ECONOMY

Singapore Workers Risk Jobs; Tokyo Cases Surge: Virus Update

Workers in Singapore who haven’t been inoculated risk losing their jobs, Covid-19 infections rose in Tokyo while Hong Kong will start vaccinating children as young as five as it battles a spike in cases.

In Australia, tennis star Novak Djokovic faces detention by immigration authorities as the government attempts to deport him while the country’s pharmaceutical regulator is reviewing the potential use of Novavax Inc.’s vaccine. The U.K. reported fewer than 100,000 new cases for the first time since late December, raising hopes the omicron wave has peaked. 

The Biden administration has assembled a group that will prepare new countermeasures for the emergence of future variants and other threats while medical facilities in 24 states have been given a March 15 deadline to get workers fully vaccinated.

  • Virus Tracker: Cases near 323.7 million; deaths pass 5.5 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.64 billion shots administered
  • From Pandemic to Endemic: Can 2022 Succeed Where 2021 Failed?
  • Omicron surge gives bosses reason to order shots Biden can’t
  • Chaos at Hong Kong quarantine camp leaves some detainees trapped
  • Canada plays dangerous game demanding U.S. truckers have shots

Hong Kong Reports Five New Cases Amid Tighter Rules (4:54 p.m. HK)

Hong Kong reported five new cases of coronavirus, including four of the omicron variant, as the city enters it’s second week of increased social distancing rules.

Two of the newly infected were tied to locally known clusters, and three were imported cases, the Center for Health Protection said on Saturday. An aircraft cleaning staff member was one of 10 preliminary positive cases reported, it said.

Hong Kong plans to inoculate children age 5 to 11 starting next week using Sinovac Biotech Co.’s vaccine, civil service chief Patrick Nip said in a local radio program, RTHK reported earlier. The city plans to extend the offer to BioNTech SE’s jab in February after Lunar New Year, RTHK said.

Uganda Destroys Expired Virus Shots on Slow Uptake: Monitor (4:43 p.m. HK)

Uganda will destroy more than 400,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines after they expired following a low uptake in the country’s northern region, the Saturday Monitor newspaper reported.  

The vaccines were mainly made by Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc, the Kampala-based newspaper reported, citing Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng. The ministry hasn’t replied to emails on the matter sent by Bloomberg in the past two days. 

Tokyo Covid Cases Top 4,000 Again as Omicron Spreads (4:24 p.m. HK)

Tokyo reported 4,561 coronavirus cases on Saturday, topping 4,000 for a second day, with the highly contagious omicron variant spreading across Japan.    

It’s the highest number of cases since Aug. 26, when the capital was in the virus emergency. The seven-day average jumped to 2,427.1 from 502.1 a week ago, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government. 

The recent surge prompted the Japanese capital to raise its Covid alert to the second-highest of four levels this week. Japan has also put three other areas under a quasi-emergency, allowing local authorities to place restrictions on businesses like bars and restaurants.  

Philippines Adds 39,004 New Infections (4:02 p.m. HK)

The Philippines added 39,004 new cases, fueling fears of a return to stricter curbs on movement.

The new cases increased the country’s total infections to 3.17 million. There were 43 more deaths, according to data released on Saturday.

Dogs Can Detect Long Covid in Humans, Study Says (1:26 p.m. HK)

Dogs are able to detect infection in some long Covid patients, which suggests that a simple and non-invasive test is possible to detect the presence of the virus, according to a study from France.

The study showed that dogs can detect volatile organic compounds up to one-and-a-half years after the initial phase of Covid-19, the researchers said in the preprint posted on medRxiv.org. The study has not been peer reviewed.  

Australian Regulator Reviewing Potential use of Novavax (12:47 p.m. HK)

Australia’s pharmaceutical regulator is assessing Novavax Inc.’s vaccine for use in the country, with a decision on its approval likely within the next 10 days, Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters Saturday.

The decision comes as authorities ramp up vaccinations for adolescents and urge those age 16 and older to get booster shots when eligible in a bid to help ease pressure on the nation’s health care system.

New South Wales state, the nation’s most populous, recorded 48,768 new Covid-19 infections and 20 related deaths Saturday. Victoria, which is hosting the Australian Open in its capital city Melbourne, recorded 25,526 new infections and 23 deaths. Authorities expect infections to peak later this month or early February.

Germany Reports Decline on Covid Cases to 78,022 (10:36 a.m. HK)

Germany reported a total of 78,022 new Covid cases, compared with 92,223 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI.

Reported new deaths associated with the virus rose by 235, bringing the total to 115,572, while the 7-day incidence rate rose to 497.1 per 100,000 people.

Biden Team Appeals Texas Block on Health Worker Mandate (9:37 a.m. HK)

The Biden administration is appealing a federal court’s block on the health worker vaccine mandate in Texas, the only state that doesn’t have to comply with the rule after the U.S. Supreme Court said it could move forward in the rest of the country.

