New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out

New Zealand embarked on an all-out effort to get people vaccinated including a televised “Vaxathon” festival on Saturday which saw a record 130,000 people getting shots. (New Zealand Herald via AP)
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Updated 19 October 2021

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out

  • Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago

WELLINGTON: New Zealand counted its most new coronavirus cases of the pandemic Tuesday as an outbreak in its largest city grew and officials urged vaccinations as a way out of Auckland’s two-month lockdown.
Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago. Most of the new cases were in Auckland, but seven were found in the nearby Waikato district.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said lockdown rule-breakers were contributing to the spread of infections and noted that many of the new cases had been detected among younger people.
“I know the highs and lows of cases is incredibly hard on people, particularly those in Tamaki Makaurau,” Ardern said, using the Indigenous Maori name for Auckland. “I just wanted to reinforce again that we’re not powerless. We do have the ability to keep cases as low as we can.”
New Zealand had successfully eliminated earlier outbreaks by imposing tough border controls and strict lockdowns, as well as aggressive contact-tracing and isolating those who were infectious. But the approach failed against the more transmissible delta variant. The government has since eased some of Auckland’s lockdown rules, allowing more people to return to work.
Ardern has also embarked on an all-out effort to get people vaccinated. That’s included a televised “Vaxathon” festival on Saturday which saw a record 130,000 people getting shots, more than 2 percent of the New Zealand’s population of 5 million.
Ardern has promised to outline a path out of lockdown for Auckland based on vaccination numbers.
The government has previously talked about the importance of getting 90 percent of people aged 12 and over fully vaccinated, including a high proportion of Maori, who have been particularly hard hit by the outbreak.
But that goal remains some distance away, with 85 percent of eligible people having had at least one dose and 67 percent fully vaccinated. The numbers are lower among Maori.
Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, said he was concerned that contact tracers in Auckland would soon become overwhelmed. He said lawmakers needed to consider temporarily reimposing stricter lockdown rules as a circuit breaker.
“There are burning embers all over the city,” Baker said. “They have lifted the wet blanket of the strong lockdown, and people are getting lockdown fatigue.”
Baker said he thought it was possible for the government to continue eliminating the outbreak outside of Auckland, provided it kept in place strict border controls around the city.
He said the most important goal in any reopening would be to ensure the health system was not overrun.
Health officials on Tuesday also said they had authorized people with weakened immune systems to get a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine and were recommending they do so.


Nine confirmed COVID-19 cases of Omicron variant currently on mainland France

Updated 3 sec ago

Nine confirmed COVID-19 cases of Omicron variant currently on mainland France

PARIS: The French Health Ministry said there were currently nine confirmed cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on mainland France, which, according to the government’s top scientific adviser, could become dominant strain of the virus in the country by the end of January.

Malaysia detects first omicron case in quarantined traveler from South Africa

Updated 03 December 2021

Malaysia detects first omicron case in quarantined traveler from South Africa

  • The 19-year-old woman was asymptomatic and had been vaccinated
  • Five other people who shared a vehicle with her prior to her quarantine all tested negative

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a foreign student who was quarantined after arrival from South Africa two weeks ago, its health minister said on Friday.
Authorities had re-tested earlier positive samples after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 24, minister Khairy Jamaluddin said.
The 19-year-old woman, who was asymptomatic and had been vaccinated, had tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Malaysia, via Singapore, and was quarantined for 10 days before being released on Nov. 29, Khairy said.
Five other people who shared a vehicle with her prior to her quarantine all tested negative.
Authorities, however, have asked the student along with eight close contacts to undergo further testing after her earlier test samples were confirmed to be the new variant, Khairy added.
An increasing number of countries are reporting cases of the omicron variant, which the WHO has said carries a very high risk of causing surges of infection.
Neighbouring Singapore confirmed two imported cases on Thursday.
This week, Malaysia temporarily banned the entry of travelers from eight southern African countries that have reported the presence of the variant or are considered high-risk.
On Friday, Khairy said Malaysia would immediately imposed further restrictions, including additional tests for vaccinated travelers from Singapore, who are allowed to enter Malaysia without quarantine.


Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword – police

Updated 03 December 2021

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword – police

  • A police spokeswoman said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related

PARIS: A man dressed like a ninja attacked and wounded two policewomen with a sword in Cherbourg in northwestern France on Thursday before being shot and captured, a police spokeswoman said.
She said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related.
She said the attacker had stolen a vehicle and caused an accident, after which he assaulted two policewomen who had been called to the scene, wounding one in the face and the other in the chin.
The assailant — dressed in black in the style of traditional Japanese ninja fighters — was shot three times by the officers and was flown to hospital by helicopter in serious condition.
The attack happened around 3:45 p.m. (1445 GMT) near a gas station of the Leclerc supermarket chain.
The name and nationality of the attacker were not immediately known.


Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Updated 02 December 2021

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

  • Measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded
  • “The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues.
And parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate as part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.
Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity.”
She said officials also agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year — an effort that will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.
Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. She said parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.
If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.
About 68.7 percent of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.
There have been large protests against pandemic measures in the past in Germany and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, though opinion polls show most Germans are in favor.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, has also backed a general vaccine mandate, but favors letting lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than party lines.
“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we wouldn’t be discussing this now,”he said.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken. Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany because of a shortage of intensive care beds.
Agreeing what measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure — with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations — and the ongoing transition at the federal level.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 newly confirmed cases Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.
To reduce the pressure on hospitals over the festive period, the sale of fireworks traditionally set off during New Year’s in Germany will be banned. Each year, hospitals treat hundreds of people with serious injuries because of mishandled fireworks.
The new measures will take effect once Germany’s 16 states incorporate them into existing rules, likely in the coming days.


Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Updated 02 December 2021

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

  • “More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” said Oslo Municipality
  • The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group

COPENHAGEN: At least 50 people in and around Norway’s capital have been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant and the cases are connected to a Norwegian company’s Christmas party in an Oslo restaurant, officials said Thursday.
“More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” the Oslo Municipality said in a statement.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that those affected live in Oslo and surrounding municipalities, and “the infection detection team in Oslo has contacted the municipalities concerned to start infection detection.”
The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group, adding that overall “more than 50 cases” have been recorded in Norway. The country’s first two cases were announced Monday.
On Wednesday the city of Oslo urged people who visited two restaurants in the capital to be tested. One reportedly was where the Christmas party was held.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.
It is customary in Scandinavia for companies, associations and individuals to hold Christmas parties in the weeks leading up to Christmas eve.