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Omicron strains marijuana industry supply chain; Massachusetts Legislature moving $55 million COVID bill

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 1 hr ago Globe staff
Doctors treat COVID-19 patients connected to ventilators at the hospital of the Ministry of Interior and Administration in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. Poland’s doctors and medics are expecting huge strain on the health care system from the rising 5th wave of COVID-19 infections. © Czarek Sokolowski Doctors treat COVID-19 patients connected to ventilators at the hospital of the Ministry of Interior and Administration in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. Poland’s doctors and medics are expecting huge strain on the health care system from the rising 5th wave of COVID-19 infections.

COVID-19 cases have sharply risen again across the US and around the world, with the new Omicron variant accounting for most new cases. The winter surge has prompted many experts and officials to reemphasize the importance of masking indoors and social distancing, in addition to getting vaccinated, including booster shots.

Below, we’re gathering all the latest news and updates on coronavirus in New England and beyond.

  Jan. 19, 2022  

Dr. Rochelle Walensky defends her CDC tenure: ‘We’re making decisions in imperfect times’ — 11:40 p.m.

By Jess Bidgood, Globe Staff

Dr. Rochelle Walensky forcefully defended her bumpy CDC tenure in a Globe interview this week, describing her critics as “naysayers” who have helped sow the public confusion she has been accused of creating and pointing out that many Americans are still not following her agency’s most basic guidance.

Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she was committed to doing better but acknowledged few specific mistakes in her or her agency’s handling of the pandemic, even though she has faced criticism in recent weeks from public health experts and scientists for decisions on issues like testing and masks, and the way she has communicated them.

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Omicron is a bigger risk for the young, medical data shows — 10:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The Omicron variant may be more dangerous for children than earlier coronavirus strains, a study of hospitalization data from one of South Africa’s biggest medical insurance programs showed.

Data from the 56,164 COVID-19-related hospital admissions among the more than 2 million beneficiaries of the Government Employees Medical Scheme found that the admission rate for children under the age of four was 49 percent higher during the Omicron wave than for Delta. It was also higher than during the infection surges driven by the original virus and the beta variant, according to the data analyzed by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

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Ginkgo acquires Project Beacon, consolidating COVID testing efforts in Mass. — 8:29 a.m.

By Anissa Gardizy, Globe Staff

Two of the state’s major COVID-19 testing players are combining their efforts.

Ginkgo Bioworks said Wednesday that it acquired Project Beacon, a joint venture by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and venture capital firms F-Prime Capital and GV, which began in the early days of the pandemic to increase testing capacity in Massachusetts. Ginkgo will combine Project Beacon with its own testing business, called Concentric.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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WHO counts 18 million virus cases last week as Omicron slows — 6:21 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The number of new coronavirus cases globally rose by 20% last week to more than 18 million, marking a slowdown in the surge caused by the omicron variant’s spread, according to the World Health Organization.

In its weekly report on the pandemic, the U.N. health agency said the number of new COVID-19 infections increased in every world region except for Africa, where cases fell by nearly a third. The number of deaths globally remained similar to the previous week, at about 45,000.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped by about 50% the week before last, and earlier this month, WHO reported the biggest single-week increase in cases of the pandemic.

WHO said in its report issued late Tuesday that Southeast Asia had the biggest rise in coronavirus cases last week, with the number of newly infected people spiking by 145%. The Middle East saw a 68% weekly rise.

The smallest increases were noted in the Americas and Europe, at 17% and 10% respectively. Scientists said last week there were early signs in the U.S. and Britain that omicron-driven outbreaks may have peaked in those countries and that cases could soon fall off sharply.

Slovakia imposes COVID restrictions to get ready for Omicron — 5:51 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Slovakia on Wednesday limited access to what the government considers the most risky events and public gatherings as the country gets ready for the highly infectious omicron coronavirus variant.

To attend weddings, parties, discotheques and other venues like wellness and swimming centers, people need to receive a booster shot, or be vaccinated with two shots and additionally get tested for or be recovered from COVID-19.

The number of people at those events and venues will be limited. All bars, restaurants and various services will also have to be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week — 5:36 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.

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Beijing residents disappointed Olympics will be closed event — 4:24 a.m.

By The Associated Press

With just over two weeks before the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, residents of the Chinese capital say they’re disappointed at not being able to attend events because of coronavirus restrictions that have seen parts of the city placed under lockdown.

Organizers announced Monday that no tickets will be sold to the general public and only selected spectators will be allowed. Access to the famed National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, and indoor venues in the heart of Beijing have been sealed off.

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Report: German police see surge in fake vaccine certificates — 3:57 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Police in Germany are investigating thousands of cases of suspected forgery of coronavirus vaccine certificates, the dpa news agency reported Wednesday.

It cited figures obtained from the country’s 16 states showing more than 12,000 police investigations have been opened nationwide.

Dpa reported that the number of probes surged in December, after authorities announced new restrictions that largely locked unvaccinated people out of public life.

Those who supply or use fake certificates could face severe penalties, from fines and suspended prison sentences to losing their jobs.

Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation in one case after a woman used a fake vaccine certificate to continue working at a nursing home, despite having family members ill with COVID-19 at home.

Germany’s parliament is expected to begin debating a universal vaccine mandate in the coming months, though government officials acknowledge the measure is unlikely to take effect for several months.

Almost 73% of the German population have received a full course of vaccines against COVID-19, while nearly 48 % have had an additional booster shot.

Germany saw a new record number of confirmed cases Wednesday. The country’s disease control agency reported 112,323 new infections in the past 24 hours, and 239 COVID-related deaths.

Japan widens COVID curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge — 1:12 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Japanese government will place Tokyo and a dozen other areas under new restrictions for COVID-19 effective Friday, allowing local leaders to shorten hours for eateries, as a surge in omicron cases threatens to paralyze society.

A government-commissioned experts’ panel on Wednesday approved a plan to put the 13 areas under a three-week restraint through Feb. 13, said Economy Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of virus measures.

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Worker absences in U.K. fall in sign of Omicron wave ebbing away — 12:26 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Omicron’s grip on the U.K. economy is weakening, with falling COVID-19 case numbers mirrored by a drop in worker absences during the second week of January.

