Omicron variant of Covid-19 continued to spur record cases and hospitalizations in Europe and the United States. The United States reported 646,422 new cases on Monday and 975 fresh fatalities. The number of hospitalizations due to Covid-19 also reached a new record this week as 142,388 people were hospitalized, according to a report by the New York Times, breaking the previous record of 142,315 hospitalization reported in January 2021. The report also highlighted that the seven-day average of daily hospitalizations also rose by 83% due to the extremely contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The US Centers For Disease Control (CDC) updated the vaccine recommendations for age groups on Tuesday. The CDC advised Pfizer and BioNTech booster dose five months after the vaccination with the primary series for people between the 12-17 years age group. It also recommended the same amount of time for people aged above 18 years.
Vaccine maker Pfizer, however, said that a vaccine targeting the Omicron variant will be out by March. The company’s chief executive officer Albert Bourla said that the vaccine targeting the variant may prevent breakthrough infections. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel also said that the vaccine maker is developing a booster to tackle Omicron and other variants that may emerge.
France reopens schools
The French government will not close schools even as Covid-19 cases soared. French prime minister Jean Castex told French news agencies that despite 10,000 classes being cancelled across the nation the government will not shut schools. It has however eased rules for school-going children as it allowed parents to not opt for an immediate Covid-19 test in case their child has come in close contact with a Covid-19 infected, according to a report by the AFP. It also said that home testing can be done in such cases instead of testing at an officially approved site. The parents will however have to sign the certificate.
French teachers however slammed the government by alleging mismanagement on their part by opening schools for children citing that it will increase infections further. France’s largest teacher union will hold a strike to protest the government’s move on Tuesday. The nation recorded 93,896 fresh Covid-19 cases on Tuesday with 280 deaths.
Sweden imposes tougher restrictions
Sweden, which reported 23,877 cases last Wednesday, have announced a set of sweeping restrictions as cases soar. The Swedish government last week said that Omicron is the dominant variant in the Scandinavian nation and the Swedish national board of health and welfare director Olivia Wigzell said that it is straining its healthcare sector.
Restaurants and bars in Sweden’s cities will have to close at 11 pm. The government has mandated a vaccine pass for any gathering above 50 people and has limited indoor gathering to 20 people, according to a report by the AFP.
EU takes southern African nations off no-travel list
The European Union took Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe off its no-travel list on Monday. The EU placed the ban on November 26 last year citing that it was necessary for halting the spread of the Omicron variant in Europe. However, Omicron has now replaced the Delta variant of Covid-19 in many European nations like Belgium, Denmark and France among others.
Italy tightens rules
The Italian government barred unvaccinated people from entering restaurants, gyms, swimming pools, theatres, cinemas, sports events and public transport, with an exception of those who have recently recovered.
Italian prime minister Mario Draghi blamed the unvaccinated for problems faced by the nation’s healthcare systems. “Unvaccinated people have a much higher chance of developing the disease and severe forms of the disease. Most of the problems we are facing today depend on the fact that there are unvaccinated people,” Draghi was quoted as saying by news agency AFP.