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MADRID - Spain's coronavirus infection rate dropped for the first time in two and a half months, health ministry data showed on Tuesday, suggesting the Omicron variant's rapid-fire advance may be slowing. Even as Spain reported over 94,400 new cases, the rate as measured over the preceding 14 days fell to 3,306 cases per 100,000 people from a record 3,397 cases on Wednesday, the first decline since Nov. 2 when it was below 50. The seven-day rate fell even more sharply, to 1,522 from 1,657 per 100,000. Infections had climbed without interruption amid mass testing, turbo-charged by Omicron's elevated transmissibility and large swathes of the population mixing over Christmas. Hospital admissions remain well below those seen in earlier waves, however, thanks to Spain's high vaccination rates. Hospital occupancy with COVID-19 patients was practically unchanged on Tuesday from Wednesday at just over 15%, while about a quarter o...
By Daniela Desantis ASUNCION - Paraguay's President Mario Abdo has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms from the virus, the country's health ministry said in a tweet on Tuesday, as the South American region sees a spike in cases driven by the Omicron variant. "We inform that the President of the Republic, Mario Abdo, tested positive for COVID-19 today," the ministry said. "The president has mild symptoms and will continue to maintain preventive isolation in accordance with the provisions of the current health protocols." (Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Writing by Adam Jourdan)...
- Gilead Sciences Inc said on Tuesday that tampered and counterfeit versions of its HIV treatments worth $250 million were sold to pharmacies over two years by a network of drug distributors and suppliers. The drugmaker said in August that distributors not authorized by Gilead to sell its HIV treatments, Biktarvy and Descovy, have sold counterfeits to pharmacies where genuine Gilead bottles have been tampered with a counterfeit foil induction seal or label and contain incorrect tablets. "After becoming aware of counterfeit Gilead HIV medication being distributed we notified federal law enforcement authorities, including the FDA, as well as dispensing pharmacies, and then took direct and urgent legal action," a Gilead spokesperson said on Tuesday. Gilead said the distributors, against whom it had filed a lawsuit, had sold 85,247 bottles of counterfeit HIV drugs. (Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Edit...
LONDON -A former senior adviser to Boris Johnson who claims the British prime minister lied about a party held at his residence during a COVID-19 lockdown will be questioned by an investigation into allegations of rule-breaking, the Mirror reported. British media have reported that at least 11 gatherings took place at 10 Downing Street - the prime minister's official residence and office - or in other government departments between May 2020 and April 2021, when COVID-19 rules limited how many people could meet socially. An internal investigation is being carried out to establish the facts. Dominic Cummings, an architect of Britain's departure from the European Union and a former senior adviser to Johnson who left government under acrimonious terms in November 2020, will be interviewed by Sue Gray, a senior government official who is carrying out the investigation, according to the Mirror. Cummings said on Monday the prime minister knew in adv...
By Elizabeth Piper and Alistair Smout LONDON - British health officials are aiming to be ready to start charging Britons for COVID-19 tests that are currently free at the end of June, a document seen by shows, in what could be a risky gambit for the government. Britain has been increasingly dependent on rapid testing to try to tackle the more-transmissible Omicron variant, which has spread rapidly through the population but is less severe. The government has previously said it will end the universal free provision of easy-to-use lateral flow devices (LFDs) at a "later stage", with individuals and businesses bearing the cost. The Department of Health has declined to say what the tests cost, citing commercial contracts. One source has said they can run to 30 pounds ($40.75) for a pack of seven. The tests have freely available to order online or pick up from local pharmacies since April. The UK Health Security Ag...
By Kacper Pempel ZAKOPANE, Poland - While some European countries have restricted access to ski lifts to those vaccinated against COVID-19, no such restrictions apply in Poland - and some of those taking to the slopes are delighted. Poland has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world, a fact that doctors have attributed to its low vaccination rate but also public reluctance to follow rules and their lax enforcement. While the country faces its most serious wave of infections yet, this was not a worry in the southern resort of Zakopane as the winter holiday season kicked off. "Today's conditions are super - the sunshine, the view," said 31-year-old Dominika, who works in the military. Countries such as Austria and Italy have said that COVID-19 passports will be required for ski lifts. Poland has not imposed those limits and regulations state that 30% of the capacity of public spaces li...