The estimated number of people missing work in the U.K. from Jan. 10 through Jan. 16 stood at almost 2.7 million, a 3 percent decrease from a year earlier and down from 3.1 million in the first week of this year, according to data from GoodShape, which tracks work-related illness and wellbeing at U.K. employers.

The lower level of absence meant the U.K. economy lost 112 million pounds ($152 million) less compared to the same period in 2021, GoodShape estimates showed.

The figures are fresh evidence that the impact of Omicron infections is easing, following a sharp drop in case numbers and early signs of a decline in the numbers of Covid-19 hospitalizations. The U.K. reported 94,432 positive cases on Tuesday, down from a peak of 218,724 on Jan. 4. Bloomberg’s Pret Index also shows signs of business activity returning.

Almost 40 percent of people missing work were absent because of medical infections, including Covid-19, down from over a half in the first week of January, GoodShape said. At the same time, just 13% were on leave for non-medical reasons, such as self-isolation.

  Jan. 18, 2022  

Germany’s new daily COVID-19 cases top 100,000 for first time — 10:28 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Germany joined countries like the U.K., France and Italy in recording more than 100,000 new COVID-19 infections on one day, adding to evidence that the highly contagious Omicron variant is spreading fast across Europe’s largest economy.

Another 112,323 infections were registered after 74,405 on the previous day, according to data published Wednesday by Germany’s public-health institute RKI.

Germany has tightened restrictions on access to restaurants and cafes and pledged to accelerate vaccinations to fight the rapidly spreading Omicron strain. But policy makers have signaled additional measures might be needed and the country’s parliament prepares to discuss introducing mandatory vaccinations. The new government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz has refrained so far from resorting to sweeping lockdown measures like shuttering businesses and schools again.

The seven-day incidence rate was 584.4 per 100,000 people.

The federal government and state leaders agreed recently to allow people to test out of quarantine after one week instead of the current 14 days to avert staff shortages in critical services, while people with a booster shot will be exempt from having to isolate. They made an “urgent recommendation” for wearing particle-filtering FFP-2 masks in stores and on public transport.

Authorities will meet again on Jan. 24.

New Zealand could again delay border reopening due to Omicron — 10:06 p.m.

By Bloomberg

New Zealand is reviewing whether to begin a phased reopening of its border next month as it rushes to administer booster vaccination shots before the Omicron variant of coronavirus takes hold in the community.

“We want to give New Zealanders time to get their boosters,” COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters Wednesday in New Plymouth. “We will be moving to a self-isolation model, the question is exactly what the date is.”

The government has already pushed back the border reopening once, moving the start date from mid-January to the end of February amid fears the highly contagious Omicron strain will run rampant through the population as it has done in neighboring Australia. While 93% of people aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, booster shots that provide greater protection against Omicron were only made available this month.

The border has been closed to non-residents since March 2020, squeezing the supply of foreign labor to key export industries such as dairy and fruit farming.

Website for free virus tests is here. How does it work? — 9:26 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Under criticism after weeks of shortages, President Joe Biden’s administration is working to make COVID-19 rapid test kits more available and accessible to Americans by boosting supply and lowering costs. A new federal website to request free test kits officially launches Wednesday — but was available to use Tuesday — with the first shipments going out to US households by the end of the month. In addition, most Americans are now able to get reimbursed for tests that they purchase.

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Tensions rise as Mass. changes school COVID measures for ‘current state of pandemic’ — 8:58 p.m.

By Jenna Russell and Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

In the midst of the latest surge of COVID-19, an unlikely trend is taking shape in public schools in Massachusetts: a shift away from the most comprehensive virus mitigation measures, and from those straining the limits of school resources.

A vocal contingent of experts say the time has come for schools to prioritize pre-pandemic routines over arduous measures to contain an illness that has, so far, caused few children serious symptoms. And schools have begun to change their practices.

On Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker announced schools can stop contact-tracing — the time-consuming work of identifying and notifying all close contacts of infected students — to ease the burden on staff, as long as they join a new state initiative that offers weekly rapid tests to willing students and staff. The move puts Massachusetts in line with Vermont and Connecticut, which also recently relaxed school contact-tracing efforts.

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‘Come to work with COVID’ demand stirs union anger in Australia — 7:52 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Australian workplaces have been put on notice by more than 30 unions to ramp up COVID-19 safety measures as businesses find increasingly risky solutions to cope with mass staff absences.

Unions are demanding better protection from the virus and free rapid antigen tests for employees, sparked by mounting anger surrounding a South Australia abattoir that told workers they should still come to work even if infected with the virus, unless their symptoms rendered them too unwell.

The case has become a flashpoint for unions, with many industries facing worker shortages as staff are struck down with COVID or forced to isolate as the country endures its worst wave of cases yet. Australia’s government is determined to avoid further lockdowns and keep the economy open despite record hospitalizations and rising death numbers.

“Essential workers are being expected to put themselves in harm’s way to keep the country going and in many cases without the protections they need,” the Australian Council of Trade Unions said in a statement Tuesday after a meeting of leaders of national unions.

Mass. reports 56,489 coronavirus cases and 47 deaths, in first report since Friday — 5:25 p.m.

By Globe Staff

In its first COVID-19 data report since Friday, Massachusetts on Tuesday reported 56,489 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 114,096 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 47 new confirmed deaths.

The data reported on Tuesday also contains some data from Thursday after network connectivity issues affected state agencies and a “substantial percentage” of results were not reported, the department said.

The state also reported that 3,192 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. On Tuesday, the seven-day percent positivity was 17.44 percent.

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Justice Gorsuch reportedly refused to wear mask during Supreme Court arguments — 4:37 p.m.

By Christina Prignano, Globe Staff

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch reportedly refused to wear a mask when the group gathered to hear arguments earlier this month for the first time since the Omicron surge swept across the United States over the holidays.

NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported that Chief Justice John Roberts “in some form asked the other justices to mask up,” reportedly in response to concerns raised by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes and is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 as a result.

