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Holocaust Museum criticizes RFK Jr. for Anne Frank comment; FDA to halt use of two therapies for Omicron

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 3 hrs ago Globe staff
A health worker prepares a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Sheba medical center, in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021. © Kobi Wolf A health worker prepares a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Sheba medical center, in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021.

COVID-19 cases have fallen in Massachusetts after a surge driven by the Omicron variant swept across the US and the world. 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. 25, 2022  

GE misses sales expectations in setback for Larry Culp’s turnaround — 9:03 a.m.

By Bloomberg

General Electric missed Wall Street’s sales expectations for the fourth quarter as it grappled with worsening supply chain pressures and effects of the Omicron variant, a stumble for Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp as he readies a plan to break up the conglomerate starting next year.

Revenue in the period slipped to $20.3 billion, GE said Tuesday in a statement. That was below the $21.4 billion average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“Supply-chain challenges, commercial selectivity and uncertainty surrounding the US wind production tax credit impacted our top line,” Culp said in the statement. Still, the CEO said there are opportunities for sustainable, profitable growth in the near term, particularly as its aviation unit recovers.

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Holocaust Museum criticizes RFK Jr. for Anne Frank comment — 8:05 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was “reckless” and “outrageous” when he suggested things are worse for people today than they were for Anne Frank, the teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp after hiding with her family in a secret annex in an Amsterdam house for two years, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said.

“Making reckless comparisons to the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews, for a political agenda is outrageous and deeply offensive. Those who carelessly invoke Anne Frank, the star badge, and the Nuremberg Trials exploit history and the consequences of hate,” the museum said Monday in a statement posted to Twitter.

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Pfizer opens study of COVID shots updated to match Omicron — 7:05 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Pfizer has begun a study comparing its original COVID-19 vaccine with doses specially tweaked to match the hugely contagious Omicron variant.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced the study on Tuesday.

COVID-19 vaccine makers have been updating their shots to better match Omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed.

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South Africa finds 62 percent of COVID health-equipment deals irregular — 6:17 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

A South African law-enforcement agency said its investigation into some of the health-equipment contracts awarded by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic found almost two-thirds of them were irregular.

The Special Investigation Unit probe found that 2,803 of 5,467 deals worth 14.3 billion rand ($935 million) were improper, according to a statement emailed by the presidency on Tuesday. President Cyril Ramaphosa authorized the investigation into the contracts in mid-2020.

“It is unacceptable that so many contracts associated with saving lives and protecting livelihoods were irregular, unlawful or fraudulent,” Ramaphosa said in the statement. “This investigation demonstrates our determination to root out corruption and to deal with perpetrators.”

The National Prosecuting Authority and other law-enforcement agencies may use the SIU’s investigations to file criminal charges against people in the public and private sectors, the presidency said.

Abu Dhabi says vaccinated tourists need no boosters to enter — 4:16 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have published new information about the capital’s entry requirements, saying that unlike residents and citizens, vaccinated tourists do not need to show proof of a booster shot to cross into Abu Dhabi.

The tourism-specific change comes as confusion swirls around entry rules for Abu Dhabi, which has taken a more stringent approach to containing the coronavirus than its freewheeling neighbor, Dubai.

The pandemic has prompted Abu Dhabi to erect a hard border with Dubai, forcing all drivers to come to a halt for vaccination and COVID checks on what once had been a wide, empty highway before the virus struck.

Ever-changing requirements have caused some headaches for commuters, with drivers from Dubai who had not received booster shots unexpectedly turned away from the capital last week. The emirate later clarified that all citizens and residents seeking entry must now show proof of a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated and maintain a “green status” on the government health app.

The updated Abu Dhabi tourism website now says that the new rule does not apply to international visitors, who may enter the city-state if they have received both doses. State media reported the update on Monday.

All visitors, whether residents or tourists, also must present a negative virus test taken within the last two weeks to gain entry to the capital and to its public places, including malls and gyms.

Israeli expert panel advises 4th vaccine dose for adults — 3:38 a.m.

By The Associated Press

An expert panel on Tuesday advised the Israeli government to begin offering a fourth vaccine dose to everyone over the age of 18, citing research showing it helps prevent COVID-19 infection and severe illness.

