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Published: 10:38, January 13, 2022 | Updated: 00:41, January 14, 2022
Australia's virus cases hit record high amid Omicron outbreak
By Agencies
Published:10:38, January 13, 2022 Updated:00:41, January 14, 2022 By Agencies

Traffic marshalls direct cars at a drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, on Jan 8, 2022. (MARK BAKER / FILE/ AP)

ANKARA / JERUSALEM / MANILA / SINGAPORE / SEOUL / SYDNEY / TOKYO / WELLINGTON - Australia on Thursday reported its biggest pandemic caseload with a runaway Omicron outbreak driving up hospitalization rates as the surge put severe strain on supply chains forcing authorities to ease quarantine rules for more workers.

After successfully containing the virus earlier in the pandemic, Australia has reported nearly a million cases over the last two weeks as people slowly get adjusted to living with the coronavirus amid fewer restrictions. Total infections detected since the pandemic began neared 1.4 million.

More than 147,000 new cases have been recorded so far on Thursday in Australia, with about 92,000 in the most populous state of New South Wales, although that includes a backlog of positive at-home results dating back to the beginning of January.

Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic on Wednesday, with surging Omicron infections leading to staff shortages that have disrupted supply chains and hampered the economy's recovery

Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic on Wednesday, with surging Omicron infections leading to staff shortages that have disrupted supply chains and hampered the economy's recovery.

Australian businesses are grappling with the growing toll of workers out sick or ordered to isolate for being close contacts. But the virus is also scaring customers away from airlines, entertainment and hospitality sectors, already battered by several lockdowns over the past two years.

Labor shortages and caution about being in public places have stifled household spending, ANZ said in a research note, with spending in early January resembling lockdown conditions in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia's largest cities.

Before the Omicron outbreak erupted during the Christmas period, the economy had been making a surprisingly strong recovery. In November, employment levels rose far faster than expected as coronavirus lockdowns were lifted, and retail sales also surged for a second consecutive month. 

Amid pressure on supply chains, supermarket chain Coles Group reintroduced purchase limits on toilet paper, some meat products and medicines.

Fielding criticism at the beginning of an election year over his handling of the Omicron outbreak, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has proposed to ease isolation rules for asymptomatic workers ahead of a national cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Israelis are tested for the coronavirus by healthcare workers at a COVID-19 testing center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Jan 2, 2022. (ODED BALILTY / AP)

Israel

Israel reported a new daily record of 43,815 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the caseload in the country to 1,622,053, said Israel's Ministry of Health.

The new daily figure is higher than the previous record of 37,887 cases registered on Tuesday.

The rate of positive results from all daily COVID-19 tests rose to 12.09 percent, the highest in Israel since early October 2020.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 death toll of the country increased by three to 8,274, while the number of patients in serious condition rose from 247 to 254, said the ministry.

The number of active cases also registered a new record of 222,877 since the outbreak of the pandemic in February 2020, it noted.

Israel's COVID-19 reproduction number indicator, also known as the R number, has registered a decrease, from 2.05 to 2.02. When the R number is greater than one, the patient count increases at an exponential rate.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk on the street in Tokyo, Jan 12, 2022. (KOJI SASAHARA / AP)

Japan

The Japanese government is mulling the idea of making shorter the 14-day period of self-isolation currently in place for those who have come into close contact with a person infected with the Omicron COVID-19 variant, officials said Thursday.

In a bid to lessen the growing strain on the nation's medical facilities, the government's plan to lessen the period of self-isolation has been underpinned by the idea that Omicron's incubation period may be shorter in comparison to other variants.

The National Institute for Infectious Diseases conducted a study on people in Okinawa Prefecture who were infected with the Omicron variant, finding that the incubation period of the Omicron variant was around three days shorter compared to the average five days for other variants of the virus.

Japan confirmed more than 10,000 daily nationwide COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the first time since Sept 9, 2021

The nationwide daily tally of new infections topped the 13,000-mark on Wednesday for the first time in over four months, official figures showed. 

Japan confirmed more than 10,000 daily nationwide COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the first time since Sept 9, 2021.

The Tokyo metropolitan government reported 2,198 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, doubling from 962 the previous day and logging the highest level in four months.

The infection case count cases in the capital increased by over five times from 390 the previous Wednesday, the first time to top 2,000 since Sept 4, 2021.

On Wednesday, 745 new cases, or around 34 percent in Tokyo were confirmed among people in their 20s, 436, or about 20 percent among those in their 30s, 302 among those in their 40s and 228 among those in their 50s. Those in their 10s or younger accounted for 308 cases.