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Grammy Awards move to April in Las Vegas — 4:19 p.m.

By The New York Times

The 64th annual Grammy Awards will take place on April 3 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the show’s organizers announced on Tuesday.

The Grammys, the music industry’s most high-profile media moment, had been scheduled for Jan. 31 in Los Angeles. Earlier this month the ceremonies were postponed amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, while organizers searched for a venue that could accommodate the show, which often requires more than a week of rehearsals and other setup.

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Mexico City’s hospital occupancy rate has doubled in two weeks — 4:02 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Hospital occupancy rates are shooting up fast in Mexico City as Omicron, the highly contagious COVID-19 variant, tears through the country, setting new daily records for infections.

Since Jan. 3, occupancy levels have doubled to 58 percent, according to a federal data base for public hospital availability that samples about one fifth of all hospitals. A total of 1,441 people were hospitalized in the city as of Monday, nearly a fourfold increase from the 383 patients in public and private hospitals across at the start of the year, according to Mexico City data.

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Experts say the world needs to be vaccinated to end pandemic — 3:42 p.m.

By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff

Ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are fairly distributed across the world is the key to ending the public health emergency caused by the pandemic, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday.

“There is no way out of this pandemic right now without vaccines as the central strategic pillar. Being able to use those vaccines equitably is not only a fair and important humanitarian objective, it is the best way for us all to get out of the pandemic phase that we’re currently in right now,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program.

The WHO has called previously for all countries to achieve at least a 70 percent vaccination rate.

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Omicron hasn’t peaked in US, surgeon general says, warning that ‘next few weeks will be tough’ — 2:48 p.m.

By The Washington Post

The United States has not yet reached a national peak of the Omicron variant, the nation’s top doctor said, urging caution even as the explosion of cases has started to plateau in some areas.

“We shouldn’t expect a national peak in the next coming days - the next few weeks will be tough,” US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said Sunday on CNN.

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Mass. relaxes contact tracing in schools that offer rapid tests to students and staff — 1:59 p.m.

By Travis Andersen and Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker announced Tuesday his administration would allow schools to stop “test-and-stay” and contact-tracing efforts if they join a new state initiative offering weekly rapid at-home COVID-19 tests to staffers and students.

The move, which was praised by school leaders and the state’s largest teachers’ union, was aimed at relieving overburdened school nurses and other employees at a time of high COVID cases and data showing low spread in schools. State education leaders credited the test-and-stay program, which administered rapid tests to students and staff exposed to COVID at school to avoid quarantine, with saving more than half-a-million days of in-person learning.

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Massachusetts Legislature moving $55 million COVID bill — 1:37 p.m.

By Emma Platoff, Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Legislature is moving forward with a bill to move this year’s primary election date to Sept. 6 and allocate $55 million for COVID-19 spending needs, as the state battles a surge of cases driven by the Omicron variant.

The bill was approved Tuesday by the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is expected to be considered by the full chamber on Wednesday and the state Senate next week. It would put tens of millions of dollars toward COVID-19 spending needs, including $30 million to boost testing resources and $25 million to purchase and distribute high-quality masks like N95s and KN95s for children and school staff.

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White House soft-launches COVID-19 test request website — 1:30 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The Biden administration on Tuesday quietly launched its website for Americans to request free at-home COVID-19 tests, a day before the site was scheduled to officially launch.

The website,, now includes a link for Americans to order up four at-home tests per residential address, to be delivered by the US Postal Service. It marks the latest step by President Joe Biden to address criticism of low inventory and long lines for testing during a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant.

A White House official said the website is “currently in its beta phase” and operating at a “limited capacity ahead of its official launch.” The website will officially launch mid-morning Wednesday, the official said.

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Baker says Mass. is ‘on the backside of the Omicron surge’ — 12:52 p.m.

By Annie Bennett, Globe Correspondent

Governor Baker expressed cautious optimism over Omicron during a press conference on Tuesday as he announced a new testing initiative for K-12 schools.

Speaking during a Q&A at the end of the press conference, Baker cited recent waste water data as he said the huge surge in COVID-19 cases could be ebbing.

“The one thing I would say about COVID, generally, is you just never know. But, it certainly does look like we are very much on the backside of the Omicron surge in Massachusetts,” Baker said.

Since December 2021, the Omicron variant has been sweeping through Mass., increasing infections and accounting for 95 percent of COVID cases in the Commonwealth. Baker cited a sharp up and down spike of Omicron-driven cases that has been seen in places like the UK and South Africa, explaining that he anticipates the same decline now beginning in Mass.

Waste water data released Friday showed a continued decrease in coronavirus levels.

Baker said the coronavirus levels in the wastewater are down “probably somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of where it was at the peak a couple of weeks ago.”

However, nationally, Omicron is still on the rise. California first reported the variant Dec. 1, four days before Mass., and its numbers are still increasing. New York City, however, has seen the kind of sudden drop Baker is referencing, starting after the first week in January.

Mayor Wu to open first of three new high-capacity, free testing centers — 10:47 a.m.

By Tiana Woodard and Sahar Fatima, Globe Staff

Mayor Michelle Wu will open the first of three new high-capacity testing sites in Boston on Tuesday in an effort to improve access, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

The Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury will offer free, walk-in testing from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the public health commission said in a statement Monday evening, with results usually within 24 hours. Cambridge-based CIC Health will offer the testing services. Self-administered PCR tests also will be available.

Two additional sites, the city said, will open soon in Dorchester and Mattapan.

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Her bubble won’t burst: Worcester’s Hannah Vuong on opening Gong Cha bubble tea shop during the pandemic — 10:42 a.m.

By Kara Baskin, Globe Staff

Opening a bubble-tea shop during a pandemic might seem like a risky move. But for Worcester’s Hannah Vuong, 31, it was the culmination of a longtime dream. She and her husband, Jason, loved to stop into Taiwanese chain Gong Cha whenever they visited Boston. When he lost his banking job at the beginning of the pandemic, the couple got to work opening their own branch of the franchise in downtown Worcester, with support from the city. They’ll open a second location at 270 Newbury St. this spring.

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Boosters roll out unevenly as worker shortages hamper outreach — 10:40 a.m.