The advisory committee said research shows a fourth dose provides three to five times the level of protection against serious disease and double the protection against infection compared to three doses. The Health Ministry’s director must approve the recommendation.

Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk as it struggles to contain a wave of infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. It began offering third doses to the general population last summer.

Figures from Israel’s Health Ministry show there are currently some 580,000 active patients, with just 845 listed as seriously ill. Nearly half the population has received a third dose and more than 600,000 have gotten a fourth. Israel has reported 8,487 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020. It has gathered extensive data that is informing other countries’ responses to the pandemic.

New Zealand to proceed with phased border reopening in February — 12:25 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

New Zealand will proceed with plans to start a phased reopening of the border from the end of February even as the infectious omicron variant starts to take hold in the community.

The initial phase will allow New Zealanders living in Australia to return home and undertake self-isolation rather than a lengthy stay in a managed isolation hotel. In December, the government pushed out the original start date of Jan. 17 citing the need for more people to be boosted to combat omicron.

“We will likely confirm the specific date at cabinet in the following two weeks,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at news conference Tuesday in Wellington. “We’ve made no decision to steer away from the guidelines we gave at the end of the year. We know now we are dealing with omicron in the community and so no changes have been made to those settings at this stage.”

New Zealand’s border has been shut to foreigners since March 2020 but citizens and permanent residents have been able to return provided they undergo managed isolation. The government planned to progressively allow more people to self-isolate rather than stay in government-run hotels in order to open the nation to the world, including eventually letting vaccinated foreigners enter the country from April 30.

The self-isolation requirement for arrivals will be an important shield to limit new omicron cases, Ardern said. New Zealand moved to tighter Covid restrictions late Sunday as cases began appearing in the community. Ten new omicron cases were reported Tuesday taking the total to 29, but some large private events are being assessed as exposure events

Report: Anti-corruption fight is stalled, COVID not helping — 12:07 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Most countries have made little to no progress in bringing down corruption levels over the past decade, and authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic in many places has weighed on accountability, a closely watched study by an anti-graft organization found Tuesday.

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perception of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, found that “increasingly, rights and checks and balances are being undermined not only in countries with systemic corruption and weak institutions, but also among established democracies.”

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  Jan. 24, 2022  

Japan’s so overloaded by Omicron it’s starting to confirm cases without testing — 11:51 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

A COVID test may not be needed to be counted as infected in Japan, as an Omicron surge quickly overtakes the country’s health-care resources and forces the government to find workarounds.

People who have close contact with a COVID patient and later became symptomatic can be considered infected, according to a statement on the government’s website. Mild cases in vaccinated people under age 40 who don’t have underlying conditions and aren’t at high risk can test at home to confirm an infection. They can be referred to follow-up centers for monitoring until they recover, according to the statement.

The speed of the latest outbreak is creating a shortage of tests and spurring a change in how the virus is handled in Japan, which treats COVID patients through local public health centers and tracks infections and hospitalizations by default. Daily new cases jumped to over 40,000 on Monday from double digits just six weeks ago, pushing the country to put more than half its prefectures under a state of quasi-emergency. The move allows local governments to request restrictions on social activities as hospital beds fill.

The US Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention raised the travel advisory for Japan to level 3 on Tuesday, the second highest on a scale of zero to 4, from level 1. The American health agency warned visitors should be fully vaccinated before entering the country since they may be at risk for getting and spreading the variant.

New York judge rules state’s mask mandate is unconstitutional and can’t be enforced — 11:35 p.m.

By The New York Times

A New York state judge ruled Monday that the state’s mask mandate was enacted unlawfully and is now void, according to court documents.

In December 2021, amid a winter virus surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul renewed a mask mandate at all indoor public places throughout the state — including schools and nursing homes, and on public transit — to last a month. The state Health Department then extended the mandate an additional two weeks, to expire Feb. 1.

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Neil Young threatens to delete Spotify catalog over Joe Rogan vaccine misinformation — 10:32 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Singer Neil Young has demanded that his music be removed from Spotify over concerns that the platform’s most popular podcaster, Joe Rogan, is spreading vaccine misinformation, Rolling Stone magazine reported.

