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Global conditions are ideal for more Covid variants to emerge: WHO chief

GENEVA, Jan 24: As the world grapples with the surge of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday globally the conditions are ideal for more strains of the virus to emerge.

Stating that over 80 million cases have been reported worldwide since the Omicron surge, more than the entire 2020, the WHO chief said it is not going to be the last Covid-19 variant to emerge in the ongoing pandemic.

Ghebreyesus, however, said the Covid-19 global health agency and the “acute phase of the pandemic” can be ended this year itself if countries use strategies and tools comprehensively.

To achieve this, he said countries must aim to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of its population with a focus on high priority groups, which include older adults, healthcare workers and vulnerable individuals.

Ghebreyesus added that countries need to boost Covid-19 testing, look out for more variants in the future, find solutions to the pandemic-related problems, and not keep waiting for the crisis to be over.

“We must work together to bring the acute phase of this pandemic to an end. We cannot let it continue to drag on, lurching between panic and neglect,” said the WHO chief.

Ghebreyesus made the statements during the 150th session of the WHO Executive Board meeting. During the week-long meeting, several key elements of the United Nation health agency, including Ghebreyesus' second term as the director general, and a proposal to make the agency more financially independent, are expected to be discussed.

Europe Could Be Headed For Covid Pandemic 'Endgame': WHO

COPENGAGEN, Jan 23: The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe, the WHO Europe director said Sunday.

"It's plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame," Hans Kluge said in an interview, adding that Omicron could infect 60 percent of Europeans by March.

Once the current surge of Omicron currently sweeping across Europe subsides, "there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality."

"We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before Covid-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back," Kluge said.

Top US scientist Anthony Fauci expressed similar optimism on Sunday.

He told ABC News talk show "This Week" that with Covid-19 cases coming down "rather sharply" in parts of the United States, "things are looking good".

While cautioning against over confidence, he said that if the recent fall in case numbers in areas like the US's northeast continues, "I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country".

The WHO regional office for Africa also said last week that cases of Covid had plummeted in that region and deaths were declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.

The Omicron variant, which studies have shown is more contagious than Delta but generally leads to less severe infection among vaccinated people, has raised long-awaited hopes that Covid-19 is starting to shift from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu.

But Kluge cautioned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic.

"There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means...that it is possible to predict what's going to happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful," Kluge said.

With Omicron spreading so widely, other variants could still emerge, he warned.

The European Commissioner for Internal Markets, Thierry Breton, whose brief includes vaccine production, said Sunday that it will be possible to adapt existing vaccines to any new variants that may emerge.

"We will be able to better resist, including to new variants", he told French television LCI.

"We will be ready to adapt the vaccines, especially the mRNA ones, if necessary to adapt them to more virulent variants".

In the WHO Europe region, which comprises 53 countries including several in Central Asia, Omicron represented 15 percent of new cases as of January 18, compared to 6.3 percent a week earlier, the health body said.

Omicron is now the dominant variant in the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA, or Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), the EU health agency ECDC said last week.

Because of the very fast spread of the variant across Europe, Kluge said emphasis ought to be on "minimising disruption of hospitals, schools and the economy, and putting huge efforts on protecting the vulnerable", rather than measures to stop transmission.

He, meanwhile, urged people to exercise personal responsibility.

"If you don't feel well, stay home, take a self test. If you're positive, isolate," he said.

Kluge said the priority was to stabilise the situation in Europe, where vaccination levels range across countries from 25 to 95 percent of the population, leading to varying degrees of strain on hospitals and health-care system.

"Stabilising means that the health system is no longer overwhelmed due to Covid-19 and can continue with the essential health services, which have unfortunately been really disrupted for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and routine immunisation."

Asked whether fourth doses would be necessary to bring an end to the pandemic, Kluge was cautious, saying only that "we know that that immunity jumps up after each shot of the vaccine."

Omicron in Community Transmission Stage in India: INSACOG

NEW DELHI, Jan 23: The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is in the community transmission stage in India and has become dominant in multiple metros where new cases have been rising exponentially, the INSACOG has said in its latest bulletin.

It also said BA.2 lineage, an infectious sub-variant of Omicron, has been found in a substantial fraction in the country.