By Felice J. Freyer, Globe Staff

Like thousands of people, Gladys Vega was out sick with COVID-19 the first week of January, bedridden for seven days. And like millions of others, Vega hadn’t gotten the booster shot that might have prevented her illness, or made it milder.

Vega wanted the shot – she even runs an agency that provides vaccines, the renowned Chelsea community service group called La Colaborativa. But, Vega explained on Friday, her voice still hoarse, she had gone three times to a vaccine clinic, only to find lines so long she knew supplies would run out before she could get to the front.

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State to provide schools with rapid COVID-19 at-home tests on a weekly basis — 10:36 a.m.

By Travis Andersen and Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday will announce a plan to provide schools with rapid at-home COVID-19 antigen tests to staffers and students on a weekly basis, should they choose to participate in the program.

Baker’s slated to announce the plan during a 10 a.m. briefing at the State House. The popular centrist Republican will be joined by state Secretary of Education James Peyser and Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley.

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‘This is a different phase.’ It may be time for a reset on kids, school, and COVID. — 9:39 a.m.

By Kara Miller, Globe Staff

Sometimes you can feel an inflection point.

We’re seeing it in waste water, where, in the Boston area, evidence of COVID-19 has been plummeting for about a week.

That already seems to be reflected in moderating case numbers. And, soon, we may start to witness a radical shift in how we think about COVID and school.

Such a shift would impact a core part of society, one that has been a lightning rod for the last two years. And it may set the stage for a new chapter in the pandemic.

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Harvard will end contact tracing during spring semester, university health official says — 8:18 a.m.

By Nick Stoico, Globe Staff

Harvard University says it will no longer conduct contact tracing and students who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to notify close contacts themselves, a university official said in a message to the Harvard community last week.

Giang T. Nguyen, executive director of Harvard University Health Services, announced the changes to the university’s COVID-19 policies as students prepare to return to campus for the spring semester.

“With our Harvard community’s near universal vaccination, the majority of infected individuals in our community are having no symptoms or mild symptoms that resolve quickly,” Nguyen wrote in the message. “Thus, we are confident in our ability to proceed with plans for in-person learning in late January while applying new protocols which include community-wide boosters and a shortened period of isolation-in-place followed by strict masking.”

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Poland expects highest infection rate so far in new wave — 7:05 a.m.

By Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s health officials say that the country has entered a new, fifth wave, in the coronavirus pandemic, predicting that it it will peak in mid-February at about 60,000 new infections per day or even more.

Waldemar Kraska, the deputy health minister, said Tuesday that the highly transmissible Omicron variant now accounts for 19% of the samples nationwide that have been sequenced, though 50% are in the Pomerania province along the Baltic coast in the country’s north.

If the Health Ministry’s predictions prove correct, the rate of infection in the coming wave would be more than double that of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2021.

On Tuesday, Poland recorded 19,652 new cases of COVID-19 and 377 deaths.

Poland’s vaccination rate is at 56.5%, significantly lower than in many other European Union nations, and the death rate is significantly higher in proportion to the population.

COVID-19 infected lions prompt variant warning in South Africa — 5:21 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Lions and pumas at a zoo in the South African capital of Pretoria got severe COVID-19 from asymptomatic zoo handlers, raising concerns that new variants could emerge from animal reservoirs of the disease, studies carried out by a local university showed.

A 2020 study of feces from two pumas that had had diarrhea, nasal discharge and anorexia showed the animals had COVID-19 and made a full recovery after 23 days, the University of Pretoria said in a statement on Tuesday. A year later, in the midst of South Africa’s delta-variant-driven third wave, three lions, one of which had pneumonia, tested positive for the coronavirus.

The studies add to evidence that while the dominant theory is that the coronavirus spread from animals to humans, the reverse can also happen. Data suggests that the disease was circulating among staff at the time of the lions’ illness and the disease was likely transferred from them to the big cats. The disease could then mutate in the animals and reinfect humans, the researchers said.

Measures such as mask-wearing and infection control when dealing with captive animals, as well as barriers so that visitors to zoos can’t get too close to them, are advisable, the researchers said in the statement.

“This is to protect endangered species from getting sick and dying,” Marietjie Venter and Katja Koeppel, two professors at the university, said in the statement. “These measures are also important because of the risk of new variants emerging if the virus establishes itself in other animal reservoirs; these variants could be transmitted back to humans.”

Since the pandemic began, minks infected with the coronavirus in Denmark have been culled and Hong Kong said on Tuesday that 2,000 small animals including hamsters would be culled after some tested positive for the disease.

Hong Kong goes on hamster crackdown after shock Delta flare — 4:30 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Hong Kong, suspecting that imported hamsters may have spread COVID-19 to humans, ordered the culling of thousands of the small mammals, closed shops selling them and sent more than 100 pet shop visitors into quarantine camp as part of its increasingly fervent quest to eliminate the virus.

The escalation came after nearly a dozen hamsters imported from the Netherlands and sold at a local pet store called Little Boss were found to be infected with delta, a virulent COVID-19 variant that hadn’t been detected in the city for months until a worker there tested positive. Samples from the shop’s warehouse in another part of the city also showed traces of the virus.

All pet shops selling hamsters in Hong Kong -- in total 34 -- were ordered to shut down immediately pending further testing and cleaning, while people who recently bought hamsters were to turn the animals over to authorities for culling. People who bought hamsters specifically from Little Boss will have to go into government quarantine camp.

About 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, chinchillas and rabbits, will be culled while importation of such creatures has been suspended.

The hamster furore comes as Hong Kong scrambles to stamp out infection in the city, where dozens of cases tied to the more contagious Omicron variant have been found after more than half-a-year without any local transmission. Officials in the financial hub and mainland China, the last places in the world still strictly adhering to the COVID-Zero approach, are pointing at frozen food, international mail and animals as potential causes of sporadic flareups that slipped through their strict control and tracing efforts.

Abu Dhabi requires booster shots to enter the emirate — 3:17 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Facing a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Abu Dhabi is requiring people entering the city to show proof of booster shots.

