Coronavirus worldwide: Japan extends entry restrictions, Dutch health experts recommend tough lockdown

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About 273 million people have tested positive for the virus worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 5.3 million infected people have died. More than 8.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide.

Moderna wants to revise its vaccine because of the Omicron variant. However, it is far from certain when it will be launched on the market.

The Japanese government will extend entry restrictions for foreigners beyond the end of the year in light of the spread of the Omicron variant. The daily Yomiuri reported Saturday (Dec. 18) Japan has largely closed its borders. So far, 30 infections with the Omicron variant have been detected in Japan – mostly at airports and quarantine hotels.

Health experts in the Netherlands have advised their government to impose a hard lockdown. Dutch media reported Friday (Dec. 17) that the expert panel, whose advice is not usually made public, had justified it by citing the spread of the Omicron variant. A few days earlier, the Dutch government had announced the extension of a partial lockdown until mid-January.

Children between the ages of two and five are unlikely to respond as well to Pfizer/Biontech’s Covid-19 vaccine as adolescents and as babies between 6 and 24 months. That was the finding of clinical trials conducted by the companies, it was announced Friday (Dec. 17). Now the companies are adjusting their clinical trial to give a third dose of vaccine to infants. This is to be done no sooner than two months after the second dose. Because this delays the clinical trial, the companies expect results to be available by the “first half of 2022.” No safety concerns have been identified, they said. About 4,500 children between six months and 11 years of age from several countries are participating in the study.

The Danish government wants to further restrict public life. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced Friday (Dec. 17) that museums, theaters, cinemas, zoos, amusement parks and event venues are to close. In addition, vaccination and testing is to be intensified. The new measures have yet to be approved by the parliament’s pandemic committee. In Denmark, 11,194 new Corona cases were reported on Friday. More than a fifth of those involved the Omicron variant, Frederiksen said. A total of 11,559 Omicron cases have been detected in Denmark since late November. Restaurants remain open, but are not allowed to serve alcohol after 10 p.m. and must close at 11 p.m. Last week, the government had already decided to send schoolchildren on their Christmas vacations a week early.

More than half of all new Corona infections in Scotland are due to the Omicron variant. That’s according to Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish Executive, on Friday (Dec. 17). Around 51.4 percent of infections were caused by the Omicron variant, she said, which meant the new mutation had become the dominant variant within a very short time. Case numbers were increasing at an unprecedented rate in the pandemic, doubling every two to three days.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna’s Corona vaccines be preferred over Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. Compared with Moderna and Biontech’s mRNA vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is less effective and carries higher health risks, the CDC said Friday (Dec. 17). Only when no other vaccine is available does Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine still offer more benefits than risks, the agency said. Previously, an independent expert committee had recommended avoiding the “J&J” vaccine because of the risk of rare blood clots.

South Africa plans to donate around two million vaccine doses from the US manufacturer Johnson & Johnson to other African countries. This measure is a sign of solidarity in the common fight against the unprecedented threat to health and economic development on the continent, the government said Friday (Dec. 17). It said it plans to deliver the vaccine doses to other African countries as soon as possible. With a vaccination rate of 38 percent, South Africa has one of the highest vaccination rates on the continent.

Given the Omicron variant, EU countries are looking to have 180 million doses of Pfizer/Biontech’s adapted Corona vaccine delivered. An existing contract provides for the companies to adapt the vaccines – if requested – to new variants within 100 days, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Friday night (Dec. 17) after an EU summit in Brussels. The EU states want to make use of this option. In total, the contract with Biontech/Pfizer provides for the delivery of up to 1.8 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2023. Von der Leyen also announced that her agency would promptly present guidelines with a view to the EU vaccination certificate. Accordingly, booster vaccinations will be recommended no later than six months after full vaccination. The vaccination certificate is to be valid for a further three months before a booster is required.

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