The INSACOG, in its January 10 bulletin that was released on Sunday, said while most Omicron cases so far have been asymptomatic or mild, hospitalisations and ICU cases have increased in the current wave and the threat level remains unchanged.

“Omicron is now in community transmission in India and has become dominant in multiple metros, where new cases have been rising exponentially. BA.2 lineage is in a substantial fraction in India and S gene dropout based screening is thus likely to give high false negatives," it said.

S-gene drop-out is a genetic variation like that of Omicron. “The recently reported B.1.640.2 lineage is being monitored. There is no evidence of rapid spread and while it has features of immune escape, it is currently not a variant of concern. So far, no case has been detected in India," the INSACOG said.

The INSACOG, in its bulletin of January 3 which was also released on Sunday, also said Omicron is now in community transmission in India and has become dominant in Delhi and Mumbai where new cases have been rising exponentially.

“Further spread of Omicron in India is now expected to be through internal transmission, not foreign travellers, and a revised sampling and sequencing strategy of INSACOG is being worked out to address genomic surveillance objectives in the wake of dynamic changing scenario of virus infection," the INSACOG said.

“COVID appropriate behaviour and vaccination are main shields against all form mutations of SARSCoV-2 virus," it said. The INSACOG, under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, reports genomic surveillance of SARS CoV -2 across the country through sequencing of samples from sentinel sites and also detailed state-wise district analysis for some states.

A total of 1,50,710 samples have been sequenced and 1, 27,697 samples have been analysed so far by INSACOG.

Covishield, Covaxin Cleared For Market Approval By Expert Panel

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: An expert panel of India's central drug authority today recommended granting regular market approval to Covid vaccines Covishield and Covaxin, which are currently only authorised for emergency use in the country, subject to certain conditions, official sources said.

Pharma companies Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech had submitted applications to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) seeking regular market authorisation for their respective vaccines.

Prakash Kumar Singh, Director (government and regulatory affairs) at SII, had submitted an application to the DCGI on October 25 on this matter.

On that, the DCGI had sought more data and documents from the Pune-based company following which Singh recently submitted the firm's response with more data and information.

In addition to the successful completion of phase 2/3 clinical study in India, till now, over 100 crore doses of Covishield vaccine have been administered to people in this country and worldwide, Singh is learnt to have stated in the response.

"Such a large-scale vaccination with Covishield and containment of COVID-19 infection is in itself a testimony of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine," he has said.

In an application sent to the DCGI a couple of weeks ago, V Krishna Mohan, Whole-Time Director at Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, submitted complete information on chemistry, manufacturing, and controls, along with the pre-clinical and clinical data while seeking regular market authorisation for Covaxin.

Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL) took up the challenge to develop, produce and clinically evaluate a vaccine, from the SARS-CoV-2 strains isolated from Covid patients in India, Mohan has said in the application.

Covaxin and Covishield were granted Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) on January 3.

"The Subject Expert Committee (SEC) on COVID-19 of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) which reviewed SII and Bharat Biotech's application for the second time today has recommended granting regular market approval to Covishield and Covaxin subject to certain conditions," an official source said.

During last week's meeting, the SEC had sought more data and information from the two companies.

WHO recommends two new drugs to treat patients with COVID-19  

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA, Jan 13: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday reccommended two new drugs to treat patients with COVID-19, one for patients with critical disease, and another deemed effective for non-severe cases.

The first drug, baricitinib, is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor- a class of drugs used to treat autoimmune conditions, blood and bone marrow cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the WHO Guideline Development Group, it is “strongly recommended” for patients with severe or critical disease in combination with corticosteroids.

The group of international experts based their recommendation on “moderate certainty evidence” that it improves survival and reduces the need for ventilation.

There was no observed increase in adverse effects.

The experts note that it has a similar effectas other arthritis drugs called interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitors. Because of that, when both drugs are available, they suggest choosing the best option based on cost, availability, and clinician experience.

It is not recommended to use both drugs at the same time.

The experts also advise against the use of two other JAK inhibitors (ruxolitinib and tofacitinib) for patients with severe or critical cases of COVID-19 infection.

According to them, trials undergone using these drugs failed to show any benefits arising using either drug,and suggested a possible increase in serious side effects with tofacitinib.

In the same update, WHO makes a conditional recommendation for the use of a monoclonal antibody known as sotrovimab in patients with non-severe cases.