The government’s health app said earlier this week that people entering the capital of the United Arab Emirates must show a “green pass,” confirming their vaccination status. The app says that visitors are no longer considered fully vaccinated unless they have received a booster at least six months after their second dose.

Those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi also must have have tested negative for the virus within the last two weeks to maintain their “green” status.

The emirate has taken a stricter approach to the virus than neighboring Dubai, the freewheeling tourism-dependent hub. Abu Dhabi requires that residents show their green pass before entering public places or government buildings.

The UAE boasts among the world’s highest vaccination rates per capita. The country has fully vaccinated more than 90% of its population, health authorities have said. Although infections had plummeted in December, cases recently have skyrocketed to heights unseen in months.

China media say foreign parcels suspected in new infections — 2:29 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Chinese state media report parcels mailed from overseas may have spread the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Beijing and elsewhere.

Globally, health experts have stressed the virus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets when infected people breathe, speak, cough and sneeze. However, China has repeatedly emphasized the danger of infection from packaging, despite only trace amounts of the virus being found on such items, and it has boosted testing of frozen food and regular items shipped from overseas.

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  Jan. 17, 2022  

Japan ready to expand COVID restrictions as infections surge — 11:57 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Japan’s government is preparing social restrictions in Tokyo and other regions as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus infects more people.

Japan has never had a lockdown during the pandemic but has focused instead on asking restaurants and bars to close early. Crowds are back in many parts of Japan, with people packing stores and events, while COVID-19 cases jump.

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Omicron forces more cruise lines to cancel trips — 11:14 p.m.

By The New York Times

Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have canceled several trips as the Omicron variant continues to wreak havoc with the cruise industry.

In recent weeks, hundreds of passengers have contracted the coronavirus onboard ships, with many falling ill and spending days in quarantine.

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Australia has record COVID-19 deaths, hospitals under stress — 11:12 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Australia reported a record high of COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, and its second-largest state declared an emergency in hospitals to cope with surging patient admissions and a staffing shortage due to the coronavirus.

The 74 deaths occurred in its three most populous states. New South Wales reported 36, Victoria reported 22 and Queensland 16. The previous daily record was 59 coronavirus-related deaths on Sept. 4, 2020.

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Detainees sue Arkansas jail that gave them ivermectin to treat COVID — 10:41 p.m.

By The New York Times

Detainees at an Arkansas jail who had COVID-19 were unknowingly treated by the detention center’s doctor with ivermectin, a drug that health officials have continually said is dangerous and should not be used to treat or prevent a coronavirus infection, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four detainees.

The four men — Dayman Blackburn, Julio Gonzales, Jeremiah Little and Edrick Floreal-Wooten — say in the lawsuit that after testing positive for the coronavirus in August, they were taken to the “quarantine block” of the Washington County Detention Center and given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by Dr. Robert Karas, who runs Karas Correctional Health, the jail’s health provider.

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Hong Kong arrests 2 ex-air crew for breaking COVID-19 rules —9:43 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Hong Kong police arrested two former flight attendants for allegedly leaving their homes when they should have been in isolation for possible coronavirus infections, which were later confirmed.

The two arrived from the U.S on Dec. 24 and 25. While in medical surveillance, they had “conducted unnecessary activities,” according to a government statement posted late Monday.

While the statement did not name their employer, the arrests came after flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it had fired two crew members for breaching coronavirus protocols. Both later tested positive for the Omicron variant.

The duo have been released on bail and will have their case heard in court on Feb. 9. If convicted of violating anti-epidemic regulations, they could face up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($642).

Hong Kong has been grappling with a local Omicron outbreak traced to several Cathay Pacific crew members who had dined at bars and restaurants across the city before later testing positive for the Omicron variant.

Previously in Hong Kong, certain air and sea crew members could isolate at home under certain quarantine exemptions. Regulations tightened Dec. 31 require crew members to isolate in a designated quarantine hotel for about a week to safeguard public health.

Nets’ star Kyrie Irving steadfast on vaccine despite Durant injury — 8:48 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving insists an injury to teammate Kevin Durant won’t change his stance on not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Irving, who only recently returned to action after a drawn-out stalemate over getting vaccinated, said Monday following a loss to the Cavaliers that he has no intention of getting the shot — and nothing will sway him.

“That’s my decision already, and I’m standing on it,” Irving said.

The seven-time All-Star point guard has become a lightning rod of sorts for his decision not to get the vaccine. And due to COVID-19 mandates in New York City concerning public arenas, Irving is not permitted to play in home games.

His decision to remain unvaccinated is having a dramatic impact on the Nets and their ability to contend for an NBA championship, something that almost seemed assured when the team landed Irving, Durant and James Harden.

With Durant potentially sidelined for six weeks with a knee injury suffered Saturday, Irving was asked if he’s feeling more pressure to get vaccinated.

Irving made it clear he’s not been moved to act.

“That’s what I think comes into a lot of this culture and basketball and sport and entertainment,” Irving said in his strongest comments on the sensitive subject. “You bring in teams and you bring in situations. Kev’s going to heal. Kev’s going to be OK, and we’re going to have to deal with that as his teammates.

“But in terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision and that’s just what it is. It’s not going to be swayed just because of one thing is this NBA life that somehow it’s brought to my attention to being more important than what’s going on in the real world.

“It’s just not happening for me.”

China halts ticket sales to general public for the 2022 Winter Olympics —7:31 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Citing the “current grave and complicated situation” with COVID-19 in China, the organizers of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games halted ticket sales to the general public.

Instead, select groups of spectators will be invited to attend. They’ll be required to obey strict virus precautions before, during and after the event, the official organizing committee said on its website Monday.

The move reverses an earlier decision to limit Olympic ticket sales to attendees from mainland China. The games are scheduled to begin Feb. 4.

In Greece, unvaccinated people 60 and up face monthly fines — 6:04 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Greece imposed a vaccination mandate Monday for people 60 and older as a spike in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals, where most of the seriously ill patients belong to that age group.

Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro ($57) fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) after that.