PARIS - Spain has reported an outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus on a farm north of Madrid, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said on Tuesday, adding to a wave of cases in Europe. The outbreak started on Jan. 13 on a farm of 18,900 birds in the village of Cantalejo, the Paris-based OIE said, citing a report from Spanish authorities. "The epidemiological survey conducted on the farm indicates that all the birds were brought onto the farm for fattening at the beginning of November 2021, with no animal movements outside of the farm since then," the report says. A restriction zone had been established around the outbreak. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by Gus Trompiz)...
- The World Health Organization's chief scientist said on Tuesday there was currently no evidence that healthy children and adolescents need booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Speaking at a media briefing, Soumya Swaminathan said that though there seems to be some waning of vaccine immunity against the highly transmissable Omicron variant over time, more research needs to be done to pin down who needs booster doses. (Reporting by Mrinalika Roy and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru, editing by Mark Heinrich)...
LONDON - Britain reported 438 new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, the highest figure since February, government data showed. The figures also showed there had been 94,432 further daily infections. That compares with 84,429 news cases and 85 deaths a day earlier.   (Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; editing by William James)...
By Manojna Maddipatla and Leroy Leo - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said Americans should wear the most protective mask they can, but stopped short of recommending an N95 or similar face covering. Here are some facts to consider when choosing a mask: WHAT ARE N95 MASKS? These masks and their international counterparts known as KN95s and KF94s are often made of multiple layers of polypropylene, a synthetic fiber. They are designed to achieve a very snug facial fit, with straps that go around the back of the head and edges that form a tight seal around the nose and mouth. N95 respirators worn correctly are designed to filter out at least 95% of particulate matter in the air, preventing anything larger than .3 microns from passing through. KN95s and KF94s are certified https://oklahoma.gov/covid19/what-you-should-know/kn95s.html in China and South Korea, respectiv...
- Vaccine equity is the best way to get out of the current pandemic phase of the coronavirus epidemic, the world's top public health experts said in a panel at Davos on Tuesday. Talking about the vaccination gap at the World Economic Forum's virtual Davos Agenda conference, World Health Organization's (WHO) Emergencies Director Mike Ryan said that over half of the world's population has received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, but only 7% of the population has been fully vaccinated in Africa. "The problem is we are leaving huge swathes of the world behind...But vaccines are absolutely central. There is no way out of the pandemic right now without vaccines as the central strategic pillar." The discovery of the Omicron variant in southern Africa has heightened claims that low inoculation rates can encourage viral mutations, which can then spread to countries where rates are much higher. John Nkengasong, director of the Afric...
FRANKFURT - The European Union's drugs regulator said vaccine developers should work on more than one upgraded COVID-19 shot and consider not only a product tailored to the fast emerging Omicron variant but also versions that address a combination of variants. "What we are hearing also from other regulatory agencies is that is important not to exclude any options," the European Medicines Agency's Head of Vaccines Strategy, Marco Cavaleri, told a media briefing on Tuesday. "So it will be equally important to consider not only a monovalent vaccine at this point in time but maybe also bivalent vaccine or even a multivalent vaccine."   (Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Pushkala Aripaka; Editing by Catherine Evans)...
GENEVA - A World Health Organization committee on Tuesday urged COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers to provide them with the data they require in order to list their shots for emergency use, saying that the delays were affecting equitable vaccine access. "The Committee recognized the challenges posed by some manufacturers’ delayed submission of vaccine data to WHO," the WHO's Emergency Committee said in a statement, urging vaccine producers to provide the data as soon as possible. (Reporting by Emma Farge and Mrinalika Roy)...
- COVID-19 vaccines made using mRNA technology do not cause pregnancy complications for expectant mothers and their babies, the European Union's drug regulator said on Tuesday, following a detailed review of several studies. The review based on studies involving around 65,000 pregnancies at different stages did not find any sign of higher risk of complications, miscarriages, preterm births or severe side-effects on the unborn babies from mRNA shots, the European Medicines Agency said. Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, as well as Moderna, currently supply such vaccines to the European Union. While the EMA acknowledged some limitations in the data, it said results were consistent across studies. "The benefits of receiving mRNA COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy outweigh any possible risks for expectant mothers and unborn babies," the agency said https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/news/covid-19-latest-safety-data-provide-reassura...