According to them, the drug should only be administered to patients at the highest risk of hospitalisation. In those at lower risk, it only showed “trivial benefits”.

A similar recommendation has been made previously, for another monoclonal antibody drug, casirivimab-imdevimab, and the experts say there is insufficient data to recommend one over the other.

For both, the effectiveness against new variants, like Omicron, is still uncertain. 

The group will update their guidelines for monoclonal antibodies when more data becomes available.

These recommendations are based on new evidence from seven trials involving over 4,000 patients with non-severe, severe, and critical infections.

Developed by WHO with the methodological support of MAGIC Evidence Ecosystem Foundation, the guidelinesprovide trustworthy guidance and help doctors make better decisions with their patients.

According to the agency, the guidelines are useful in fast moving research areas, because they allow researchers to update evidence summaries as new information becomes available.

The latest guidance also updates recommendations for the use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers and systemic corticosteroids for patients with severe or critical COVID-19; conditional recommendations for the use of casirivimab-imdevimab (another monoclonal antibody treatment) in selected patients; and against the use of convalescent plasma, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, regardless of disease severity.

After six-week surge, Africa's Omicron-driven fourth pandemic wave flattens: WHO

GENEVA, Jan 13: Africa’s fourth pandemic wave, driven primarily by the Omicron variant, is flattening after a six-week surge, the WHO has said even as it stressed that the shortest-lived surge to date in the continent was "steep and brief but no less destabilising."

The new Omicron variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24. The World Health Organisation (WHO) on November 26 declared it as a variant of concern.

“Early indications suggest that Africa’s fourth wave has been steep and brief but no less destabilising. The crucial pandemic countermeasure badly needed in Africa still stands, and that is rapidly and significantly increasing COVID-19 vaccinations. The next wave might not be so forgiving,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the WHO said, “After a six-week surge, Africa’s fourth pandemic wave-driven primarily by the Omicron variant is flattening, marking the shortest-lived surge to date in the continent where cumulative cases have now exceeded 10 million.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus voiced concern that even though more than 9.4 billion vaccine doses have now been administered globally, 90 countries did not reach the target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their populations by the end of last year, and 36 of those countries have not yet vaccinated 10% of their populations. More than 85 per cent of the population of Africa – about one billion people - is yet to receive a single dose of vaccine, he said.

“We cannot end the acute phase of the pandemic unless we work together to close these gaps,” he said.

Last week, more than 15 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO from around the world – by far the most cases reported in a single week, with Ghebreyesus calling it an “underestimate.” “This huge spike in infections is being driven by the Omicron variant, which is rapidly replacing Delta in almost all countries.

As of January 11, there have been 10.2 million COVID-19 cases in Africa. Weekly cases plateaued in the seven days to January 9 from the week before. Southern Africa, which saw a huge increase in infections during the pandemic wave, recorded a 14 per cent decline in infections over the past week. South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first reported, saw a 9 per cent fall in weekly infections.

East and Central Africa regions also experienced a drop. However, North and West Africa are witnessing a rise in cases, with North Africa reporting a 121 per cent increase this past week compared with the previous one, the WHO said.

Across the continent, though, deaths rose by 64 per cent in the seven days ending on January 9 compared with the week before mainly due to infections among people at high-risk.

“Nonetheless, deaths in the fourth wave are lower than in the previous waves. Hospitalisations have remained low.” WHO said adding that in South Africa, around 9 per cent of its over 5,600 intensive care unit beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients.

While the African continent appears to be weathering the latest pandemic wave, concerns remain over the low vaccination rates. Just around 10 per cent of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated. However, vaccine supplies to the continent have improved recently, and WHO is stepping up its support to countries to effectively deliver the doses to the wider population.

“This year should mark a turning point in Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination drive. With vast swaths of the population still unvaccinated, our chances of limiting the emergence and impact of deadly variants are frighteningly slim,” Moeti said. “We have the know-how and the tools and with a concerted push we can certainly tip the balance against the pandemic.”

In countries experiencing a surge in cases, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has become the dominant type. While it took around four weeks for the Delta variant to surpass the previously dominant Beta, Omicron outpaced Delta within two weeks in the worst-hit African countries.