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform. They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” he wrote in a letter to his record company and management team, according to the magazine.

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Omicron offers hope that coronavirus pandemic could stabilize, WHO official says — 9:16 p.m.

By The New York Times

The astonishing spread of the omicron variant could help set the stage for the pandemic to transition from overwhelming to manageable in Europe this year, a top health official said Monday, potentially offering the world a glimpse at how countries can ease restrictions while keeping the virus at bay.

That hint of hope came with a heavy dose of caution: Immunity from the surge of infections will probably wane, and new variants are likely to emerge, leaving the world vulnerable to surges that could strain health systems. In the United States, where vaccination rates are lower and death rates are considerably higher than in Western Europe, there are bigger hurdles on the path to taming the pandemic.

Dr. Hans Kluge, director for the World Health Organization’s European region, warned in a statement released Monday that it was too early for nations to drop their guard, with so many people unvaccinated around the world. But, he said, between vaccination and natural immunity through infection, “omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization.”

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David Perdue tests positive for COVID-19 after campaign stop in Georgia — 8:57 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate David Perdue tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

Campaign spokesperson Jenni Sweat said Perdue, a former U.S. senator, recorded a positive result “during routine COVID-19 testing.” Sweat said Perdue is vaccinated and boosted against the respiratory virus. She said Perdue did not have a fever and wasn’t experiencing symptoms as of Monday evening.

Perdue had spoken earlier Monday at the Faith & Freedom luncheon in downtown Atlanta, where most attendees were unmasked. Sweat said Perdue notified the organizers of the gathering of his positive test.

Sweat said Perdue will isolate and “looks forward to being back out on the campaign trail as soon as possible.” He spoke over the internet to a group of Hall County Republicans on Monday evening and Sweat said he plans to campaign virtually while isolating.

Perdue is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp and others for the 2022 Republican nomination for governor. Former President Donald Trump urged Perdue to run, targeting Kemp for not overturning Georgia’s election.

SJC extends jury trial pause in Mass. by two weeks — 5:35 p.m.

By Breanne Kovatch, Globe Correspondent

Jury trials in Massachusetts state courthouses will remain paused until Valentine’s Day because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the Supreme Judicial Court said Monday.

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In first COVID-19 data report since Friday, Mass. reports 24,512 confirmed cases — 5:19 p.m.

By Globe Staff

In its first COVID-19 data report since Friday, Massachusetts on Monday reported 24,512 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 66,418 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also said 78 new confirmed deaths were reported on Friday.

FDA to halt use of two therapies for Omicron — 2:37 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is poised to restrict two monoclonal antibodies, saying the Covid-19 treatments shouldn’t be used in any states because they are ineffective against the dominant omicron variant, the Washington Post reported, citing two senior administration health officials.

The Biden administration will pause distribution of the therapies, manufactured by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, to the states, the newspaper said.

Several therapies remain effective against omicron, including sotrovimab — a monoclonal antibody made by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology — and antiviral pills by Pfizer and by Merck and its partner, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the article said, citing administration officials.

UK Minister quits over government inaction following COVID loan fraud — 12:38 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

A UK minister in the ruling Conservative Party resigned after accusing Boris Johnson’s government of failing to properly root out fraud in a loan program introduced to help businesses though the pandemic.

Theodore Agnew, a Treasury and Cabinet Office responsible for Whitehall efficiency, told the House of Lords on Monday that oversight by the Business Department and British Business Bank of the Bounce Back Loan Scheme had been “nothing less than woeful.”

“They have been assisted by the Treasury who appear to have no knowledge or little interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or society,” he said, in a dramatic statement from the government bench. Opposition peers applauded as he left the chamber, saying: “Thank you and goodbye.”

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Sarah Palin tests positive for COVID on eve of New York Times trial — 11:34 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin tested positive for COVID-19 just before the trial in her closely watched defamation suit against the New York Times was set to begin.

US District Judge Jed Rakoff announced Palin’s positive result in court Monday morning, the same day opening statements in the case were scheduled to begin. Noting that the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is unvaccinated. the judge said Palin tested positive in home tests Sunday night. She has a 10:15 a.m. appointment for another test to confirm whether she has the virus, her lawyer said.

