Africa CDC: Africa’s COVID-19 cases surpass 10.32m

In this file photo taken on Dec 8, 2021, a woman is vaccinated by a member of the Western Cape Metro EMS in an ambulance which has been converted to facilitate vaccinations at a COVID-19 vaccination event in Cape Town. (RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

PARIS / WASHINGTON / SAO PAULO / SANTIAGO / LISBON / VALLETTA / NEW YORK / MILAN / BUDAPEST / ADDIS ABABA – The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa has reached 10,327,787 cases as of Sunday evening, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The specialized healthcare agency of the African Union said the death toll across the continent stands at 234,267 with 9,224,148 recoveries so far.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Ethiopia are among the countries with the most cases on the continent, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Ethiopia are among the countries with the most cases on the continent, it said.

South Africa has recorded the most COVID-19 cases in Africa with 3,556,633 cases, followed by the northern African country of Morocco with 1,045,25 cases as of Sunday evening, said the agency.

In terms of caseloads, Southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while Central Africa is the least affected region, according to the Africa CDC.

Brazil

Brazil registered 24,934 COVID-19 cases and 74 related deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 23,000,657 and the national death toll to 621,045, health authorities reported Sunday.

In the last seven days, the moving average for deaths was 152, while the average daily number of infections jumped to 68,107, according to health authorities.

 As of Saturday, a total of 145.6 million people in Brazil had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to official data.

A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease COVID-19 at a vaccination centre in Santiago on Jan 10 2022. (JAVIER TORRES / AFP)

Chile

Chile for the second consecutive day registered a record number of daily COVID-19 cases after reporting 9,454 infections in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of Health said Sunday.
Cases from the past seven days rose 144 percent from the previous week, and cases from the past 14 days increased 249 percent compared to the previous two weeks.

Deputies vote during the final reading of the bill introducing the vaccine pass, to strengthen the tools for managing the health crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic at the Palais Bourbon, France's National Assembly, in Paris on Jan 16, 2022. (THOMAS COEX / AFP)

France

France's parliament gave final approval on Sunday to the government's latest measures to tackle the COVID-19 virus, including a vaccine pass contested by anti-vaccine protestors.

Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament voted 215 in favor to 58 against, paving the way for the law to enter force in the coming days.

The new law, which had a rough ride through parliament with opposition parties finding some of its provisions too tough, will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places like restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains

The new law, which had a rough ride through parliament with opposition parties finding some of its provisions too tough, will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places like restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains.

Currently, unvaccinated people can enter such places with the results of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Nearly 78 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry on Saturday.

President Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to seek a second term in an April presidential election, told Le Parisien paper this month that he wanted to "piss off" unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Thousands of anti-vaccine protestors demonstrated in Paris and some other cities on Saturday against the law, but their numbers were down sharply from the week before, just after Macron's remarks.

France is in the grips of its fifth COVID-19 wave with daily new cases regularly hitting record levels over 300,000. Nonetheless the number of serious cases putting people in ICU wards is much lower than the first wave in March-April 2020.

The United Kingdom is drawing up plans under which people will not be legally bound to self-isolate after catching COVID-19, The Telegraph reported on Sunday.

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Hungary

Over a thousand people marched in Budapest protesting against COVID-19 inoculation at a rally organized by the far-right Our Homeland Movement, which has been campaigning on a fierce anti-vaccine and anti-immigration message ahead of April 3 elections.

"Vaccines should not be mandatory! We don't tolerate blackmail," said the slogan of the rally where people held up banners saying: "I am unvaccinated, not a criminal" and "Enough of COVID dictatorship."

Hungary's nationalist government has made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory only for teachers and healthcare workers.

With 10 million people and 40,237 people deaths from COVID-19 so far, Hungary has a vaccination rate of just over 60 percent, which lags western European levels.

Just over six million Hungarians have received at least two shots, and 3.3 million have also received a third booster.

A worker of the Cremona hospital cleaning staff, wearing a personal protective equipment, walks past the COVID-19 intensive care unit of the Cremona hospital, in Cremona, northern Italy on Jan 11, 2022. (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

Italy

Human rights group Amnesty International urged Italy to change tough anti-COVID-19 restrictions to avoid discrimination against unvaccinated people.

In a recent decree Mario Draghi's government made vaccination mandatory for everyone over the age of 50 and for use of public transport and a range of other services, one of very few countries to take similar steps, in an attempt to ease pressure on Italian health services and reduce fatalities.

Amnesty International asked for the provision of alternative measures, including the use of masks and COVID-19 testing, to allow the unvaccinated population to continue to go to work and to use public transport "without discrimination", the group said in a statement issued late on Saturday.

Malta

Malta saw its biggest protest yet against COVID-19 rules on Sunday, with hundreds of people marching in the capital Valletta against new measures requiring production of a COVID-19 certificate for entry to most venues including restaurants, gyms and bars.

Sunday's protest was organized by a group of small political parties, but the main Opposition Nationalist Party has also criticized the new rules

Malta has seen one of the biggest take-ups of COVID-19 vaccination jabs in the European Union, and almost three-quarters of adults would have taken the additional booster jab by Sunday, according to Health Ministry data.

But Health Minister Chris Fearne has defended the new rules, which come into force on Monday, saying they are needed to defend against the Omicron variant of the virus, now accounting for well over 90 percent of new cases.