So far 30 African countries—and at least 142 globally—have detected the Omicron variant while the Delta variant has been reported in 42 countries in Africa. In West Africa where COVID-19 cases are on the rise, the number of Omicron sequences undertaken by countries including Cabo Verde, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal is growing. In Cabo Verde and Nigeria, Omicron is currently the dominant variant

More than half of people in Europe to catch Omicron, predicts WHO

GENEVA, Jan 11 : World Health Organization regional director Hans Kluge on Tuesday said more than 50% of the European population may be infected with Omicron variant in the next 6 to 8 weeks if infections continue at current rates.

The WHO regional director said the variant represented a "new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across" the European region.

He said 50 of the 53 countries in Europe and central Asia have now reported cases of Omicron. It is quickly becoming the dominant variant in western Europe and is now spreading in the Balkans.

Kluge said data collated in recent weeks confirm that Omicron is highly transmissible – because the mutations it has enabled it to adhere to human cells more easily, and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.

He reiterated that the currently approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron. But because of the unprecedented scale of transmission, we are now seeing rising COVID-19 hospitalizations.

He further said data from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System shows 96% of pregnant women admitted to hospital with COVID-19 symptoms between May and October 2021 were unvaccinated, a third of whom required respiratory support.

The WHO regional director urged the countries not yet hit by the Omicron surge that there is a closing window of opportunity to act now and plan for contingencies.

He asked the countries to mandate the use of high-quality masks in closed and indoor settings and ensure that vulnerable individuals have access to them. He asked to increase the supply of tests and make them widely accessible free of charge at pharmacies, workplaces and in the communities.

He further said where the Omicron surge has begun, the priority should be to avoid and reduce harm among the vulnerable, and minimize disruption to health systems and essential services.

He asked the governments to keep the schools open as it has important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational well-being. Schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen.

Actual Omicron Cases Could Be 60-90 Times As Reported: Top Expert

NEW DELHI, Jan 11: The government's top medical expert on Covid has claimed that reported infection numbers are "nowhere close to the truth" as actual numbers could be up to 90 times more than reported for Omicron infections.

"After the Delta wave, the surge is Omicron all the way whether you do the testing or confirm it, here's no need for confirmation," said Dr. Jaiprakash Muliyil, epidemiologist and chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Institute of Epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research.

"The shape of the curve is all we need to worry about," he said adding that we would know it has reached the end when the graph starts dipping.

On how experts will be able to gauge the true extent of Omicron without more tests and accurate numbers, he said that "we have learned to live with it" as even during the second wave caused by the Delta variant they "always multiplied the number of cases picked up by about 30 to get the real number" as subclinical numbers don't get noticed by anyone, including the person who has been infected. For Omicron, he said we are only detecting one in 60 to 90 actual cases as subclinical cases have also significantly gone up.

On strict lockdowns, he said that we can't stay locked in our houses for very long and that we must repeatedly emphasise that Omicron is much milder compared to the Delta variant.

Deltacron, New Strain That Combines Delta, Omicron, Found In Cyprus

NICOSIA, Jan 9: A strain of Covid-19 that combines delta and omicron was found in Cyprus, according to Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology.

"There are currently omicron and delta co-infections and we found this strain that is a combination of these two," Kostrikis said in an interview with Sigma TV Friday. The discovery was named "deltacron" due to the identification of omicron-like genetic signatures within the delta genomes, he said.

Kostrikis and his team have identified 25 such cases and the statistical analysis shows that the relative frequency of the combined infection is higher among patients hospitalized due to Covid-19 as compared to non-hospitalized patients. The sequences of the 25 deltacron cases were sent to GISAID, the international database that tracks changes in the virus, on Jan. 7.

"We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious or if it will prevail" over delta and omicron, he said. But his personal view is that this strain will also be displaced by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Covaxin-Maker On Unapproved Vaccines To 15-18

HYDERABAD, Jan 8: Hyderabad-based vaccine manufacturer Bharat Biotech on Friday said that it has received reports of COVID-19 vaccines other than Covaxin are being administered in children of age group 15-18 years in the country and urged healthcare workers to ensure administration of Covaxin as it is the only approved COVID vaccine for this particular population category.

"We have received several reports of other COVID-19 vaccines being administered to individuals in the 15-18 years age group. We humbly request healthcare workers to be highly vigilant and ensure that only Covaxin is administered to individuals in the 15-18 years age group," read a Bharat Biotech release.