Nearly half of the infection cases, or 1,071 people, have received the two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nationwide, the number of severely ill patients rose by 10 from the previous day to 100 on Tuesday, according to the health ministry, with two new deaths confirmed linked to the virus nationwide, and the death toll rose to 18,406.

 New Zealand 

New Zealand reported 28 new cases of COVID-19 in the community on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country's current community outbreak to 11,236.

Among the new infections, nine were recorded in the largest city of Auckland, three in nearby Waikato, five in Bay of Plenty, two in the Lakes district, four in Wairarapa, two in Hutt Valley and three in Canterbury, according to the Ministry of Health.

A total of 34 cases are being treated in hospitals, including two in intensive care units or high dependency units, a ministry statement said.

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand stands at 14,512 currently, according to the health ministry.

About 42 percent of the eligible population have now received their booster shot, it said, adding that boosters are strongly recommended for anyone over the age of 18 who had their second vaccine dose at least four months ago.

The Philippines

The Philippines reported 34,021 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, the highest one-day tally since the pandemic began in January 2020, pushing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 3,092,409.

The Department of Health said that the number of active cases or patients still fighting the disease soared to 237,387 as the positivity rate rose to 47.9 percent.

The DOH said that 82 more people died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the country's death toll to 52,736, with seven laboratories failing to submit data. The deaths include those who died in the previous months.

Hospitals in Metro Manila, the region with the most active and new cases, are strained with the influx of COVID-19 patients and staffing shortages after many healthcare workers contracted the virus and needed isolation.

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said the COVID-19 situation in Metro Manila is "still very manageable" compared to when the Delta-fueled surge hit the country in September last year.

The government raised the alert level in Metro Manila and several provinces with rising infections across the country. The national police said over 200 areas across the country, including 103 in Metro Manila, are under hard lockdown. Police and local officials impose the so-called granular lockdowns on houses, streets, or buildings with virus clusters.

The Philippines, which has a population of around 110 million, has tested more than 24 million people since the outbreak. 

Singapore 

Singapore reported 882 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total tally in the country to 288,125, said the Ministry of Health.

The ministry said 486 of the new cases were local and 396 were imported. It also reported one death from complications due to COVID-19 infection, bringing the death toll in the country to 839.

The country confirmed 797 new Omicron cases Wednesday, it said, of which 513 were local and 284 were imported.

A total of 167 cases are in hospitals, with 13 under oxygen therapy and 11 in intensive care, it added. 

READ MORE: Singapore to freeze new ticket sales for quarantine-free arrivals

Medical workers wearing protective gear prepare to take samples at a temporary screening clinic for the coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea, Dec 29, 2021. (LEE JIN-MAN / AP)

South Korea

South Korea will begin treating coronavirus patients with Pfizer's antiviral pills on Friday, health officials said, as concern mounts over the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

At least 21,000 of the pills, called Paxlovid, will arrive on Thursday and be sent out to some 280 pharmacies and 90 residential treatment centers, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

The medication will be used to treat more than 1,000 people a day, with priority groups including patients with a high chance of developing critical symptoms, those aged 65 or older and those with reduced immunity, the KDCA said.

Another 10,000 of the pills are expected to arrive later in the month.

Paxlovid was nearly 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, and data suggested it retains its effectiveness against Omicron, Pfizer has said.

The KDCA reported another record for imported COVID-19 cases for Wednesday, at 391, among a tally for the day of 4,167 infections.

Since shortly after the pandemic began, the country of 52 million people has been among the coronavirus mitigation success stories, with 679,030 cases in all and 6,210 deaths, achieved largely with masks and social distancing.

The Omicron variant makes up a small fraction of its overall cases but the share has more than tripled to about 12.5 percent over the past two weeks.

The government is set to decide on Friday whether to extend social distancing rules, which were reinstated in mid-December after daily infections hit new highs of nearly 8,000.

Turkey

Turkey said on Wednesday that it has decided to further ease its COVID-19 quarantine restrictions and test requirements, while Omicron has become the dominant variant in the country.

The country will abolish the PCR test requirement for screening purposes and for close-contacts of COVID-positive individuals, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in a video message released after a meeting of Turkey's coronavirus science board.

The test will be performed on people with symptoms, he added.

A fully vaccinated contact of a COVID-19 afflicted person will not be quarantined and an infected person will not need a PCR test to end seven-day isolation, the minister said.

The Omicron variant has become dominant among cases of the country, he said, noting that the number of the infected increased four times since last month.

Turkey on Wednesday reported 77,722 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily figure on record, raising its tally of infections to 10,195,676, according to its health ministry.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 145 to 84,125, while 42,573 more people recovered in the last 24 hours.

About 57.18 million people have received their first doses of the vaccine, while over 52.01 million had got their second doses. Turkey has so far administered 137.89 million doses including the booster jabs. 


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