About 69% of Greece’s 10.7 million people are fully vaccinated, just under the EU average of 70.3%. COVID-19 deaths and daily hospitalizations in Greece have increased following the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant, although the overwhelming majority of people in the hospital or dying of the virus have the delta variant. Pressure on ICU capacity has eased slightly.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be collected through the tax office with the money going to help fund state hospitals.

“The age factor is important because of its impact on the public health service,” Plevris told private Open TV on Sunday.

Greece imposed a vaccination mandate for health care workers last year. And starting Feb. 1, vaccination certificates for adults will expire after seven months unless the holder receives a booster shot.

Fourth Pfizer dose is insufficient to ward off Omicron, Israeli trial suggests — 5:09 p.m.

By Bloomberg

A fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was insufficient to prevent infection with the Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to preliminary data from a trial in Israel released Monday.

Two weeks after the start of the trial of 154 medical personnel at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, researchers found the vaccine successfully raised antibody levels.

But that only offered a partial defense against Omicron, according to Gili Regev-Yochay, the trial’s lead researcher.

Read more

Trucker vaccine rule is making freight and fruit pricier — 4:43 p.m.

By Bloomberg

New rules requiring truckers to show proof of vaccination when crossing the Canada-US border are cutting into shipping capacity and boosting the cost of hauling everything from broccoli to tomatoes.

The cost of transporting produce out of California and Arizona to Canada jumped 25% last week as fewer trucks are available to cross the border, according to George Pitsikoulis, president and chief executive officer of Montreal-based distributor Canadawide Fruits.

“The lower the supply, the higher the price. Ultimately it’s the consumer that pays for this,” Pitsikoulis said Monday by phone.

Canada implemented new rules on Jan. 15 that require border agents to turn away unvaccinated US truckers, a move industry executives warned could slow down supply chains that are already under stress. Canadian truckers who can’t show proof of vaccination will be required to quarantine when they re-enter the country from the US

Shipping is expected to get disrupted in both directions, with the US set to impose its own vaccine mandate on foreign travelers on Jan. 22. Only 50% to 60% of US truckers are vaccinated, according to an estimate from the American Trucking Associations.

Boris Johnson’s ex-aide accuses him of lying to UK Parliament — 3:18 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Boris Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings accused the premier of lying to Parliament, saying he would “swear under oath” that the premier both was aware of and allowed a drinks party at Downing Street at the height of lockdown during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s the latest tirade by Cummings against his former boss since he was forced from his position 14 months ago. His Jan. 7 post about a Downing Street party on May 20, 2020 attended by Johnson forced the prime minister to apologize in the House of Commons and left him fighting to save his career.

Read more

Amid pandemic, the demand for single-family rentals soars — 2:32 p.m.

By Cameron Sperance, Globe Staff

Single-family rental housing has many of the amenities that surged to the top of home buyers’ wish lists during the pandemic.

And Walker & Dunlop, a real estate finance firm, estimates growth in this market in the United States will outpace other commercial sectors like condos and apartments, office, retail, and storage over the next several years.

Read more

County’s $7 million in PPE left outside, damaged by California rain — 2:11 p.m.

By The Associated Press

About $7 million worth of surplus personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, purchased by a Northern California county earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, was damaged in recent rainstorms after it was left outside for months, officials said Friday.

San Mateo County officials acknowledged the disaster following a KGO news report, published Thursday, that showed video of scores of sodden boxes outside the San Mateo Event Center in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read more

Pfizer COVID-19 drug approved by Canada — 1:37 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Canada’s health regulator has approved a pill by Pfizer that treats the effects of COVID-19.

Health Canada authorized Paxlovid for adult patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are also at high risk of becoming more seriously ill. Health Canada did not authorize it for use on teenagers or on patients who are already hospitalized because of COVID-19.

The agency’s announcement Monday comes amid soaring numbers of infections because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Read more

US Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley tests positive for COVID-19 — 1:10 p.m.

By Bloomberg

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Mark Milley, tested positive on Sunday for COVID-19, according to a statement from the agency.

Milley, who is vaccinated and has received the booster shot, has mild symptoms and is working remotely, said Colonel Dave Butler, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs, in a statement. Milley’s last contact with President Joe Biden was on Jan. 12 at a funeral. He had tested negative prior to attending the funeral and each day after until Sunday, according Butler.

All other of the joint chiefs tested negative besides one, Butler said in the statement. The other person who tested positive wasn’t identified.

Just 36 percent of Americans say pandemic response is ‘going well’ — 11:56 a.m.

By The New York Times

As the anniversary of President Joe Biden’s inauguration approaches this week, American opinion of his efforts to contain the pandemic is lower than ever, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll.

The poll, released Sunday, found just 36 percent of respondents believed US efforts to deal with the coronavirus were “going well.” Just 49 percent of Americans approved of the president’s management of the pandemic, compared with 66 percent of Americans who gave the same response in July, in a previous version of the poll.

Read more

If he remains unvaccinated, could Novak Djokovic be barred from the French Open too? — 11:02 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Novak Djokovic returned home Monday after being thwarted from defending his Australian Open title only to face a new predicament: He could be barred from the French Open this year, too, if he’s still not vaccinated against COVID-19.

A plane carrying the No. 1-ranked player touched down in his native Serbia, closing at least the first chapter in a dizzying drama that has resonance in the world of elite sports, Australia’s pandemic politics and the polarized debate over the coronavirus shots.

Read more

Fauci says it’s too soon to say Omicron heralds end of the pandemic — 9:39 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top medical adviser to the US president, said it’s too soon to say whether the Omicron variant will herald a shift in the COVID-19 pandemic to endemic.

“It’s an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination everyone is hoping for because we have so much variability with new variants emerging,” Fauci said Monday at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda online conference.

The fact that the virus’s mutations appear to be able to evade some immune response through vaccines and infection will make achieving herd immunity difficult, he said. The US official said variant-specific vaccines aren’t the best way to fight the disease and that inoculations that work against all strains are needed.

Read more

Hong Kong faces both Delta and Omicron outbreaks — 6:07 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Hong Kong found an untraceable delta case on Sunday while facing the prospect of a new Omicron cluster stemming from a woman who tested positive after she completed a 21-day hotel quarantine, the South China Morning Post reported. Experts are looking into whether the Omicron case was a cross infection at the hotel, as another patient had occupied an adjacent room.