"Covaxin received approval based on a thorough clinical trial evaluation for safety and immunogenicity in the 2-18 years age group. Currently, it is the only COVID-19 vaccine in India approved for children," it added.

COVID-19 vaccination program for children aged between 15 and 18 years has been started from January 3, 2022.

The Union Health Ministry has informed the States and UTs that only 'Covaxin' is to be administered in this population category and additional doses of 'Covaxin' will be sent to all states and UTs.

 

'Tsunami' Of New Covid Cases Overwhelming Global Health Systems: WHO Chief

GENEVA, Jan 6: A record 9.5 million new COVID-19 cases were reported around the world during the week December 27-January 2, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday, with its chief warning that the "tsunami of cases" caused by the new Omicron variant was overwhelming health systems around the world.

The COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update, released by the global health agency Thursday, said that during the week December 27, 2021 to January 2, 2022, following a gradual increase since October, the global number of new cases increased sharply by 71 per cent as compared to the previous week.

The number of new deaths decreased by 10 per cent. This corresponds to just under 9.5 million new cases and over 41,000 new deaths reported during the last week. As of January 2, a total of nearly 289 million cases and over 5.4 million deaths have been reported globally, the update said.

"Last week, the highest number of COVID-19 cases were reported so far in the pandemic. And we know, for certain, that this is an underestimate of cases because reported numbers do not reflect the backlog of testing around the holidays, the number of positive self-tests not registered, and burdened surveillance systems that miss cases around the word," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Addressing a press briefing in Geneva, he cautioned that while the Omicron variant appears to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorised as 'mild'.

"Just like previous variants; Omicron is hospitalising people and it is killing people. In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world," he said.

The WHO update said that all regions reported an increase in the incidence of weekly cases, with the Region of the Americas reporting the largest increase (100 per cent), followed by the South-East Asia (78 per cent), European (65 per cent), Eastern Mediterranean (40 per cent), Western Pacific (38 per cent) and the African (7 per cent) Regions.

The European Region continued to report the highest incidence of weekly cases (577.7 new cases per 100,000 population), followed by the Region of the Americas (319.0 new cases per 100,000 population). Both regions also reported the highest weekly incidence in deaths.

The African Region was the only region to report a weekly increase in the number of new deaths (22 per cent). All other regions reported a decrease in the incidence of deaths, including the Americas (18 per cent), Western Pacific (10 per cent), South-East Asia (9 per cent), Eastern Mediterranean (7 per cent) and the European (6 per cent) Regions.

The highest numbers of new cases were reported from the United States of America (2,556,690 new cases; 92 per cent increase), the United Kingdom (1,104,316 new cases; 51 per cent increase), France (1,093,162 new cases; 117 per cent increase); Spain (649,832 new cases; 60 per cent increase) and Italy (644,508 new cases; 150 per cent increase).

The update noted that after a declining trend in the number of weekly cases since the end of July 2021, the South-East Asia Region reported an increase in case incidence of 78 per cent, corresponding to over 135,000 new cases.

However, the number of new weekly deaths decreased by 9 per cent, with over 2400 new deaths reported. Half of the countries (5/10) reported weekly increases in the number of new cases of over 10 per cent.

After India, the highest increases in new cases were reported by Bangladesh (48 per cent increase) and the Maldives (31 per cent increase). The highest numbers of new cases were reported from India (102,330 new cases; a 120 per cent increase), Thailand (19,588 new cases; a 6 per cent increase) and Sri Lanka (4286 new cases; an 8 per cent increase).

The highest numbers of new deaths continued to be reported from India (2088 new deaths; an 8 per cent decrease), Thailand (140 new deaths; a 31 per cent decrease), and Sri Lanka (135 new deaths; similar to the previous week).

Ghebreyesus noted that first-generation vaccines may not stop all infections and transmission but they remain highly effective in reducing hospitalisation and death from this virus.

"So as well as vaccination, public health social measures, including the wearing of well fitting masks, distancing, avoiding crowds and improving and investing in ventilation are important for limiting transmission," he said.

He lamented that at the current pace of vaccine rollout, 109 countries would miss out on fully vaccinating 70 per cent of their populations by the start of July 2022.