If Palin tests positive again, the trial will be postponed until at least Feb. 3, Rakoff said. If she continues to test positive, it may be months before the trial can be rescheduled, he said.

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Head of US Special Operations Command has COVID-19 — 10:55 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The head of the US military’s Special Operations Command has tested positive for COVID-19, the command said Monday.

Gen. Richard D. Clarke has very mild symptoms and is working remotely, said Col. Curt Kellogg, his spokesman. Kellogg said Clarke hasn’t been physically in the presence of any senior Defense Department leaders or other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this month. Berger is fully vaccinated and got the booster shot.

Clarke is the latest member of the Joint Staff to get the virus. The chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, and the Marine commandant, Gen. David Berger were among the latest to have positive tests. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also had the virus earlier this month.

More than 94 percent of Boston city workers vaccinated, Mayor Wu says — 10:36 a.m.

By Travis Andersen and Emma Platoff, Globe Staff

Mayor Michelle Wu said Monday that more than 94 percent of Boston’s municipal workforce is now vaccinated against COVID-19, and she added that city employees have one more week to comply with the mandate.

Wu provided the update during a City Hall news conference, as some firefighters and other workers protested the mandate outside. “I’m incredibly encouraged by this progress, and we continue to have very productive conversations with our union partners about the collective bargaining impacts,” Wu said. “And we are giving this one more week to make sure that we realize that progress.”

Meanwhile, demonstrators spoke out against the mandate outside City Hall. “There are viable, common-sense solutions to this issue that don’t involve placing Boston firefighters on the unemployment line,” said Sam Dillon, a Boston firefighter and board member of Local 718, referring to the looming termination for workers who don’t comply.

SCOTUS won’t hear pandemic proxy voting dispute — 10:33 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Supreme Court has rejected a challenge from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to the proxy voting Democrats put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

McCarthy had sought a declaration that proxy voting, an absent representative giving authority for someone in attendance to cast his or her vote, was unconstitutional. As is typical, the high court said nothing in rejecting the challenge Monday.

House lawmakers voted by proxy for the first time in May 2020 following a House rules change. The change was intended to strike a balance between working from home during the coronavirus outbreak and honoring the Constitution’s requirement to be “present” and voting.

Lower courts had agreed the lawsuit should be dismissed because each house of Congress can set its own rules for voting.

WHO says Omicron’s spread could end ‘emergency phase’ of pandemic — 9:54 a.m.

By The New York Times

The pandemic that has convulsed the world for more than two years is entering a “new phase,” and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant offers “plausible hope” for a return to normalcy in the months ahead, the World Health Organization said in a statement released Monday.

Dr. Hans Kluge, the director for the WHO’s European region, warned that it was too early for nations to drop their guard, but he said that between vaccination and natural immunity through infection, “Omicron offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization.”

His comments echoed the optimism of other leading public health officials around the world, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser for the coronavirus.

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UK to end COVID testing for vaccinated travelers — 8:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

The UK will stop requiring vaccinated travelers to take a COVID-19 test after arriving in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

The new rules come on the heels of a recent lifting of pre-flight test requirements, and are part of a general easing of COVID-19 restrictions as the UK starts to treat the virus as endemic.

“So what we’re doing on travel, to show that this country is open for business, open for travelers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated,” Johnson told broadcasters Monday in a pooled interview.

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Fourth vaccine shot gives infection protection, Israel says — 6:39 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

A fourth vaccine dose for older adults leaves them better protected against coronavirus infection than peers who received three shots, a study released by Israel’s health ministry found.

The preliminary analysis compares data from about 400,000 people aged 60 and over who received a fourth dose in January and some 600,000 people in the same age group who got only three doses -- with the third shot administered four months or more previously.

The researchers found that those who had the fourth dose had twice the protection from infection as the others, and at least three times the protection from severe illness. The great majority of people in Israel have received the Pfizer Inc. vaccine.

Czech cases touch pandemic Sunday high — 5:40 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

The Czech Republic had 12,889 new cases of Covid-19 in the 24 hours through Sunday, the highest number for a Sunday since the beginning of the pandemic.

As the highly infectious Omicron variant rages through the nation of 10.7 million, 1,448 patients were hospitalized with coronavirus, according to the health ministry data.