New Virginia governor cuts COVID-19 restrictions — 5:03 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Glenn Youngkin, sworn in Saturday as Virginia’s governor, issued executive orders rolling back COVID-19 regulations.

The Republican governor signed 11 executive orders outlining priorities for his new administration, including rescinding the vaccine mandate for all state employees and allowing parents to decide whether a child wears a mask in school, WTOP news reported.

Outbreaks hit Louisiana nursing homes — 4:40 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Louisiana nursing homes are battling outbreaks -- almost 1,000 infections among residents and more than 2,700 among staff in the last two weeks, the Times-Picayune reported. The level is six times higher than at the end of December, the newspaper said.

The outbreak is worsening the state’s shortage of nursing staff. Deaths at nursing homes are rising slightly, at a far slower pace than infections.

Djokovic out, but vaccine debate stays in Australian Open — 3:48 a.m.

By The Associated Press

To some, it seemed a cloud had been lifted from the Australian Open. To others, Novak Djokovic still was almost palpably present, the name on everyone’s lips on the opening day of the first major tennis tournament of the year.

Djokovic left Australia late Sunday when he failed in his legal challenge to overturn the cancellation of his visa due to his lack of a COVID-19 vaccination. His flight from Melbourne was touching down in Dubai early Monday just as the first matches of the tournament began.

Read more

Qatar reports death of three-week-old baby from COVID-19 — 2:20 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The fatality was announced by the Gulf state’s Ministry of Public Health on Sunday in a statement. It added that the baby had no known medical conditions.

The ministry noted that while infant deaths are extremely rare, this was the second child to have died from COVID-19 in the country. It added that while COVID-19 symptoms among children have typically been milder, more children are catching the virus now because the Omicron variant is much more contagious.

Omicron spreads to China’s major cities — 12:36 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The Omicron variant has breached the crucial power centers of China for the first time, pressuring the country’s virus response at a critical moment.

While still very small in number, the infections are causing consternation because of their timing. The Lunar New Year holiday, marked by mass travel as millions return home, begins on Feb. 1, while the winter Olympics are slated to start on Feb. 4. At least 166 domestic cases were found across China on Sunday, according to the National Health Commission.

Local cases of the highly infectious variant were detected in the capital Beijing, financial center Shanghai and the technological and manufacturing hub of Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province. These together account for one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.

The person who contracted the first known Omicron infection in Beijing had received international mail, said Pang Xinghuo, an official with the city’s health agency, at a briefing. The strain is consistent with the virus circulating in North America and Singapore. The city isn’t ruling out the possibility that the patient was infected by mail delivered from overseas, Pang said.

  Jan. 16, 2022  

China toughens COVID-19 response as Omicron hits its power centers — 11:27 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Omicron has breached the political, financial and technology centers of China for the first time, putting pressure on the country’s response to the more transmissible variant as it awaits the Winter Olympics starting in less than three weeks.

China has detected locally-transmitted Omicron infections in the capital Beijing, the financial center Shanghai, and Guangdong, where the southern technology center of Shenzhen is located, which together account for one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product. The highly mutated strain has been detected in one out of every five provinces, while 14 of them have reported imported cases.

Read more

Australia recognizes Sputnik V vaccine for travel — 10:34 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has recognized Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for the purpose of international travel to the country.

Last week the TGA obtained additional information demonstrating the vaccine provides protection and potentially reduces the likelihood that an incoming traveler would transmit COVID-19 while in Australia, it said in a statement.

Hong Kong faces both Delta and Omicron outbreaks — 9:33 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Hong Kong found an untraceable delta case on Sunday while facing the prospect of a new Omicron cluster stemming from a woman who tested positive after she completed a 21-day hotel quarantine, the South China Morning Post reported. Experts are looking into whether the Omicron case was a cross infection at the hotel, as another patient had occupied an adjacent room.

A local microbiologist is recommending that guests staying in nearby hotel rooms undergo another 14-day quarantine.

Hong Kong has reimposed strict curbs, such as the closure of gyms and in-restaurant dining for dinner, to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. Health minister Sophia Chan said on Sunday that the current restrictions would not be fully relaxed even after the Lunar New Year as the city’s pandemic situation needs to be better in order for the mainland Chinese border to reopen.

Coronavirus levels continue decline in region’s wastewater, amid national COVID-19 surge — 8:20 p.m.

By John Hilliard, Globe Staff

Coronavirus levels in the Boston region’s wastewater continued to fall Friday, according to state data reported Sunday, but public health officials cautioned that COVID-19 remained a threat amid a nationwide surge in cases and hospitalizations.

The latest figures from the region’s wastewater data, seen by experts as an early warning system on the virus’s progress locally, came amid grim national news about the pandemic.

The nation continues to grapple with soaring new cases daily — passing more than 800,000 as of Sunday with the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant — while hospitals are stressed caring for a surge in patients.

Read more

Omicron strains marijuana industry supply chain — 8:19 p.m.

By Dan Adams, Globe Staff

Licensed marijuana firms cannot legally move pot products across state lines. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been spared the supply chain disruptions wreaking havoc on the rest of the business world.

As the Omicron variant surges, Massachusetts cannabis companies are facing significant shortages of foreign-made packaging and construction materials that are essential to their operations, including vaporizer batteries and cartridges, childproof containers, and the steel beams and air conditioning equipment used to build indoor cultivation facilities.

Read more

As nations decide to live with the virus, some disease experts warn of surrendering too soon — 6:04 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Nations around the planet are making a subtle but consequential pivot in their war against the coronavirus: Crushing the virus is no longer the strategy. Many countries are just hoping for a draw.

It’s a strategic retreat, signaled in overt and subtle ways from Washington to Madrid to Pretoria, South Africa, to Canberra, Australia. Notably, few countries today outside of China - which is still locking down cities - cling to a “zero-covid” strategy.

The phrase often heard now in the United States and many other nations is “live with the virus.” That new stance is applauded by some officials and scientists, and welcomed by people exhausted with the hardships and disruptions of this global health emergency entering its third year.

