus’s Omicron variant, which has battered D.C. for weeks.

Stressed hospitals are asking workers with COVID to return — even if they may be infectious — 2:03 p.m

By The Washington Post

Hospitals are increasingly asking staff who have the coronavirus to work while potentially infectious, underscoring how the hyper-transmissible Omicron variant has sidelined employees, overwhelmed resources and upended nearly two years of strict protocols. Though vaccine requirements are common at hospitals, many health care workers are coming down with the virus, exacerbating staffing issues.

Ten-day isolation periods have given way to five-day ones under CDC guidelines updated late last month, with workers sometimes allowed back as long as symptoms are deemed mild and improving. Officials acknowledge even halving isolation may not be enough to keep hospitals staffed: The CDC says health care workers who test positive can keep working uninterrupted in a “crisis” - and one state, California, recently declared that hospitals could take that step for employees without symptoms.

Italy looks to ‘ordinary’ phase of COVID — 1:22 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Italy must move from treating the pandemic as an emergency a to a new “ordinary” phase where COVID-19 is just an illness among others, health undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri said on Sunday on Rai1 television.

Sileri said the easing of restrictions must happen “at the right moment,” adding that he expected infections to decline in coming days. Italy recorded 138,860 new cases on Sunday.

Omicron outbreak in US is ‘going in the right direction,’ Fauci says — 12:51 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser expressed optimism that the Omicron surge that has pushed COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations to records will soon peak, though that decline won’t be uniform throughout the US

“Things are looking good,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now.”

Infections are “starting to come down rather sharply” in the US Northeast and Midwest, Fauci said, in line with the variant’s trajectory in South Africa and other places. He said he expected that states in the South and West where cases are still rising will soon follow the same downward path, depending in part on vaccination rates.

Coronavirus tests from US government begin to arrive at some homes — 12:15 p.m.

By The New York Times

Americans have started to receive free coronavirus tests from the US government in the mail after it began accepting orders Tuesday.

The Biden administration said it would send 500 million rapid tests to Americans this month via the US Postal Service after the Omicron variant strained access to in-person and at-home tests. Each household is eligible for four free rapid tests and can order them at covidtests.gov.

Marcie Taylor, a marketing consultant in Santa Ana, California, said she received her tests Friday after she ordered them Tuesday at the recommendation of her friend who sent her a link to the website. She said the package, which included two boxes with two tests in each, arrived earlier than the tracking website had estimated.

Taylor said her husband and two children, a 16-year-old and a 20-year-old, would try to make the tests last as long as possible because it only amounted to one test per person.

“If you can order the kit, order it,” Taylor said in an interview. “It gives you peace of mind to have it since there is a shortage at drugstores.”

Taylor was one of several people who posted on social media after they received the tests at the end of the week.

“That bodes well for how things are going to go,” said Steve Hutkins, editor of the “Save the Post Office” blog.

Hutkins said the Postal Service’s mission to deliver 500 million tests in a short period of time was a significant task “but totally doable.”

Beijing district orders mass virus testing ahead of Olympics — 10:32 a.m.

By Associated Press

People in a Beijing district with some 2 million residents were ordered Sunday to undergo mass coronavirus testing following a series of infections as China tightened anti-disease controls ahead of the Winter Olympics.

The government told people in areas of the Chinese capital deemed at high risk for infection not to leave the city after 25 cases were found in the Fengtai district and 14 elsewhere.

The ruling Communist Party is stepping up enforcement of its “zero tolerance” strategy aimed at isolating every infected person as Beijing prepares to open the Winter Games on Feb. 4 under intensive anti-virus controls.

On Sunday, Fengtai residents lined up on snow-covered sidewalks in freezing weather for testing.

By Bloomberg News

Chinese officials say experts have seen little to suggest that COVID-19 is spreading via non-frozen goods after a recent infection of the Omicron variant in Beijing was said to be traced to overseas mail.

Experts have insufficient evidence so far on non-frozen imported goods transmitting COVID-19 to people in China, according to He Qinghua, an official with the National Health Commission, at a press conference on Saturday.

Passenger refusing to wear a mask exposed himself, threw can during flight, prosecutors say — 7:30 a.m.

By New York Times

A passenger who refused to wear a mask on a flight from Dublin to New York City pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks, threw a can at a passenger and put his cap on the captain’s head and told him, “Don’t touch me,” prosecutors said in a case unsealed Friday.

After the Delta Air Lines flight from Dublin to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 7, the passenger, Shane McInerney, 29, of Galway, Ireland, was charged with intentionally assaulting and intimidating a crew member, prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors said.


Fewer German COVID-19 patients in ICU — 5:17 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Germany reported 2,398 COVID-19 patients in ICU, 20 fewer than the day before. The number of patients on ventilators was 1,422, 26 fewer than the previous day. A further 44 COVID-19 patients died while in ICU.

UK weighs scrapping NHS Staff vaccine mandate — 4:45 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told junior lawmakers in his party that he is considering relaxing mandatory vaccination rules for health service staff, according to The Times newspaper.

Johnson told skeptical backbenchers that “we’ve got to do something” about a policy that could see the health service losing tens of thousands of staff within weeks, the newspaper reported.

Ardern cancels her wedding as New Zealand tightens curbs — 3:49 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

The South Pacific nation will tighten restrictions, moving to a “red” setting at 11:59 p.m. today, Ardern said at a news conference Sunday in Wellington. That will mean more mask wearing, gathering limits and increased distancing requirements at hospitality outlets. Businesses will be able to remain open and people allowed to travel freely. No regional lockdowns are being considered, Ardern said.

A gathering limit of 100 people at sporting or private events means weddings and funerals need to be re-assessed, she said. “As for mine, my wedding will not be going ahead but I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic,” Ardern said, without elaborating when her nuptials were planned for. “Such is life.”

Western Australia minister says Omicron can’t be eliminated — 2:51 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Western Australia reported 24 new community cases Sunday, prompting the state’s Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson to say that Omicron can’t be eliminated, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

“I think it’s clear that we’re not going to eliminate Omicron, it’s now about how we suppress and manage Omicron,” Sanderson told reporters Sunday in Perth, according to the ABC. The state now has 90 active cases, the Department of Health said in an emailed statement.

France cases slow ahead of vaccine pass — 1:50 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

French daily infections fell below 400,000 as the country braces for the implementation of a vaccine pass on Monday.

The country recorded 389,320 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, according to data from the country’s public health office. That’s 16% less than the 464,769 cases reported on Tuesday.

The French government is set to relax some health restrictions, betting the current wave of infections is peaking. The implementation of the vaccine pass will effectively shut people out of most social activities if they’re unvaccinated.

India extends campaign restrictions — 12:54 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Restrictions on election campaigns across five poll-bound Indian states will stay in place till the end of this month as daily infections have crossed the 300,000 mark, the federal election commission said.

No road show, rallies and procession shall be allowed till Jan. 31, according to a statement issued by the commission on Saturday. The commission has also raised the limit on door-to-door campaign to 10 people from 5, excluding security personnel.



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