Singapore vaccine demand for kids rises — 4:33 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

About 70% of Singapore’s primary school students have signed up to be vaccinated, with more than 60% having had their first vaccines, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post.

Overall 160,000 aged 5-11 have had first dose, 13,000 have had their second dose, according to the ministry.

Diplomats at Beijing Olympics risk 21 Days in quarantine — 2:53 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

China warned foreign diplomats attending the Winter Olympics opening ceremony they could face 21 days in quarantine if they are deemed close contacts of positive cases in the audience.

The notice, sent to diplomatic missions and seen by Bloomberg News, came amid a long list of measures that attendees must comply with to attend the Feb. 4 event.

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India wave may have peaked — 1:47 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

India’s current wave of infections may have peaked on Jan. 23 after surging more than 40-fold within a month, according to a note by Cambridge University’s India Covid-19 tracker. It matches the estimates from a team of researchers including Manindra Agrawal, who correctly predicted the peak of the deadly delta-led wave last year. The country added 306,064 new cases Monday, taking total infections since the start of the pandemic to 39.5 million.

India has stepped up screening for all omicron lineages and threat levels remain high in view of increasing hospitalizations and patients needing intensive care, the government said Sunday. Reported deaths rose 439 to a total of 489,848 since the pandemic started.

Monthlong pandemic lockdown lifted on China’s Xi’an — 12:08 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Authorities have lifted a monthlong pandemic lockdown on the northern Chinese city of Xi’an and its 13 million residents.

The announcement Monday followed the restart of commercial flights from the city the day before.

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  Jan. 23, 2022  

Airlines urge UK to drop restrictions for vaccinated travelers — 9:37 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Airline bosses are urging U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid to restore restriction-free international travel at least for the fully vaccinated, citing evidence that recent curbs haven’t been effective in preventing the spread of omicron.

In a letter to Javid, chief executives of British Airways, Ryanair and other carriers asked for a clear protocol for managing future outbreaks “without recourse to knee-jerk universal testing or hotel quarantine.” They also called on the U.K. to rule out border closures and flight bans in response to future variants of concern.

“Living with Covid means getting back to normality, being vigilant against variants and keeping the red list in our back pocket, but removing across-the-board restrictions in the same way we have done for hospitality and the domestic economy,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive at Airlines UK. The U.K. saw a 71% slump in 2021 international departures compared to 2019, the trade body for British registered airlines said.

Airlines UK also demanded the end of testing for fully vaccinated passengers, amid reports that Javid may scrap the requirement for a negative rapid test by day two of arrival in the U.K. as soon as this week.

Gonzaga suspends John Stockton’s season tickets over mask rule — 7:57 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Gonzaga has suspended John Stockton’s basketball season tickets after the Hall of Fame point guard refused to comply with the university’s mask mandate.

Stockton, one of Gonzaga’s most prominent alums, confirmed the move in a Saturday interview with The Spokesman-Review.

“Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit,” Stockton said. “And therefore they received complaints and felt like from whatever the higher-ups — those weren’t discussed, but from whatever it was higher up — they were going to have to either ask me to wear a mask or they were going to suspend my tickets.”

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Wu extends deadline for city workers to get vaccinated — 7:08 p.m.

By Maysoon Khan, Globe Correspondent

Mayor Michelle Wu is again extending the deadline for city workers to satisfy Boston’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, officials said Sunday, one day before the city was set to begin placing municipal employees on unpaid administrative leave for not complying with the requirement.

As the city continues to have productive conversations with municipal unions, no employees will be placed on leave or disciplined between Jan. 25 and Jan. 30, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. As of 2 p.m. Sunday, there were 18,265 city employees in compliance with the policy, officials said.

This announcement comes after heavy pushback against the mandate from municipal unions and workers, including vocal protests of Wu at official events and outside her Roslindale home, the Globe reported.

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US COVID vaccinations are slowing down — 6:50 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

The U.S. reported on Sunday 694,000 vaccine new doses administered, the lowest number since October, amid a general decline in vaccinations despite near-record high infections and hospitalizations.

Vaccinations peaked last April at more than 4.5 million daily shots, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, and have largely been on the decline since. The availability of booster shots, the expansion to younger age groups and vaccine mandates briefly boosted numbers that are now dropping toward the lowest points since vaccinations were rolled out in December 2020.

