The more contagious Omicron coronavirus variant appears to produce less serious diseases than the globally dominant Delta strain, but this has not prevented governments from tightening restrictions in an effort to prevent another wave of mass infections.
The United Nations Health Agency said in its weekly report on the pandemic that the weekly count was 9,520,488 new cases – with 41,178 deaths recorded last week, compared to 44,680 in the week before.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, warned earlier this week that although the caseload looks significant compared to previous weeks, the figure is certainly an underestimation due to a backlog in testing around the year-end holidays.
Here is a quick summary of the latest developments:
Authorities in the Chinese port city of Tianjin said they were launching a city-wide test campaign of its 14 million inhabitants after a group of 20 children and adults tested positive for COVID-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant.
Those infected include 15 students, a staff member at an after-school center and four parents. The campaign must be completed in two days.
The announcement on Sunday comes as China has tightened its zero-tolerance COVID-19 strategy in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, which will begin on February 4 in Beijing.
The Chinese capital is located about 115 km (71 miles) northwest of Tianjin and is connected by a high-speed rail link that takes less than one hour.
The first two cases confirmed in Tianjin were a 10-year-old girl and a 29-year-old woman working at the after-school center. Both were infected by the Omicron strain. In the subsequent testing of close contacts, 18 others tested positive and 767 tested negative as of Saturday night.
Indian authorities on Sunday reported 159,632 new COVID-19 cases, forcing several states to impose new restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
India’s richest state, Maharashtra, said it would close swimming pools and gyms from Monday while schools and colleges closed until February 15 after daily business in the state shot up to more than 41,000.
The state government said only fully vaccinated people would be allowed in private offices, while capacity would be limited to 50 percent of the total workforce.
In the neighboring state of Gujarat, the authorities extended the curfew and canceled leave for all health care personnel.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chair a meeting later on Sunday to review the COVID-19 situation.
The Ministry of Health reported 327 new deaths, bringing the official death toll to 483,790 since the start of the pandemic. Total infections stand at 35.52 million.
Israel, which has begun administering a fourth sample to its most vulnerable groups, has announced eased access to COVID-19 home tests to enable people to decide whether to sit in quarantine at home amid shortages in stores and complaints about high prices.
“We are aware of the public’s need,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting, announcing that every child in the kindergarten or primary school in Israel will be issued with three free sets in the coming days.
The government was also negotiating price reductions with major pharmacy chains, Bennett said, adding, “Anyway, costs will drop in the near future because the market will be flooded with millions of kits arriving in Israel.”
The sets cost 25 to 35 Israeli shekels ($ 8 to $ 11) in stores, many of which have been reported to run out. Nachman Ash, director general of the Ministry of Health, told 103 FM radio that the unit price should not exceed 10 shekels ($ 3).
With an increase in COVID-19 infections and hours-long queues at mandatory testing stations, Israel said last week that PCR and professionally administered antigen tests would only be needed for people over 60 or with weak immune systems.
Other vaccinated people could now rely on home tests, but there was some skepticism about its effectiveness.
Data released on Sunday said Africa had registered a total of more than 10 million coronavirus cases.
Statistics from the African Centers for Disease Control showed that there were 10 028 508 cases reported by the African Union’s 55 member states since the outbreak of the pandemic.