The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Live Covid updates: EU chief scraps meetings because driver is positive, record cases in Australia

Associated Press Tuesday, 18 January 2022, 06:15 Last update: about 5 months ago

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's health officials say that the country has entered a new, fifth wave, in the coronavirus pandemic, predicting that it it will peak in mid-February at about 60,000 new infections per day or even more.

Waldemar Kraska, the deputy health minister, said Tuesday that the highly transmissible omicron variant now accounts for 19% of the samples nationwide that have been sequenced, though 50% are in the Pomerania province along the Baltic coast in the country's north.

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If the Health Ministry's predictions prove correct, the rate of infection in the coming wave would be more than double that of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2021.

On Tuesday, Poland recorded 19,652 new cases of COVID-19 and 377 deaths.

Poland's vaccination rate is at 56.5%, significantly lower than in many other European Union nations, and the death rate is significantly higher in proportion to the population.

Kraska said that 300 of the 377 deaths were among unvaccinated people.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities are shortening the required isolation period for people infected with COVID-19 from 14 to seven days as the country faces another surge of COVID-19 cases, this time driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who runs the country's coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that health officials were “optimizing our approaches to quarantine and testing of our citizens, including shortening the quarantine period to seven days.”

Golikova added that other policy changes will be adopted in the coming days, without elaborating. She also didn't explain the rationale for cutting the isolation period. Earlier rules required a two-week isolation period for those who test positive, with a mandatory follow-up test on day 11.

Russia already has by far Europe's worst death toll in the pandemic at over 322,000 deaths by its official tally, a number that other statistics suggest is a significant undercount.

The daily number of coronavirus infections confirmed in Russia has doubled over the past week, going from over 15,000 on Jan. 10 to 31,252 on Tuesday. Officials say the surge could end up as the country's biggest yet but so far haven't announced any major restrictions to stem it.

Anna Popova, the head of Russian public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said last week that new daily cases might reach six figures. President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia has “a couple of weeks” to prepare for the unprecedented wave.

Golikova said Tuesday that 1,682 omicron cases have been officially confirmed in Russia so far, but the actual number is much higher. The new variant is already dominating in Moscow, the outlying region and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, she said.

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BRUSSELS (AP) — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday that she has canceled her in-person appointments at the European Parliament this week after her driver tested positive for COVID-19.

Von der Leyen said she was already in Strasbourg, France, for the plenary when she was told of the news and immediately headed back to European Union headquarters in Brussels.

She faced a heavy program in Strasbourg over the next three days, including attending a solemn remembrance for David Sassoli, the European Parliament president, who died last week. She was also scheduled to have meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and preside over the College of EU Commissioners for their weekly meeting.

“Regretfully, I must therefore cancel my participation” to the legislative session, she tweeted.

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia reported a record high of COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, and its second-largest state declared an emergency in hospitals to cope with surging patient admissions and a staffing shortage due to the coronavirus.

The 74 deaths occurred in its three most populous states. New South Wales reported 36, Victoria reported 22 and Queensland 16. The previous daily record was 59 coronavirus-related deaths on Sept. 4, 2020.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said there were signs that New South Wales’ infection rate was peaking and Victoria was near a plateau.

The New South Wales government has ruled out a return to lockdown to counter the highly contagious omicron variant. In October, Sydney ended a 108-day lockdown because the population of Australia’s most populous city was largely vaccinated.

Another lockdown would have “substantial consequences for men and women right across the state in terms of being able to provide food on the table for their family,” state Premier Domonic Perrottet told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Victoria declared an emergency for hospitals in its state capital, Melbourne, and several regional hospitals from midday Wednesday because of staff shortages and a surge in patient admissions. About 5,000 staff are absent because they are either infected or close contacts.

“We’ve reached a point in our healthcare system where it’s juggling extreme workforce shortages … alongside a vast number of patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization, alongside that an extraordinary workforce that are absolutely exhausted,” Acting Health Minister James Merlino said.

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan's government is preparing social restrictions in Tokyo and other regions as the omicron variant of the coronavirus infects more people.

Japan has never had a lockdown during the pandemic but has focused instead on asking restaurants and bars to close early. Crowds are back in many parts of Japan, with people packing stores and events, while COVID-19 cases jump.

The order will be finalized this week and is likely to take effect Friday for Tokyo and nine other regions, including Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi and Kumamoto, the government spokesman said Tuesday.

An order was issued earlier this month for Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures. Other areas seeing surging infections, such as Osaka, may be added later.

“The infections are rising at an unprecedented speed,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

Worries are growing about infections spreading so quickly that hospital systems may get stretched thin, he said.

He acknowledged additional action may be needed if the numbers of people shoot up, required to undergo quarantine or hospitalization.

About 80% of the Japanese population have received two vaccine shots, but only 1% the booster. The government has promised to speed up boosters, but most people won’t be getting them until after March or later, under the current schedule.

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