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WHO warns pandemic is ‘far from over’

The World Health Organization has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over as France, Germany and Brazil have posted new infection records in the past 24 hours.

The highly transmissible strain of Omicron has spread relentlessly around the world, prompting some governments to impose new measures while accelerating the rollout of vaccine boosters.

“This pandemic is far from over,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva yesterday.

Europe is at the epicenter of alarming new outbreaks, with the number of cases in Germany topping 100,000 and France reporting nearly half a million cases.

The UN health chief has warned against rejecting Omicron as mild as the dominant strain of Covid continues to spark new outbreaks from Latin America to East Asia after being first detected in southern Africa in November.

“Omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it’s a mild illness is misleading,” he said.

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Five million cases were reported in Europe last week and the WHO predicted Omicron could infect half of all Europeans by March, filling hospitals across the continent.

Germany has recorded 112,323 coronavirus cases and 239 deaths, officials said, with Omicron present in more than 70% of infections.

The surge has prompted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to call for mandatory vaccinations to boost population immunity in Europe’s biggest economy.

Other European countries are also battling soaring Omicron levels, with neighboring France recently recording an average of around 300,000 cases a day.

The latest data released by Public Health France showed there were 464,769 new cases in the past 24 hours, a record number.

The record cases come days after the second anniversary of the announcement of the first person to die from a virus in China later identified as Covid.

Since January 11, 2020, the number of known deaths in the pandemic has climbed to over 5.5 million.

Hopes for a recovery in tourism in Europe remain bleak, with the World Tourism Organization saying foreign arrivals will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest, despite a 19% increase last year from to 2020.

Elsewhere in the world, Brazil yesterday recorded a new record number of daily cases of more than 137,000.

The country suffered a devastating second wave last year with more than 4,000 deaths a day, raising its death toll to the second highest in the world behind the United States.

President Jair Bolsonaro, an outspoken vaccine skeptic who has downplayed Omicron, is coming under increasing criticism for his handling of the pandemic, and he is set to lose the country’s October presidential election, polls show. .

In Asia, Japan was set to tighten restrictions across the country, including in Tokyo, as it battles record infections fueled by Omicron while China partially eased travel restrictions in the megacity of Xi’an where millions of people have been confined to their homes for weeks.

Japanese experts have backed placing 13 regions “under near-emergency measures from Jan. 21 to Feb. 13”, Daishiro Yamagiwa, minister in charge of coronavirus affairs, told reporters.

China’s resumption of some intercity rail links in Xi’an from Tuesday comes just ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday later this month, traditionally a time of mass travel.

It also comes as Beijing battles several clusters testing its application of a strict “zero-Covid” approach ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics.

Attention is increasingly turning to animals and how the virus interacts with them, after at least two countries reported cases of Covid-19 in creatures large and small potentially passed between them and humans .

A study published in South Africa said caged big cats in zoos were at risk of catching Covid from their keepers.

Researchers have found evidence of three lions and two pumas being infected by their handlers at a Johannesburg zoo, some of whom were asymptomatic.

In Hong Kong, hamsters were bearing the brunt of the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s equally strict approach to Covid, with authorities appearing to blame them for two human cases.

The financial hub government has faced growing outrage over its decision to cull 2,000 small animals in pet shops after several hamsters in a store allegedly tested positive for Covid-19.

“Internationally, there is no evidence yet to show that pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans,” Health Secretary Sophia Chan told a news conference.

“But…we will take precautionary measures against any vector of transmission.”