Of the eligible populations, 67.4% of Americans are fully vaccinated and 43% have received booster shots, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Too early to end school masking, former head of FDA says — 4:24 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

It’s too soon for schools to lift student mask mandates, but public health officials officials need to be clearer about how long they are needed, said Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“To withdraw it right at the peak of the epidemic, I think it’s imprudent. We should wait,” Gottlieb, a Pfizer Inc. board member, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“But this whole Covid epidemic, I think, has been colored by the fact that policymakers have not prescribed clear endpoints,” he said. “I think parents are willing to tolerate masks in schools, recognizing it’s very disruptive to children if there is an end date to it.”

Anti-vaccine activists march in D.C. — a city that mandates COVID vaccines — to protest mandates — 2:06 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Thousands of protesters from across the country - including some of the biggest names in the anti-vaccination movement - gathered Sunday for a rally against vaccine mandates in the nation’s capital.

Almost two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 860,000 Americans, the gathering on the National Mall was a jarring spectacle: A crowd of demonstrators, many unmasked, decrying vaccine mandates in the middle of a city that has adopted mask and vaccine mandates to reduce sickness and death from the surge of the virus’s omicron variant, which has battered D.C. for weeks.

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Stressed hospitals are asking workers with COVID to return — even if they may be infectious — 2:03 p.m

By The Washington Post

Hospitals are increasingly asking staff who have the coronavirus to work while potentially infectious, underscoring how the hyper-transmissible omicron variant has sidelined employees, overwhelmed resources and upended nearly two years of strict protocols. Though vaccine requirements are common at hospitals, many health care workers are coming down with the virus, exacerbating staffing issues.

Ten-day isolation periods have given way to five-day ones under CDC guidelines updated late last month, with workers sometimes allowed back as long as symptoms are deemed mild and improving. Officials acknowledge even halving isolation may not be enough to keep hospitals staffed: The CDC says health care workers who test positive can keep working uninterrupted in a “crisis” - and one state, California, recently declared that hospitals could take that step for employees without symptoms.

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Italy looks to ‘ordinary’ phase of COVID — 1:22 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Italy must move from treating the pandemic as an emergency a to a new “ordinary” phase where Covid-19 is just an illness among others, health undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri said on Sunday on Rai1 television.

Sileri said the easing of restrictions must happen “at the right moment,” adding that he expected infections to decline in coming days. Italy recorded 138,860 new cases on Sunday.

Omicron outbreak in US is ‘going in the right direction,’ Fauci says — 12:51 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser expressed optimism that the omicron surge that has pushed Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations to records will soon peak, though that decline won’t be uniform throughout the U.S.

“Things are looking good,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now.”

Infections are “starting to come down rather sharply” in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, Fauci said, in line with the variant’s trajectory in South Africa and other places. He said he expected that states in the South and West where cases are still rising will soon follow the same downward path, depending in part on vaccination rates.

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Coronavirus tests from US government begin to arrive at some homes — 12:15 p.m.

By The New York Times

Americans have started to receive free coronavirus tests from the U.S. government in the mail after it began accepting orders Tuesday.

The Biden administration said it would send 500 million rapid tests to Americans this month via the U.S. Postal Service after the omicron variant strained access to in-person and at-home tests. Each household is eligible for four free rapid tests and can order them at

Marcie Taylor, a marketing consultant in Santa Ana, California, said she received her tests Friday after she ordered them Tuesday at the recommendation of her friend who sent her a link to the website. She said the package, which included two boxes with two tests in each, arrived earlier than the tracking website had estimated.

Taylor said her husband and two children, a 16-year-old and a 20-year-old, would try to make the tests last as long as possible because it only amounted to one test per person.

“If you can order the kit, order it,” Taylor said in an interview. “It gives you peace of mind to have it since there is a shortage at drugstores.”

Taylor was one of several people who posted on social media after they received the tests at the end of the week.

“That bodes well for how things are going to go,” said Steve Hutkins, editor of the “Save the Post Office” blog.

Hutkins said the Postal Service’s mission to deliver 500 million tests in a short period of time was a significant task “but totally doable.”

