Latest Covid news: New BA.2 variant ‘under investigation’ as cases nearly hit 500,000 a day after Christmas

‘Time to be ourselves again’: Taoiseach announces end to Ireland’s Covid restrictions

Health authorities are investigating BA.2, a lineage of the Omicron variant, after finding it has caused hundreds of coronavirus cases in England.

Some 426 cases of the new subvariant have been identified in England, including 146 in London and 97 in the south east, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said. This compares to the previous total of 53 cases detected through January 10.

Unlike the original Omicron variant, which accounts for the majority of cases in the UK, BA.2 lacks the specific mutation that was first used to track it and compare it to Delta last month.

Meanwhile, new data suggests the total number of Covid cases in the week after Christmas was almost triple the official figure recorded on the government’s Covid-19 dashboard.

The government reported an average of 173,400 new cases per day from December 26 to January 1. But the Office for National Statistics estimates the true figure was probably around 479,100 a day.

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How to order free government covid tests online

The website follows Joe Biden’s announcement that the government would purchase half a billion home tests for free distribution to US households.

Americans with private medical insurance plans can also cover the costs of up to eight over-the-counter home tests per month.

Under the plan, beginning Jan. 15, people who provide their insurance information to select network pharmacies will be able to take their tests without having to pay a fee.

You can read the full story below.

Peony HirwaniJanuary 23, 2022 6:25 a.m.


South Korea reports second-highest daily Covid count on record

South Korea has reported its second highest daily number of Covid-19 cases, despite restrictions and vaccination mandates.

The country recorded 7,630 new cases on Saturday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said. It was more than the 7,009 cases reported a day earlier and near the mid-December record of 7,848 infections.

The spike in cases has heightened fears of a widespread outbreak as the country prepares for the Lunar New Year holiday starting this weekend.

South Korea has recorded 733,902 Covid infections and 6,540 deaths so far. Nearly 95% of adults have been fully vaccinated and more than half have received a booster shot.

Peony HirwaniJanuary 23, 2022 06:00


New Zealand PM cancels wedding despite Covid restrictions

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called off her wedding as she tightens Covid-19 restrictions in the country due to the virulent Omicron variant.

“My wedding will not take place,” she said on Sunday. “I have just joined many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like this as a result of the pandemic.

She added, “To anyone caught up in this scenario, I am so sorry. But we’re all so resilient and I know we understand that we’re doing this for each other and that will help keep us going.

Ms Ardern added that the country would try to slow the spread of Omicron, but New Zealand was expected to hit 1,000 cases a day in the coming weeks and thousands a day thereafter.

Peony HirwaniJanuary 23, 2022 05:40


How long is the incubation period for Omicron? How it differs from Delta and other Covid variants

One aspect of the Omicron variant that has become clear over the past few weeks is how it differs from the original Covid strain.

While the World Health Organization estimated that symptoms took between two days and two weeks to materialize in people infected with the first strain of coronavirus, the Omicron variant is thought to incubate much faster, closer to three at five days.

Another feature of Omicron that makes it potentially harder to detect than other strains is that its symptoms differ somewhat from the three main indicators we’ve learned to watch for: cough, fever, and any loss of sense of taste or smell.

Early warning signs of the new variant, on the other hand, include a scratchy throat, lower back pain, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and fatigue, sneezing and night sweats.

Current evidence from Omicron cases analyzed in Britain indicates that patients recover on average within five days to a week, although some of the symptoms such as cough and fatigue may persist for longer.

Shortness of breath has also been reported in more severe cases, which lasted up to 13 days afterwards.

Read the full story below.

Peony HirwaniJanuary 23, 2022 04:55


Everything we know about the new BA.2 strain of Covid-19 “under investigation”

Health chiefs have revealed they are officially monitoring a new version of Covid-19 – which has been dubbed ‘stealth Omicron’.

The UK Health Safety Agency has marked BA.2 as a ‘variant under investigation’ – one level below a ‘variant of concern’ – after early data suggested it may be both more transmissible and better able to evade vaccines than previous strains of the killer virus.

It is a sub-line of the original Omicron – BA.1 – but appears to have some differences which may make it both faster to spread and more difficult to detect.

According to the World Health Organization, it likely now surpasses the previous strain with some 8,000 cases identified in more than 40 countries, including the United States, India, Germany and Australia.

Read the full story below.

Peony HirwaniJanuary 23, 2022 04:10


Covid cases week after Christmas official triple figure, data shows

New cases of Covid-19 in the UK averaged almost half a million a day in the week after Christmas, almost three times the official figures, according to new analysis.

Health agencies have urged caution in interpreting the regular case numbers released each day for the UK, following changes to testing rules.

An average of 173,400 new coronavirus cases per day were recorded from December 26 to January 1, according to the government’s Covid-19 dashboard.

But the true number of cases was likely closer to 479,100 a day, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates.

You can read the full story below.

Peony HirwaniJanuary 23, 2022 3:28 a.m.


Three new studies confirm the evidence for booster protection

Three new studies have added to the evidence that booster vaccines are highly effective in protecting against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The studies, led by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), show that a third dose of an mRNA vaccine – Pfizer and Moderna – provides 90% protection against hospitalization due to the virus.

The findings – among the first to come out of the US on booster doses – support studies carried out in Germany, South Africa and the UK.

Emily AtkinsonJanuary 23, 2022 12:40 a.m.


Japan tops 50,000 daily Covid cases for first time

Japan’s daily total of coronavirus cases has topped 50,000 for the first time as the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly.

Tokyo recorded its fourth record number of consecutive daily Covid-19 cases with 11,227, more than double the 4,561 recorded a week earlier.

Nationwide infections totaled at least 50,200 as nearly 30 of Japan’s 47 prefectures set records, broadcaster FNN reported.

New restrictions have been introduced – the first since September – in an attempt to slow the spread. Restaurants and bars are under curfew in Tokyo and a dozen other parts of the country.

While many Japanese adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, few have received a booster shot, which greatly increases Omicron’s protection.

Emily AtkinsonJanuary 23, 2022 12:00 a.m.


Why does the UK have a higher Covid rate than Europe?

Covid-19 cases in the UK are currently among the highest in Europe and are higher than they were at this time last year when parts of England were under local lockdown.

The vaccine has meant that although the number of cases is high, there are fewer cases of people with serious illnesses needing to be treated in hospital.

However, the more the virus is able to spread, the more likely it is to find a way to break through vaccine defenses.

Eleanor Sly has the details:

Emily AtkinsonJanuary 22, 2022 11:20 p.m.


Pfizer CEO sees annual vaccine as ‘ideal’ alternative to regular booster shots

The Pfizer CEO said he hoped to create a Covid vaccine needed only once a year rather than issuing more frequent booster shots.

When asked if he thought he would foresee that booster shots would be administered on a four to five month basis, Albert Bourla replied: “It will not be a good scenario. What I hope (is) that we will have a vaccine that you have to do once a year.

“Once a year, it’s easier to convince people to do it. It’s easier for people to remember that.

“So from a public health perspective, this is an ideal situation. We’re looking to see if we can create a vaccine that covers Omicron and doesn’t forget the other variants and that might be a solution.

Emily AtkinsonJanuary 22, 2022 10:40 p.m.

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Edward L. Robinett