"The essence of the disparity is that some countries are moving toward vaccinating citizens a fourth time, while others haven't even had enough regular supply to vaccinate their health workers and those at most risk," he said.

Omicron symptoms on skin, lips and nails could mean you need immediate medical care

WASHINGTON, Jan 4: While a lot remains unknown about the highly transmissible Omicron variant, experts have said that symptoms of the new strain are quite different from the classic signs of Covid-19.

Apart from the three main symptoms of the Omicron variant, patients should seek urgent medical attention for the lesser-known signs of the strain appearing on the skin, lips and nails, reported The Mirror.

The American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has informed that people infected with the new super mutant strain of Covid-19 report a wide range of symptoms.

One such symptom of the virus occurs on the skin, lips and nails. The CDC warned that we should watch out for pale, grey or blue-coloured skin, lips or nail beds, depending on our skin tone, as this can indicate low levels of oxygen in the blood, the report added.

The health body also described these signs as “emergency warning signs" for which we should seek urgent medical care.

The symptoms could also include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, and the inability to wake or stay awake.

Other symptoms of Omicron variant:

Patients infected with Omicron show extreme tiredness. However, this is not limited to any age group. Young patients can also show extreme tiredness, as per chairperson of the South African Medical Association, Angelique Coetzee.

There is also no major drop in oxygen saturation levels. Drastic drop in oxygen saturation levels was seen among patients during the second wave of Covid-19 in India, for example.

Patients infected with the new strain have not reported loss of taste or smell, which are known symptoms in patients infected with other strains.

Omicron patients have, however, complained of "scratchy throat".

It's also expected that the symptoms of Omicron will resemble Delta's more than they differ from them.

US Sets World Daily Record of Over 1 Million Covid Cases

WASHINGTON, Jan 4: More than 1 million people in the US were diagnosed with Covid-19 on Monday as a tsunami of omicron swamps every aspect of daily American life.

The highly mutated variant drove US cases to a record, the most -- by a large margin -- that any country has ever reported. Monday's number is almost double the previous record of about 590,000 set just four days ago in the US, which itself was a doubling from the prior week.

It is also more than twice the case count seen anywhere else at any time since the pandemic began more than two years ago. The highest number outside the US came during delta surge, when more than 414,000 people were diagnosed on May 7, 2021.

The stratospheric numbers being posted in the US come even as many Americans are relying on tests they take at home, with results that aren't reported to official government authorities. That means the record is surely a significant under-estimate.

While surging cases haven't yet translated into severe infections and skyrocketing deaths, their impact has been felt across the country as the newly-infected isolate at home. The results are canceled flights, closed schools and offices, overwhelmed hospitals and strangled supply chains.

The data from Johns Hopkins University is complete as of midnight eastern time in Baltimore, and delays in reporting over the holidays may have played a role in the rising rates.

The surge is leading authorities to mull a revision of some measures put in place to help guide the nation through the latest phase of the outbreak. While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the isolation period to five days for asymptomatic people who test positive for Covid-19, the agency may add that they should get a negative test result before venturing out again, officials said.

The outbreak is also causing companies to halt their return-to-office steps, with the likes of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. adopting the more cautious stance of encouraging staff to resume working from home at the start of the new year.

The silver lining is that deaths from Covid haven't similarly soared. Early studies show the omicron variant spreads faster than earlier strains but causes milder symptoms.

The outlook for 2022 depends on whether the death toll follows cases and picks up in the weeks to come, or if evidence suggesting the omicron wave will be less severe holds up as more real-world data emerges.

New coronavirus variant 'IHU' identified in France

PARIS, Jan 4: As the world grapples with the highly mutated Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, scientists have identified a new strain of the COVID-19 causing virus in Southern France.

Known as 'IHU', the B.1.640.2 variant has been reported by researchers at institute IHU Mediterranee Infection in at least 12 cases, and has been linked to travel to African country Cameroon.

However, the researchers noted that it is too early to speculate on how this variant behaves as far as infection and protection from vaccines is concerned.

The yet-to-be peer-reviewed study, posted on the preprint repository MedRxiv on December 29, revealed that IHU has 46 mutations and 37 deletions resulting in 30 amino acid substitutions and 12 deletions.

Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins, and both are the building blocks of life.

Fourteen amino acid substitutions, including N501Y and E484K, and nine deletions are located in the spike protein.

