The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Live Covid updates: Tokyo reports record virus cases; Dutch government eases lockdown

Associated Press Wednesday, 26 January 2022, 06:39 Last update: about 5 months ago

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo on Tuesday reported a record high of COVID-19 cases, as Japan prepared to implement new anti-virus measures amid surging infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

The capital city logged 12,813 new cases, while Japan's No. 2 business district of Osaka also reported a record caseload of 8,612.

Rising infections have begun to disrupt hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.

“We must do everything not to overwhelm the medical systems, so the lives that can be saved will not be lost,” Economy Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of COVID-19 measures, told reporters.

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Nationwide, more than 62,000 virus cases were reported, according to Japanese media, for an accumulated total of about 2.2 million cases and some 18,500 deaths. While indicating a new high of infections, the numbers only reflect recorded COVID-19 cases.

A majority of the country — including Tokyo and other metropolitan areas like Osaka and Kyoto — will be placed under new restrictions from Thursday, with shortened hours for bars and restaurants and curbs on large public events.

The Japanese government has increased hospital capacity for COVID-19 treatment, since last summer when many patients critical patients overflowed from hospitals and died at home, but the country continues to face a shortage of testing capacity.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Prime Minister Mark Rutte further eased the Netherlands' coronavirus lockdown, allowing bars, restaurants, museums, theaters and other venues to reopen from Wednesday for the first time this year.

But Rutte warned that the move wasn't without risks.

“We are taking a big step today to unlock the Netherlands while the infections numbers are really going through the roof,” Rutte said Tuesday.

The announcement wasn't all good news for the beleaguered hospitality and cultural sectors, with the opening hours limited to 10 p.m., while professional sports teams will only be allowed to fill stadiums to a third of their normal capacities.

Soccer clubs and administrators protested the move even before it was officially announced, calling it in a joint statement “a proposal without perspective.”

The relaxation of restrictions follows widespread protests in recent weeks by business owners ranging from the Van Gogh Museum to local cafes at being excluded from am earlier easing of pandemic restrictions.

Infections have spiked in recent weeks because of the omicron variant, despite the lockdown that was tougher than in most of Europe, but admissions to the country's intensive care units have been declining. The national public health institute reported a 51% rise in new COVID-19 cases over the last week to more than 366,000, while ICU admissions dropped by 34%.

“We are taking another risk," Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said. "We are doing that for good reason. Living longer with many restrictive measures damages our health and our society.”

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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria’s health minister on Tuesday urged people to get vaccinated and save hospitals from collapse as the North African nation faces a surge of COVID-19 infections.

Algeria is battling infections from both the delta variant and the highly contagious omicron variant, which now accounts for 60% of COVID-19 infections. On Monday, health officials reported a daily record of 2,215 cases and 13 deaths.

“I urge you to get vaccinated and break the chain of infections which risk bringing our health institutions to their knees,” Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said at a media conference in the capital, Algiers. “For now, the hospitals’ staff are managing. The question is, how long can they hold on?”

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.

The inoculation rate in Algeria remains low. Less than a quarter of the population has had even one vaccine dose despite the government’s robust vaccination campaign in state media and on social networks that includes pro-vaccine posts from famous Algerian actors, singers, athletes and influencers.

Algeria has a stock of vaccines that can largely ensure coverage of vaccination needs for two years, the minister said. Overall, only 13% of Algeria’s 45 million inhabitants, have been inoculated, the minister said. Of eligible adults, only 29% have received two vaccine doses, he said.

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Wednesday began enforcing new COVID-19 response measures, including reduced quarantine periods and expanded rapid testing, as its new cases jumped nearly 50% in a day.

The 13,012 new cases were 4,400 more than the previous single-day high of 8,571 set on Tuesday. It underscores the speed of transmissions driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, which became the country’s dominant strain just last week.

South Korean officials say their early analysis suggests omicron spreads more than twice as fast as the delta variant, which spiked the country’s hospitalizations and fatalities during a devastating winter surge, but is also significantly less likely to cause serious illness or death.

South Korea also has a high vaccination rate. More than 85% of South Korea’s more than 51 million people have been fully vaccinated and more than 50% of the population have received booster shots.

Still, there are concerns that a sudden explosion in infections could possibly overwhelm hospitals and cause disruption at workplaces and essential services by constantly placing huge numbers of people under quarantine.

Starting Wednesday, the quarantine period for virus carriers who test positive after being fully vaccinated was reduced from 10 days to seven days. Fully vaccinated people who come in close contact with virus carriers will no longer be quarantined, but they will be required to report their daily health conditions to health officials before being tested within six or seven days.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian health authorities have shortened the required isolation period for those who come in contact with COVID-19 patients from 14 days to seven, a move that comes as an unprecedented surge of coronavirus infections, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, rips through the vast country.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced the degree Tuesday. It only changes the rules for those who had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, not for those with a confirmed infection. Those who test positive are still required to isolate for 14 days, with a mandatory test on day 10 or 11.

Daily new infections in Russia have been rising sharply for the past two weeks, increasing more than four-fold — from about 15,000 on Jan. 10 to 67,809 on Tuesday, the highest daily tally in the pandemic.

However, according to Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, no significant increase in hospitalizations has been seen. Hospital admissions grew by just 6.4%. A total of 116,000 COVID-19 patients were in Russian hospitals on Tuesday, with about 50,000 other hospital beds across the country unoccupied.

According to Anna Popova, head of Russia's public healthcare watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, 52% of all new infections are being registered in Moscow, the capital's outlying region and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.

The surge in Moscow, which reported nearly 19,000 new cases Tuesday, has put a strain on the city’s outpatient clinics. Social media users have posted long lines of people waiting to see a doctor. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said Tuesday that the influx of patients to outpatient facilities has grown four-fold.

In all, Russia's state coronavirus task force has reported over 11.2 million confirmed cases and 327,448 deaths, by far the largest death toll in Europe. Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, puts the death toll much higher, saying the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

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PRAGUE (AP) — The number of COVID-19 patients in the Czech Republic has begun to grow amid a record surge of infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

According to figures released by Health Ministry, the number of hospitalized jumped to 1,695 on Monday, up from 1,537 the previous day.

It had been declining since Dec 6 when the previous wave, caused by the delta variant, peaked at 7,135 people needing hospital treatment.

The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness, especially for those who have had two vaccinations and a booster.

Anticipating the surge, the Czech government cut isolation restrictions for those testing positive for COVID-19 from 14 days to five, and also similarly shortened quarantine times for close contacts of infected people.

It also has decided to allow workers in health care and nursing homes who have no symptoms of COVID-19 to stay on the job even if they test positive.

The Czech Republic, a European Union nation of 10.7 million people, has seen over 37,000 COVID-19 patients die in the pandemic.

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