Sunday's protest was organized by a group of small political parties, but the main Opposition Nationalist Party has also criticized the new rules, saying they do not strike the right balance between public health and people's freedoms especially when there has been a high take-up of the vaccine.

Since the start of the pandemic, 502 people have died with COVID-19 in Malta. The island has recorded a vaccination rate of some 95 percent. Daily virus cases hit a record of 1,337 on December 29 but they have since dwindled to just 301 on Sunday, when two patients also died.

Many of those at Sunday's protest shouted "freedom", and "no green pass". They carried signs saying "Is it really about health?", "the vaccine is poison" and "my body is not state-owned".

Most wore COVID-19 face masks and police were seen approaching those who didn't.

A patient is tested tested for COVID-19 at Campo Pequeno testing site in Lisbon on Dec 30, 2021.  (PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)

Portugal

Portuguese hospitals reported on Sunday that 80 people were hospitalized for complications arising from COVID-19, bringing the country's total number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations to 1,813, the highest since March 3, 2021.

According to the epidemiological bulletin of the Directorate-General for Health, five more patients were referred to intensive care units, taking the number of people now in serious condition to 168, the highest number since Aug. 12, 2021.

In the last 24 hours, Portugal recorded 32,271 new COVID-19 cases and another 33 deaths, bringing the country's total infections and fatalities to 1,884,974 and 19,303 respectively, since March 2020.

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacting as Leader of the opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer (unseen) speaks attending Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London on Jan 12, 2022. (JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP)

UK

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to permanently revoke emergency coronavirus laws as Britain's COVID-19 cases continue to fall, the report said, adding official guidance would remain but would not result in fines or legal punishment if ignored.

The plans will be worked up over the coming weeks, with an announcement expected as early as the spring, the report said.

Last week, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said COVID-19 self-isolation in England will be cut to five days from seven if someone tests negative twice.

Johnson is also set to lift Plan B COVID-19 restrictions, introduced last month to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, according to an earlier Telegraph report.

Cars pull up to a free COVID-19 testing station on Jan 14, 2022 in Monterey Park, California. (FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP)

US

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is fueling the biggest infection wave and hampering economic recovery in the United States, as reflected in the cancellation of thousands of flights by major US airlines and the unbridled annual inflation which surged to an almost 40-year high in December.

"January's been a wild month, and it's only half over. The spread of Omicron infections across the world is causing millions of Americans to isolate again like it's 2020," reported Business Insider on Saturday. Workers are staying home sick, and others are continuing to avoid the workforce for fear of the virus.

"As Omicron peaks, service may be slower at understaffed stores this month. Or, if companies have resumed pre-pandemic practices, employees at your local restaurant or grocery store might be working with COVID-19," said the report, noting that though vaccines have become available throughout the country, Omicron evades vaccine protection more than previous variants.

Opposite decisions

Citigroup Inc is sticking with its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its US workers, while General Electric Co is not – "the two American companies are going in opposite directions after the Supreme Court blocked on Thursday the Joe Biden administration's rule that big employers require their employees to get vaccines or submit to testing," reported The Wall Street Journal on Saturday.

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Citigroup, which has about 65,000 employees in the United States, said that it had reached 99 percent compliance one day before the Jan 14 deadline the bank had set for US workers to get vaccinated or request an accommodation for medical or religious reasons. "Our goal has always been to keep everyone at Citi, and we sincerely hope all of our colleagues take action to comply," said the company's human-resources chief Sara Wechter.

At the start of 2021, GE had about 56,000 employees in the United States. It originally told them they were required to get vaccinated or seek a religious or medical accommodation by early December. It suspended that policy in December after a court challenge temporarily blocked the rule for federal contractors. On Friday, GE suspended its remaining COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

Pharmacy closures

CVS and Walgreens, two of the biggest pharmacy chains in the United States, are temporarily closing some stores this weekend because of staff shortages complicated by the soaring number of people infected with the Omicron variant, reported The New York Times on Saturday

CVS and Walgreens, two of the biggest pharmacy chains in the United States, are temporarily closing some stores this weekend because of staff shortages complicated by the soaring number of people infected with the Omicron variant, reported The New York Times on Saturday.

Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS, said the "vast majority" of stores were operating with normal hours this weekend. There are more than 9,900 CVS stores across the United States. "A tiny fraction of stores are temporarily closed on one or both days of the weekend to help address acute staffing issues," he said.

Rebekah Pajak, a spokeswoman for Walgreens, said closures were at a "small percentage" of the company's more than 9,000 stores and in most cases, the affected stores would be open at least one weekend day. "When making the difficult decision to adjust store hours, we make every effort to minimize disruption for our customers," she said.

College reactions

As the Omicron surge spreads across the country, which sends COVID-19 case counts to new heights and disrupts daily life, some US universities are preparing for a new phase of the pandemic, one that acknowledges the virus is here to stay and requires a rethinking of how to handle life on campus, reported NYT on Sunday.

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Universities from Northeastern in Boston to the University of California-Davis have begun to discuss COVID-19 in "endemic" terms, a shift from reacting to each spike of cases as a crisis to the reality of living with it daily. "I think we're in a period of transition, hopefully to an endemic phase," said Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University.

Meanwhile, "most universities are still acting with caution. They are delaying the start of in-person classes and warning students that case counts could explode because of Omicron. They are encouraging, if not requiring, students to get booster shots. Many are handing out self-testing kits and KN95 masks," said the report.