The Department of Health and Human Services Friday filed a notice to appeal a preliminary injunction granted Dec. 15 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The HHS also requested a stay of the injunction pending its appeal to the Fifth Circuit.

Deadline Set for Health-Care Workers in 24 States (8:02 a.m. HK)

Medical facilities in two dozen states affected by the Supreme Court decision on the Biden administration’s Covid vaccination mandate for health workers have until March 15 to get their employees fully vaccinated, according to guidance released Friday.

Injunctions had prevented the mandate from going into effect in those states, prompting many facilities to pause efforts to implement the requirement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The high court Thursday lifted those injunctions. 

Friday’s guidance affects more than 10 million workers at hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities that receive reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid. That is a later date than allotted for health facilities in 25 states that were not involved in the litigation that reached the Supreme Court. They have until Jan. 27 to get their first doses and Feb. 28 to be fully vaccinated.

Djokovic Faces Detention Amid Fight to Stop Australia Deportation (7:42 a.m. HK)

Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces detention by Australian immigration authorities as the government attempts to deport him a second time. 

Djokovic will re-enter detention early Saturday after a meeting with his lawyers and immigration officials. The world’s top-ranked tennis player will remain in detention until the outcome of a court hearing to overturn the cancellation of his entry permit a second time. 

Djokovic’s lawyers are challenging Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s use of special powers to revoke his visa on grounds of health and good order, and on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. The decision reversed an earlier court ruling that quashed his first visa cancellation for procedural reasons. 

GE Halts, Honeywell Keeps Vaccine Policy (7:02 a.m. HK)

General Electric Co. is suspending implementation of the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers while another industrial heavyweight, Honeywell International Inc., will stick to its policy.

The Boston-based maker of jet engines, wind turbines and medical scanners confirmed its decision Friday via email. GE is the first major company to halt its policy after the Supreme Court blocked the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s push to boost Covid-19 vaccinations. 

Yet the court’s ruling has had no effect on a workplace vaccination mandate at Honeywell, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based maker of automation equipment and aircraft parts said by email Friday.

CDC Urges Use of Medical-Grade Masks (5:47 p.m. NY)

U.S. health officials urged wider use of medical-grade face masks in the general public. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised earlier guidelines that had discouraged the use of gold-standard N95 masks in new guidance published Friday. The agency had earlier suggested reserving such masks for medical personnel. 

Unvaccinated in Singapore Face Firing (5:24 p.m. NY)

Workers in Singapore who are not inoculated against Covid-19 may risk losing their jobs as new restrictions on office access take effect. 

From Saturday, a prior concession that allowed unvaccinated employees who test negative to go to workplaces will be removed, according to a government advisory. Employers can redeploy those with no shots to suitable jobs that can be done from home, place them on no-pay leave, or as a last resort, fire them if they can’t perform their contracted work outside the office.

Biden Forms Task Force for New Threats (4:55 p.m. NY)

The Biden administration has assembled a group that will prepare new countermeasures for the emergence of future Covid-19 variants and other pandemic threats, after the arrival of the omicron strain led to tumult in the U.S. economy and health-care system. 

The Pandemic Innovation Task Force, formed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, will focus on developing vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests and other tools, said officials familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity as the details aren’t yet public. That will help prepare the country in case new versions of the virus surface, and for future biological threats beyond Covid-19, they said.

Lawmakers Press Biden on Covid Response (4:48 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden is facing calls from Democrats to improve his administration’s pandemic response, including access to at-home Covid tests.

“We write with grave concern regarding the current state of preparedness and response,” five U.S. senators including Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema said in a letter to White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients released Friday.

It was the third letter this week from a group of congressional Democrats raising alarm about testing shortages, suggesting growing concern ahead of this year’s mid-term elections.

N.Y. ‘Turning the Corner,’ Governor Says (2:11 p.m. NY)

New York State is “turning the corner” on the omicron surge, Governor Kathy Hochul declared on Friday.

The state had 49,027 cases as of Thursday, down from the high of 90,000 cases this time last week, she said at a virus briefing.

Downstate numbers including New York City and Long Island are trending downward, and Upstate numbers are lagging behind those, she said. The state had 12,207 hospitalizations and 177 deaths on Thursday, according to state data.

U.K. Daily Cases Dip Below 100,000 (12:23 p.m. NY)

The U.K. reported fewer than 100,000 new cases for the first time since late December, raising hopes that the country is past the worst of its omicron wave.

The 99,652 infections recorded on Friday compare with almost 200,000 a day at the peak of the outbreak. 

Hospitalizations in London, the early center of the U.K. omicron onslaught, are below the recent high reached on Jan. 5., and show signs of decline elsewhere in the country as well. While the average number of fatalities is creeping upward, deaths have stayed relatively low compared with earlier waves.

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