Covid global report: Omicron alert in southern Chinese city bordering Macau

The Guardian - Sat Jan 15 06:15

The southern Chinese city of Zhuhai has suspended public bus routes after announcing it had detected at least seven cases of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant there and warning residents not to leave the city.

The coastal city, which borders the gambling hub Macau, said late on Friday that Omicron had been detected in one mildly ill and six asymptomatic patients, after mass testing due to a case in a neighbouring city.

China is battling a spate of coronavirus outbreaks, including several from the Omicron variant, as it steps up vigilance against the virus ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

Millions of people across the country have been ordered to stay home in recent weeks, with scores of domestic flights cancelled and factories shut down.

Zhuhai officials have asked that residents avoid leaving the city “unless necessary”, with those who do required to show negative Covid test results within the past 24 hours. The city had launched mass testing for its population of 2.4 million people on Friday after a Covid case was detected in neighbouring Zhongshan earlier in the week.

China reported 165 new cases on Saturday, down from 201 a day earlier.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised its guidance for Americans on masks, recommending wearing “the most protective mask you can” while stopping short of advocating nationwide usage of the N95 type.

The CDC clarified on its website “that people can choose respirators such as N95s and KN95s, including removing concerns related to supply shortages for N95s”. Americans should “wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently”, the CDC added.

It said it wanted to encourage Americans to wear masks – “it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask” – rather than push them only to wear the highest-grade face protection, but also explicitly said that respirators are best while “loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection”. It said the revised recommendations “reflect the science on masking, including what we have learned in the past two years” since the start of the pandemic.

The US is tallying about 1,800 Covid-19 deaths and 780,000 new infections daily – the most in the world – as well as record levels of hospitalised patients. The Omicron-related surge appears to be slowing in areas that were hit first, including states in the north-east and south, according to a Reuters analysis. In western states, the number of new cases climbed 89% in the past week compared with the previous week.

Australia has likely neared the peak of its Omicron wave, authorities said on Saturday, while warning daily infections would linger near record levels for the next few weeks after more than 100,000 cases were reported for a fourth straight day.

Having limited the spread of the coronavirus through tough restrictions earlier in the pandemic, Australia is suffering record caseloads from Omicron. Most parts of the country have shifted to a strategy of living with the virus after they reached high vaccination rates. Modelling from some states “leads me to believe that we are close to the peak of this wave in terms of cases”, said Paul Kelly, the chief health officer.

Infections have dipped over the last three days while the rise in hospitalisations in worst-hit New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, has slowed slightly, official data showed.

Most states are dealing with record hospitalisations from the Omicron wave, with authorities saying unvaccinated younger people form a “significant number” of admissions in Australia.

Brazil’s health ministry reported 112,286 new cases in the past 24 hours and 251 Covid-19 deaths. Brazil has had 22,927,203 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 620,796 according to ministry data.

With Reuters, AP and AFP