WHO warns of Omicron ‘tidal wave’ in eastern Europe

 Wednesday, February 16, 2022 


The WHO’s European office has called for increased vaccination efforts in Eastern Europe, warning that the Omicron “tidal wave” was heading eastwards.

The World Health Organization’s regional director, Hans Kluge, noted that in the last two weeks, COVID-19 cases had more than doubled in six countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.

As anticipated, the Omicron wave is moving east. Ten eastern member states have now detected this variant, Dr Kluge said.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries, including several in central Asia.

Dr Kluge said vaccine uptake was still relatively slow in parts of the region.

Less than 40% of over-60s have complete their COVID-19 vaccine series in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

He added that in Bulgaria, Georgia and North Macedonia under 40% of health care workers had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

These measures include avoiding crowded locations, wearing masks indoors, improving ventilation and using rapid tests to identify cases early, Dr Kluge added.

Dutch to go ‘back to normal’ with end to most COVID-19 curbs. The Netherlands will lift almost all anti-COVID restrictions by 25 February and return to normal life as cases and hospitalisations fall, the health minister said today.

Bars, restaurants and nightclubs will go back to pre-pandemic opening hours while social distancing and face masks will no longer be obligatory in most places.

The Dutch government had imposed some of Europe’s toughest restrictions in December after a surge in Omicron cases but has been lifting them in stages.

Ottawa police chief resigns as truckers harden their stance

Canadian officials have today tried to bring an end to weeks of trucker-led protests that have paralyzed the capital Ottawa and affected vital border crossings with the United States.

Truckers in Ottawa have hardened their stance, moving big rigs into positions that could be more difficult to dislodge and posting signs on their vehicles that read: “Hold the line”.

Canada’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” started with truckers protesting against mandatory vaccines to cross the border with the United States.

But its demands grew to include an end to all COVID-19 health measures and, for many of the protesters pushing a wider anti-establishment agenda, the toppling of Trudeau’s Liberal government.

With authorities poised to act, Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly abruptly resigned, a city councillor said.

Mr Sloly had been facing intense criticism from politicians and residents over a failure to dislodge the protesters. He had said repeatedly that he lacked the resources to do so safely.

Hong Kong leader rules out China-style lockdown as virus spreads

Hong Kong’s leader has said she would not impose a mainland China-style hard lockdown as the city faces its worst coronavirus wave to date, even as she vowed no switch to living with COVID-19.

The comments came as hospitals began to buckle under the strain of rising infections with at least two medical facilities placing patients in beds outside their entrances.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam ruled out that approach.

But she also rejected calls from some public health experts and business figures to switch to a mitigation strategy saying zero-Covid remained her administration’s goal.

For more than two years, Hong Kong has followed China’s strategy, pursuing zero virus cases with largely closed borders, lengthy quarantines, contact tracing and stringent social distancing laws.

But the new wave fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron virus variant has battered the city’s capacity for testing, quarantine and treatment, and is testing the policy like never before.

More than 2,000 new daily infections were reported Monday, and the figure hovered over 1,000 for much of the last week.

Local researchers have warned that new daily cases could exceed 28,000 a day by March.

Philippines now at ‘low risk’ from coronavirus: government

The Philippines is now at “low risk” from the coronavirus pandemic as more people get vaccinated and hospital admissions drop, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman has said.

The country last week reopened to foreign tourists for the first time in two years, though some health restrictions remain as campaigning for the 9 May elections starts, with political rallies seen as potential superspreader events.

Cases have averaged about 3,600 daily in the past week as the number of fully vaccinated people climbed to around 56 percent of the population, health officials said.

After lengthy lockdowns which ravaged the economy and put millions out of work, the government is now planning for a lifting of all restrictions, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters without giving a time frame.

Papua New Guinea to reopen borders shut by COVID

Papua New Guinea will reopen to vaccinated travellers from tomorrow, ending two years of strict border closures that virtually sealed the Melanesian nation off from neighbours.

The country’s pandemic controller David Manning said he had revoked rules requiring approval to enter the country and mandatory quarantine.

The rules had hampered production at some of the country’s largest copper and gold mines and caused diplomatic spats – most notably with India and China, who were accused of bypassing rules to bring citizens into the country.

Some domestic restrictions will remain – including compulsory mask-wearing in markets, shops, on public transport and places of worship, as well as a 100-person limit on gatherings.

But religious and cultural gatherings that are vital to many Papua New Guineans’ lives are exempt.

The moves mark a new phase in the pandemic for a country that has often struggled to cope with high case numbers.

Papua New Guinea has officially recorded 37,390 COVID-19 cases in a country of nine million people.

But testing and tracing are minimal and the real number is believed to be in the millions.

Hospitals have repeatedly been overwhelmed, a major sports centre had to be transformed into a field hospital and mass burials were approved.

About 4% of the population has been vaccinated.

Prime Minister James Marape recently returned home from Beijing after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis scuppered plans for face-to-face meetings with Chinese leaders.

Mongolia reopens borders for vaccinated travellers

Mongolia has reopened its borders to fully vaccinated international travellers, state media reported, rolling back coronavirus curbs that had kept the country isolated for two years.

The nation has implemented some of the world’s toughest anti-Covid measures since the start of the pandemic, largely sealing off its borders and imposing several lockdowns.

The curbs have battered its economy as businesses closed, exports plunged and hundreds of thousands faced precarious employment.

Mongolia’s cabinet approved a resolution downgrading the pandemic “state of readiness” from orange to yellow, effectively lifting all restrictions on business operations, state news agency reported yesterday.

The move means the country of three million “fully opens its borders to international travel”, Prime Minister Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene said.

Declaring Mongolia open to fully jabbed tourists and investors, he reportedly said the government would put efforts into creating the necessary conditions to ensure safety for all those arriving in the country for business and tourism purposes.

An aggressive COVID-19 vaccination campaign has since helped turn the tide, with 92% of Mongolian adults now fully inoculated and more than half in targeted groups having received a booster.

Mongolia has recorded 885,000 coronavirus cases and more than 2,000 deaths during the pandemic, according to World Health Organization data.

The border reopening follows the easing of restrictions last month under the orange and yellow readiness levels.

Official advisories on wearing face masks, social distancing and hand sanitising remain in place.

Vietnam eyes full reopening to tourists from next month

Vietnam’s tourism ministry has proposed a full reopening of the country to foreign visitors and a lifting of nearly all travel restrictions from 15 March, three months earlier than planned.

The proposal, which will be submitted to the prime minister for approval, follows similar reopening steps taken by other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and the Philippines, where the Omicron COVID-19 variant has caused a recent spike in new infections, but fewer hospitalisations and deaths than previous variants.

The proposal includes maintaining a one-day quarantine requirement for visitors plus requiring negative COVID-19 tests before departure and on arrival.

Vietnam announced a record 31,814 new coronavirus cases today, adding to the more than 2.54 million infections so far. It has recorded about 39,000 deaths overall.

Foreign arrivals fell to 157,000 last year, compared with 18 million in 2019.

Vietnam has since November allowed foreign tourists to visit designated places under a vaccine passport programme and had originally aimed to fully reopen the industry from June.

Nearly 77% of its 98 million population has been vaccinated, according to official data, one of the region’s highest rates.

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