The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Live Covid updates: Slovakia imposes restrictions to get ready for omicron

Associated Press Wednesday, 19 January 2022, 07:08 Last update: about 5 months ago

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Council President Charles Michel on Wednesday became the second top-level European Union official who has had to pull out of the bloc’s parliament session because of contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen already canceled her attendance on Monday.

Michel said “I have been informed that I was in close contact with someone who tested positive,” Michel said. “Therefore I will not be able to attend” the parliamentary session, where he was to brief legislators on the EU summit in December and issues like the pandemic and the standoff in Ukraine.

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He didn't provide details. Von der Leyen canceled her in-person appointments at the European Parliament after her driver tested positive for COVID-19.

Both were supposed to be in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday, as President Emmanuel Macron would address the plenary on the plans during France's tenure of the EU presidency, which runs through June.

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BERLIN (AP) — Police in Germany are investigating thousands of cases of suspected forgery of coronavirus vaccine certificates, the dpa news agency reported Wednesday.

It cited figures obtained from the country's 16 states showing more than 12,000 police investigations have been opened nationwide.

Dpa reported that the number of probes surged in December, after authorities announced new restrictions that largely locked unvaccinated people out of public life.

Those who supply or use fake certificates could face severe penalties, from fines and suspended prison sentences to losing their jobs.

Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation in one case after a woman used a fake vaccine certificate to continue working at a nursing home, despite having family members ill with COVID-19 at home.

Germany's parliament is expected to begin debating a universal vaccine mandate in the coming months, though government officials acknowledge the measure is unlikely to take effect for several months.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia on Wednesday limited access to what the government considers the most risky events and public gatherings as the country gets ready for the highly infectious omicron coronavirus variant.

To attend weddings, parties, discotheques and other venues like wellness and swimming centers, people need to receive a booster shot, or be vaccinated with two shots and additionally get tested for or be recovered from COVID-19.

The number of people at those events and venues will be limited. All bars, restaurants and various services will also have to be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to studies. Omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

Slovak authorities have been expecting the omicron variant to become dominant in January after delta caused a record surge in infections late last year.

In the nation of 5.5 million, more than 2.6 million people are considered fully vaccinated while almost 1.3 million have received a booster shot.

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NEW YORK (AP) - The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are climbing and modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March.

The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on Jan. 17 — still below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents started rising slightly two weeks ago, although still at a rate 10 times less than last year before most residents were vaccinated.

Despite signs omicron causes milder disease on average, the unprecedented level of infection spreading through the country, with cases still soaring in many states, means many vulnerable people will become severely sick. If the higher end of projections comes to pass, that would push total U.S. deaths from COVID-19 over 1 million by early spring.

“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible omicron has been,” said University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi. “It unfortunately is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Morgues are starting to run out of space in Johnson County, Kansas, said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the health department. More than 30 residents have died in the county this year, the vast majority of them unvaccinated.

But the notion that a generally less severe variant could still take the lives of thousands of people has been difficult for health experts to convey. The math of it — that a small percentage of a very high number of infections can yield a very high number of deaths — is difficult to visualize.

“Overall, you’re going to see more sick people even if you as an individual have a lower chance of being sick,” said Katriona Shea of Pennsylvania State University, who co-leads a team that pulls together several pandemic models and shares the combined projections with the White House.

The wave of deaths heading for the United States will crest in late January or early February, Shea said. In early February, weekly deaths could equal or exceed the delta peak, and possibly even surpass the previous U.S. peak in deaths last year.

Some unknown portion of these deaths are among people infected with the delta variant, but experts say omicron is also claiming lives.

“This is omicron driven,” Shea said of the coming wave of deaths. The combined models project 1.5 million Americans will be hospitalized and 191,000 will die from mid-December through mid-March. Taking into account the uncertainty in the models, U.S. deaths during the omicron wave could range from 58,000 to 305,000.

Yet, it's become increasingly clear that the risk from omicron is lower than from previous variants. New evidence from nearly 70,000 patients in Southern California suggests omicron is causing milder illness than delta.

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TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese government will place Tokyo and a dozen other areas under new restrictions for COVID-19 effective Friday, allowing local leaders to shorten hours for eateries, as a surge in omicron cases threatens to paralyze society.

A government-commissioned experts’ panel on Wednesday approved a plan to put the 13 areas under a three-week restraint through Feb. 13, said Economy Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of virus measures.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to officially announce the new measures at a government taskforce meeting later Wednesday.

Japan has so far resisted the use of lockdowns to fight the pandemic and instead has focused on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol, and asking the public to wear masks and practice social distancing, as the government seeks to minimize damage to the economy.

Japan had been gradually expanding social and business activity since an earlier wave of infections subsided in September, which experts say was largely due to the country’s rapid progress in rolling out the initial two doses of vaccines.

But experts say breakthrough infections by the omicron variant are more common. The fast-spreading variant has caused a number of medical workers and others to self-isolate after testing positive or coming into close contact with someone who has. Sharply rising infections have already begun to paralyze hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.

The national government is taking action following requests by local governors, including Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who raised alarms about the possibility of essential public services, such as public transportation and garbage collection, grinding to a halt.

Tokyo reported 5,185 new infections Tuesday. Nationwide, Japan has logged more than 32,000 cases, bringing its total to 1.93 million cases, with 184,00 deaths.

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican secretary of state and his deputy have both tested positive for the coronavirus, Vatican officials said Tuesday.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who serves as the Vatican's secretary of state and the pope's No. 2, has “very light” symptoms, while Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra is asymptomatic, officials said.

There was no immediate comment on their last contact with Pope Francis. It wasn't clear if Francis has received a booster shot, which has been administered to his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

These are the first cases of COVID-19 confirmed so high up in the Vatican hierarchy since the pandemic began.

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