South Korea mulling new curbs after record cases in day

Covid-19 has infected more than 271M people and killed over 5.3M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

South Korea hits the new highest daily total after reporting 7,850 Covid-19 infections.
South Korea hits the new highest daily total after reporting 7,850 Covid-19 infections. (AP Archive)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

S.Korea reports new highest daily Covid cases

South Korea has reported 7,850 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily total, as breakthrough infections among those already vaccinated continue to spike, with the number of patients in a serious condition also reaching a fresh high at 964.

Daily tallies of infections shot past 7,000 for the first time last week, just days after passing the 5,000 mark, putting ever greater strains on the country’s medical capacity.

Total infections in the pandemic so far have risen to 536,495, including 128 cases of the Omicron variant, with 4,456 deaths, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

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Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum warned that the government is considering reimposing strict distancing curbs including a ban on gatherings and a curfew on dining in eating establishments. An official announcement is expected on Friday.

South Korea has fully vaccinated more than 94 percent of its adults so far, and is accelerating its ongoing campaign promoting booster shots by shortening intervals for all ages.

Australia reopens borders to non-citizens

Australia has reopened borders to vaccinated skilled migrants and foreign students after a nearly two-year ban on their entry, in a bid to boost an economy hit by stop-start Covid-19 lockdowns and restart international travel.

The emergence of the new Omicron variant forced officials to delay the reopening by two weeks after health officials sought a temporary pause to get more information about the strain, which so far appears to show milder symptoms than other Covid-19 variants.

Australia has inoculated nearly 90 percent of its population above 16 with two doses and shortened the wait time for booster shots after the emergence of the Omicron cases.

Three US vaccines appear to be less protective without booster

All three US authorised Covid-19 vaccines appear to be significantly less protective against the newly-detected Omicron variant of the coronavirus in laboratory testing, but a booster dose likely restores most of the protection, according to a study.

The study from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard, and MIT that has not yet been peer-reviewed tested blood from people who received the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines against a pseudovirus engineered to resemble the Omicron variant.

The scientists also suggested that Omicron is more infectious than previous variants of concern, including about twice as transmissible as the currently dominant Delta variant, which may soon be overtaken by Omicron.

Google employees who don’t follow vaccination rules may be fired

Alphabet Inc’s Google has told its employees they would lose pay and eventually be fired if they do not follow its Covid-19 vaccination rules, CNBC reported, citing internal documents.

A memo circulated by Google’s leadership said employees had until Dec. 3 to declare their vaccination status and upload documentation showing proof or to apply for a medical or religious exemption, according to the report.

After that date, Google said it would start contacting employees who had not uploaded their status or were unvaccinated and those whose exemption requests were not approved, CNBC reported.

Earlier this month, Google delayed its return-to-office plan indefinitely amid Omicron variant fears and some resistance from its employees to company-mandated vaccinations.

India vaccine maker to pay $66.2 million to Oxford University

Vaccine maker Serum Institute of India (SII) has pledged $66.2 million to the University of Oxford for setting up a research campus that would also house the institute behind the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 shot.

The investment was made through the Indian company’s Serum Life Sciences unit, Oxford University said on Wednesday. The research building would be named after Serum’s billionaire owners, the Poonawalla family.

The pledge builds on the collaboration between Oxford University, AstraZeneca, and SII, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and the producer of a version of the British duo’s Covid-19 shot for low- and middle-income countries.

SII has also agreed with the Jenner Institute, which was behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, to produce and develop Jenner’s R21/Matrix-M malaria shot on a large scale. The shot is currently in late-stage trials.

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