Most currently used vaccines are targeted at the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which the virus uses to enter and infect the cells.

N501Y and E484K mutations were earlier also found in Beta, Gamma, Theta and Omicron variants.

"The mutation set and phylogenetic position of the genomes obtained here indicate based on our previous definition a new variant we named IHU," the authors of the study said.

"These data are another example of the unpredictability of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants, and of their introduction in a given geographical area from abroad," they added.

The B.1.640.2 has not been identified in other countries so far or labelled a variant under investigation by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the researchers, the index (first) case was an adult diagnosed positive by RTPCR performed in a laboratory on a nasopharyngeal sample collected in mid-November last year.

Epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding posted a long Twitter thread in which he said that new variants keep emerging but it does not necessarily mean they will be more dangerous.

"What makes a variant more well-known and dangerous is its ability to multiply because of the number of mutations it has in relation to the original virus," Feigl-Ding tweeted on Tuesday.

"This is when it becomes a "variant of concern" - like Omicron, which is more contagious and more past immunity evasive. It remains to be seen in which category this new variant will fall," he said.

Many countries are currently experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant which was first identified in South Africa and Botswana in November last year.

Since then, the variant of concern has spread to over 100 countries.

In India, a total of 1,892 cases of Omicron variant have been detected across 23 states and Union Territories so far.

Omicron variant resistant to antibodies, two vaccine doses: Study

BERLIN, Jan 1: Berlin: The Omicron variant of coronavirus is largely resistant to antibodies from people who recover from COVID-19 infection, and those vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to a study.

The research, published in the journal Cell, also shows that several antibodies used to treat COVID-19 will be ineffective against Omicron.

However, a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and mixing Pfizer and AstraZeneca preventives may protect well against the variant.

The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 appears to be spreading faster than any previous variant and may soon dominate globally, the researchers said.

In the study, they used non-hazardous virus-like particles that carry the Omicron spike protein and are well suited for analysis of virus entry and its inhibition.

The spike protein is used by the SARS-CoV-2 virus to enter and infect cells.

Currently, combinations of the antibodies Casirivimab and Imdevimab, and Etesevimab and Bamlanivimab are used to treat COVID-19.

However, the researchers showed that these antibodies are largely ineffective against the Omicron spike. Only one antibody, Sotrovimab, inhibited the Omicron spike, they said.

“Our cell culture studies suggest that most antibodies currently available for COVID-19 therapy will be ineffective against Omicron,” said study first author Markus Hoffmann from German Primate Center.

“Sotrovimab is an exception and could become an important treatment option for Omicron-infected patients,” Hoffmann said.

The researchers further investigated whether patients infected in Germany during the first wave of the pandemic had produced antibodies that protect against the Omicron variant.

While the antibodies inhibited the spike of the virus responsible for the first wave, the researchers had little effect against the Omicron spike.

They assume that these individuals do not have robust immune protection against the Omicron variant, although an inhibition by T cells, which are also produced during infection, remains to be analysed.

Antibodies produced after two immunisations with the Pfizer vaccine also inhibited the Omicron spike significantly less efficiently than the spike proteins of other variants, the researchers said.

A better protective effect was observed after three doses with Pfizer and after heterologous immunisation with AstraZeneca and Pfizer preventives, they said.

These results indicate that dual immunisation with Pfizer may protect less efficiently against the Omicron variant as compared to the Delta variant, according to the study.

Triple immunisation with Pfizer (booster) and cross-vaccination with AstraZeneca/Pfizer could establish stronger protection, it found.

“Our results indicate that antibody therapies for COVID-19 need to be adapted to the Omicron variant. Adaptation of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine should also be considered,” said Hoffmann.

“In contrast, triple immunisation with BioNTech-Pfizer (booster) and cross-vaccination with Oxford-AstraZeneca,” Hoffmann added.

Israel Reports 1st 'Florona' Case, Covid And Influenza Double Infection

TEL AVIV, Jan 1: Israel recorded the first case of "florona" disease, a double infection of COVID-19 and influenza, said Arab News said on Thursday.

"#Israel records first case of #florona disease, a double infection of #COVID19 and influenza," Arab News tweeted.

Meanwhile, Israel's national health providers began administering fourth vaccine shots against COVID-19 on Friday to individuals with compromised immune systems.