Read more

Billions of dollars remain in federal COVID aid, but Omicron spurs calls for more help from Washington — 5:04 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

With COVID-19 surging a year ago, Congress began working on its largest pandemic relief bill, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that was enacted in March.

But with the Omicron variant now triggering record case numbers, nothing close to that scale is being considered, mainly because tens of billions of dollars from that first infusion — by design — remain available to tap into.

Read more

Scammers see opportunity in demand for virus testing in US, officials say — 4:19 p.m.

By New York Times

Federal and state officials warned last week of coronavirus testing scams that have taken advantage of the United States’ strained testing infrastructure and have left Americans with invalid test results, wrongful medical bills and overpriced at-home tests.

Fraud related to the virus has persisted since the onset of the pandemic, but the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has created opportunities for scammers preying on the high demand for tests.

On Friday, the Better Business Bureau issued an alert about phony websites and pop-up testing sites that collect people’s personal information, swab them for a test and then never provide results.

Read more

The US surgeon general warns that Omicron has not yet peaked — 3:16 p.m.

By New York Times

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, on Sunday warned that the Omicron surge of coronavirus cases had not yet peaked nationally, saying that the next few weeks would be very difficult in many parts of the country as hospitalizations and deaths rise.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Murthy noted the “good news” of the plateaus and drops in known cases in the Northeast, especially in New York City and New Jersey.

But “the challenge is that the entire country is not moving at the same pace,” he said, adding that “we shouldn’t expect a national peak in the coming days.”

Read more

Some colleges loosen rules for a virus that won’t go away — 2:23 p.m.

By New York Times

As the Omicron surge spreads across the country, sending COVID-19 case counts to new heights and disrupting daily life, some universities are preparing for a new phase of the pandemic — one that acknowledges that the virus is here to stay and requires a rethinking of how to handle life on campus.

Schools are asking: Should there still be mass testing? Does there need to be contact tracing? What about tracking the number of cases — and posting them on campus dashboards? And when there is a spike in cases, do classes need to go remote?

Universities from Northeastern in Boston to the University of California, Davis have begun to discuss COVID in “endemic” terms — a shift from reacting to each spike of cases as a crisis to the reality of living with it daily. And in some cases, there has been backlash.

Read more

At many churches, pandemic hits collection plates, budgets — 1:49 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The coronavirus hit at a time when already fewer Americans were going to worship services — with at least half of the nearly 15,300 congregations surveyed in a 2020 report by Faith Communities Today reporting weekly attendance of 65 or less — and exacerbated the problems at smaller churches where increasingly lean budgets often hindered them from things like hiring full-time clergy.

Attendance has been a persistent challenge. As faith leaders moved to return to in-person worship, first the highly transmissible delta variant and now the even faster-spreading Omicron have thrown a wrench into such efforts, with some churches going back online and others still open reporting fewer souls in the pews.

Read more

Surgeon general defends Biden’s response to steep COVID-19 surge — 1:23 p.m.

By Bloomberg

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy defended the Biden administration’s response to the surge of COVID-19 infections caused by the Omicron variant, conceding though that health officials need to “close that gap” in the severe shortage of testing.

“We have more to do,” Murthy said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that the spike in infections outstripped what he said was an eight-fold increase in testing over the last month.

Read more

Denmark lifts COVID restrictions, opens many public venues — 7:18 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Denmark lifted a number of coronavirus restrictions and allowed the reopening of certain venues Sunday despite the spread of the Omicron variant in the country.

Cinemas, zoos, museums, and theaters were among the places that could welcome visitors again. Limited numbers of spectators also were allowed to attend indoor and outdoor sports events.

Visitors are required to wear masks at most of these places and provide proof that they have been vaccinated or have recovered or recently tested negative for COVID-19.

The government is planning to relax coronavirus restrictions further in Denmark, a country of 5.8 million, on Jan. 31.

Read more

COVID program delivers 1 billion doses to poorer countries — 5:22 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The World Health Organization said Sunday that an UN-backed program shipping coronavirus vaccines to many poor countries has now delivered 1 billion doses, but that milestone “is only a reminder of the work that remains” after hoarding and stockpiling in rich countries.

A shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Rwanda on Saturday included the billionth dose supplied via the COVAX program, the UN health agency said.

Read more

Saudi Arabia starts vaccinations in children from five years old — 4:50 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia will begin vaccinating children aged from 5 to 11 against coronavirus, the Ministry of Health said in a tweet.

People in Saudi Arabia can now take the third vaccine dose, or booster, three months after the second dose. In December, Saudi Arabia advised citizens to avoid “unnecessary” travel outside the country amid rising coronavirus cases and the new Omicron variant.

Omicron exposes inflexibility of Europe’s public hospitals — 3:57 a.m.

By The Associated Press

A World Health Organization official warned last week of a “closing window of opportunity” for European countries to prevent their health care systems from being overwhelmed as the Omicron variant produces near-vertical growth in coronavirus infections.

In France, Britain, and Spain, nations with comparatively strong national health programs, that window may already be closed.

The director of an intensive care unit at a hospital in Strasbourg is turning patients away. A surgeon at a London hospital describes a critical delay in a man’s cancer diagnosis. Spain is seeing its determination to prevent a system collapse tested as Omicron keeps medical personnel off work.

Read more

Djokovic loses deportation appeal in Australia — 2:41 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Novak Djokovic’s hopes of playing at the Australian Open were dashed Sunday after a court dismissed the top-ranked tennis star’s appeal against a deportation order.

Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made on Friday by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.

The decision likely means that Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, will remain in detention in Melbourne until he is deported.

Djokovic awaits deportation decision as hearing adjourned — 12:21 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is awaiting a decision on whether he’ll be allowed to stay in Australia after the Federal Court adjourned a hearing on a government deportation order.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke revoked Djokovic’s visa on Friday, saying it was in the public interest to do so. The court will likely indicate its decision to the parties on whether to quash his second visa cancellation later Sunday, with full reasons published at a later date, Chief Justice James Allsop said.

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