- Drugmaker Endo International plc said on Tuesday it had agreed to pay up to $65 million to resolve claims by the state of Florida and local governments that the drugmaker helped fuel the U.S. opioid epidemic. The deal is the latest in a string of settlements that Endo has struck in recent months to resolve similar cases, including a $63 million settlement with Texas in December. The Florida settlement included no admission of wrongdoing, Endo said, while reiterating that its goal was to achieve a global opioid settlement. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed seeking to hold drugmakers, drug distributors and pharmacy chains responsible for a drug abuse crisis, which the U.S. government says has led to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths over two decades. Endo shares rose nearly 4% to $3.40 in premarket trading. (Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)...
By Gopal Sharma KATHMANDU - Nepal recorded 10,258 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, government data showed, the highest number reported in a single day as the government projected the tally could double by the end of the month. Total infections topped 972,198 and COVID-19-related deaths stood at 11,624. The previous daily record was 9,483 cases in May last year. Authorities extended an earlier ban on large public gatherings in the hill-ringed Kathmandu valley, home to more than four million people, until Feb. 12 from Jan. 29 to try to control the spread of the virus. Nepal’s daily number of infections is likely to double by the end of January and hospitalisation cases could increase greatly to put further strain on the country's poor health infrastructure, officials said. "This is just a projection for us to prepare," Krishna Prasad Poudel, head of the epidemiology and disease control division, told ....
- Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said on Tuesday they had signed an agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to supply up to 3 million courses of their COVID-19 antiviral pill. Merck would supply the pill, molnupiravir, to UNICEF through the first half of 2022 for distribution in more than 100 low- and middle-income countries upon regulatory authorizations, the companies said. The pill received authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December and has also been authorized in several other countries including India, Mexico and the UK. Many countries have signed supply deals with Merck for the drug. Merck said in January it expects molnupiravir to be effective against the highly contagious Omicron variant, which has driven a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the world. (Reporting by Manas Mishra and Amruta Khandekar in Bengaluru; E...
BANGKOK - Thailand will lower its COVID-19 alert level and is considering easing more restrictions to boost its economy, its health minister said on Tuesday, in response to a slower infection rate. Among measures being considered are establishing more "sandbox" areas for tourists, who can skip quarantine if they stay in specified areas for seven days and undergo two COVID-19 tests. Nightclubs, pubs and bars will remained closed for now, however, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters, adding the COVID-19 alert level will be lowered to 3, from 4, on the government's 5-level system. New Sandbox areas could include Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Khon Kaen and Samut Prakan provinces, he said. The scheme, a calibrated move to rebuild Thailand's decimated tourism sector, currently operates in Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi and Koh Samui. Anutin on Monday said he would propose the return of a 'Test and Go' scheme...
MANILA - The Philippines' swine inventory increased by about 700,000 heads over the last 12 months owing to a repopulation programme, following two years of declines due to African swine fever outbreaks, an agriculture official said on Tuesday. The inventory has risen to 9.8 million heads, from 9.1 million a year ago, said Reildrin Morales, director of the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal Industry. The increase was "substantial", he said in a virtual briefing, citing official data, after the industry suffered a decline of more than 3 million heads between 2019 and 2020 mainly due to massive culling. The Philippines, the world's seventh-biggest pork importer before local demand was hammered by the pandemic, has been hit hard by such outbreaks and forced to ramp up pork imports to address an acute domestic shortage and temper food inflation. As of Jan. 13, 45 villages across the country still had active cases of Af...
BUCHAREST - Romania reported 16,760 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, more than double on the day and the biggest single-day rise since October, as the Omicron coronavirus variant takes hold. Romania is the European Union's second-least vaccinated state, with just under 41% of the population fully inoculated amid distrust of state institutions and poor vaccine education. The number of new infections was approaching a record high of 18,863 daily cases seen in October, official data showed, but hospitalisations were still relatively low. Sixty-five people died of the virus within the last 24 hours. Romania has shortened the isolation and quarantine periods for COVID-19 positive people, their direct contacts and untested travellers from high-risk countries to varying lengths depending on whether they are vaccinated. The three parties in the ruling coalition have yet to agree on whether to send a new bill to parliament mand...