The Health Ministry's Director-General Nachman Ash today okayed the boosters for immuno-suppressed people due to the Omicron infection wave, so long as at least four months have passed since their third shot, Time of Israel reported.

On Friday morning Ash also approved vaccines for elderly patients at geriatric facilities. The ministry said this was done "due to concerns of outbreaks at such facilities, and the risk to the health and lives of residents," the publication said.

Isreal has reported a continuous rise in COVID-19 cases.

As per the new data from the Health Ministry nearly 5,000 new cases were diagnosed on Thursday.

Omicron variant resistant to antibodies, two vaccine doses: Study

BERLIN, Jan 1: Berlin: The Omicron variant of coronavirus is largely resistant to antibodies from people who recover from COVID-19 infection, and those vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to a study.

The research, published in the journal Cell, also shows that several antibodies used to treat COVID-19 will be ineffective against Omicron.

However, a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and mixing Pfizer and AstraZeneca preventives may protect well against the variant.

The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 appears to be spreading faster than any previous variant and may soon dominate globally, the researchers said.

In the study, they used non-hazardous virus-like particles that carry the Omicron spike protein and are well suited for analysis of virus entry and its inhibition.

The spike protein is used by the SARS-CoV-2 virus to enter and infect cells.

Currently, combinations of the antibodies Casirivimab and Imdevimab, and Etesevimab and Bamlanivimab are used to treat COVID-19.

However, the researchers showed that these antibodies are largely ineffective against the Omicron spike. Only one antibody, Sotrovimab, inhibited the Omicron spike, they said.

“Our cell culture studies suggest that most antibodies currently available for COVID-19 therapy will be ineffective against Omicron,” said study first author Markus Hoffmann from German Primate Center.

“Sotrovimab is an exception and could become an important treatment option for Omicron-infected patients,” Hoffmann said.

The researchers further investigated whether patients infected in Germany during the first wave of the pandemic had produced antibodies that protect against the Omicron variant.

While the antibodies inhibited the spike of the virus responsible for the first wave, the researchers had little effect against the Omicron spike.

They assume that these individuals do not have robust immune protection against the Omicron variant, although an inhibition by T cells, which are also produced during infection, remains to be analysed.

Antibodies produced after two immunisations with the Pfizer vaccine also inhibited the Omicron spike significantly less efficiently than the spike proteins of other variants, the researchers said.

A better protective effect was observed after three doses with Pfizer and after heterologous immunisation with AstraZeneca and Pfizer preventives, they said.

These results indicate that dual immunisation with Pfizer may protect less efficiently against the Omicron variant as compared to the Delta variant, according to the study.

Triple immunisation with Pfizer (booster) and cross-vaccination with AstraZeneca/Pfizer could establish stronger protection, it found.

“Our results indicate that antibody therapies for COVID-19 need to be adapted to the Omicron variant. Adaptation of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine should also be considered,” said Hoffmann.

“In contrast, triple immunisation with BioNTech-Pfizer (booster) and cross-vaccination with Oxford-AstraZeneca,” Hoffmann added.

Israel Reports 1st "Florona" Case, Covid And Influenza Double Infection

TEL AVIV, Jan 1: Israel recorded the first case of "florona" disease, a double infection of COVID-19 and influenza, said Arab News said on Thursday.

"#Israel records first case of #florona disease, a double infection of #COVID19 and influenza," Arab News tweeted.

Meanwhile, Israel's national health providers began administering fourth vaccine shots against COVID-19 on Friday to individuals with compromised immune systems.

The Health Ministry's Director-General Nachman Ash today okayed the boosters for immuno-suppressed people due to the Omicron infection wave, so long as at least four months have passed since their third shot, Time of Israel reported.

On Friday morning Ash also approved vaccines for elderly patients at geriatric facilities. The ministry said this was done "due to concerns of outbreaks at such facilities, and the risk to the health and lives of residents," the publication said.

Isreal has reported a continuous rise in COVID-19 cases.

As per the new data from the Health Ministry nearly 5,000 new cases were diagnosed on Thursday.

 

 


Archives
Omicron Risk 'Very High', WHO Warns Of 'Severe Consequences'

India offers vaccines, medical supplies to support African countries hit by Omicron variant

India offers vaccines, medical supplies to support African countries hit by Omicron variant

 


 
         
   

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