Beijing district orders mass virus testing ahead of Olympics — 10:32 a.m.

By Associated Press

People in a Beijing district with some 2 million residents were ordered Sunday to undergo mass coronavirus testing following a series of infections as China tightened anti-disease controls ahead of the Winter Olympics.

The government told people in areas of the Chinese capital deemed at high risk for infection not to leave the city after 25 cases were found in the Fengtai district and 14 elsewhere.

The ruling Communist Party is stepping up enforcement of its “zero tolerance” strategy aimed at isolating every infected person as Beijing prepares to open the Winter Games on Feb. 4 under intensive anti-virus controls.

On Sunday, Fengtai residents lined up on snow-covered sidewalks in freezing weather for testing.

China downplays overseas mail link — 7:40 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Chinese officials say experts have seen little to suggest that Covid-19 is spreading via non-frozen goods after a recent infection of the omicron variant in Beijing was said to be traced to overseas mail.

Experts have insufficient evidence so far on non-frozen imported goods transmitting Covid-19 to people in China, according to He Qinghua, an official with the National Health Commission, at a press conference on Saturday.

Passenger refusing to wear a mask exposed himself, threw can during flight, prosecutors say — 7:30 a.m.

By New York Times

A passenger who refused to wear a mask on a flight from Dublin to New York City pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks, threw a can at a passenger and put his cap on the captain’s head and told him, “Don’t touch me,” prosecutors said in a case unsealed Friday.

After the Delta Air Lines flight from Dublin to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 7, the passenger, Shane McInerney, 29, of Galway, Ireland, was charged with intentionally assaulting and intimidating a crew member, prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors said.

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Fewer German COVID-19 patients in ICU — 5:17 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Germany reported 2,398 Covid-19 patients in ICU, 20 fewer than the day before. The number of patients on ventilators was 1,422, 26 fewer than the previous day. A further 44 Covid-19 patients died while in ICU.

UK weighs scrapping NHS Staff vaccine mandate — 4:45 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told junior lawmakers in his party that he is considering relaxing mandatory vaccination rules for health service staff, according to The Times newspaper.

Johnson told skeptical backbenchers that “we’ve got to do something” about a policy that could see the health service losing tens of thousands of staff within weeks, the newspaper reported.

Ardern cancels her wedding as New Zealand tightens curbs — 3:49 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

The South Pacific nation will tighten restrictions, moving to a “red” setting at 11:59 p.m. today, Ardern said at a news conference Sunday in Wellington. That will mean more mask wearing, gathering limits and increased distancing requirements at hospitality outlets. Businesses will be able to remain open and people allowed to travel freely. No regional lockdowns are being considered, Ardern said.

A gathering limit of 100 people at sporting or private events means weddings and funerals need to be re-assessed, she said. “As for mine, my wedding will not be going ahead but I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic,” Ardern said, without elaborating when her nuptials were planned for. “Such is life.”

Western Australia minister says Omicron can’t be eliminated — 2:51 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Western Australia reported 24 new community cases Sunday, prompting the state’s Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson to say that omicron can’t be eliminated, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

“I think it’s clear that we’re not going to eliminate omicron, it’s now about how we suppress and manage omicron,” Sanderson told reporters Sunday in Perth, according to the ABC. The state now has 90 active cases, the Department of Health said in an emailed statement.

France cases slow ahead of vaccine pass — 1:50 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

French daily infections fell below 400,000 as the country braces for the implementation of a vaccine pass on Monday.

The country recorded 389,320 new Covid-19 infections on Saturday, according to data from the country’s public health office. That’s 16% less than the 464,769 cases reported on Tuesday.

The French government is set to relax some health restrictions, betting the current wave of infections is peaking. The implementation of the vaccine pass will effectively shut people out of most social activities if they’re unvaccinated.

India extends campaign restrictions — 12:54 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Restrictions on election campaigns across five poll-bound Indian states will stay in place till the end of this month as daily infections have crossed the 300,000 mark, the federal election commission said.

No road show, rallies and procession shall be allowed till Jan. 31, according to a statement issued by the commission on Saturday. The commission has also raised the limit on door-to-door campaign to 10 people from 5, excluding security personnel.

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