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Omicron variant may change course of COVID-19 pandemic: WHO chief

Certain features of the Omicron variant, including its global spread and large number of mutations, suggest it could have a major impact on the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, said the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO).

With the Omicron variant now present in 57 countries, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned at a press briefing that it can spread more rapidly than previous variants, Xinhua news agency reported.

“We are now starting to see a consistent picture of rapid increase in transmission (rates), although for now the exact rate of increase relative to other variants remains difficult to quantify,” he said.

“Emerging data from South Africa suggest increased risk of re-infection with Omicron, but more data are needed to draw firmer conclusions,” he added.

Whether or not a mutation turns out to be milder or more lethal is a matter of chance, he said.

As studies of the latest COVID-19 variant are evolving, the WHO says it still needs days or even weeks for global epidemiological data to come in, be analyzed and then to draw any firm conclusions.

It’s also still premature to say that Omicron could result in a significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness, according to WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan.

The WHO has called on all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing, and to submit more data to the WHO Clinical Data Platform using an updated online case reporting form.

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Future Covid variants to be more contagious, warns WHO

COVID-19 cases

The next Covid-19 variant that will rise will be more contagious than Omicron, but there’s no guarantee that the future strains will be milder, the World Health Organization said.

According to Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, the real question scientists need to answer is whether or not it will be more deadly, CNBC reported.

Last week, about 21 million Covid cases were reported to the WHO, setting a new global record for weekly cases from the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, Van Kerkhove said on Tuesday.

While Omicron appears to be less virulent than previous strains of the virus, the sheer volume of cases is crushing hospital systems in many countries.

“The next variant of concern will be more fit, and what we mean by that is it will be more transmissible because it will have to overtake what is currently circulating,” Van Kerkhove said.

“The big question is whether or not future variants will be more or less severe.”

She warned against buying into theories that the virus will continue to mutate into milder strains that make people less sick than earlier variants, the report said.

“There is no guarantee of that. We hope that that is the case, but there is no guarantee of that and we can’t bank on it,” she said, noting that people should heed public safety measures in the meantime.

“You won’t have to wear a mask forever and you won’t have to physically distance, but for now, we need to keep doing this,” Van Kerkhove said.

Moreover, the next variant of Covid may also evade vaccine protections even more, making the existing vaccines even less effective.

According to Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s director of emergency programmes, the virus will continue to evolve before it settles into a pattern. He said it will hopefully settle into a low level of transmission with potentially occasional epidemics. It could become more seasonal or may only affect vulnerable groups, the report said.

 

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NATO deploys troops, ships amid concerns over Russian invansion of Ukraine

NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets, in what Russia denounced as an escalation of tensions over Ukraine.

Welcoming a series of deployments announced by alliance members in recent days, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO would “continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the alliance.”

The move was a further sign that the West is bracing for Russia to attack its neighbour after massing an estimated 100,000 troops in reach of the Ukrainian border.

Russia denies planning an invasion. But, having engineered the crisis by surrounding Ukraine with forces from the north, east and south, Moscow is now citing the Western response as the evidence to support its narrative that Russia is the target, not the instigator, of aggression.

Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands were all planning or considering sending troops, planes or ships to eastern Europe, NATO said. Ukraine shares borders with four NATO countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

“The United States has also made clear that it is considering increasing its military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance,” it said.

U.S. officials said the Pentagon was finalising efforts to identify specific units that could deploy.

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Journalist shot dead

A senior Pakistani journalist was shot dead by unidentified men outside the Lahore Press Club (LPC) here today, police said.

“Hasnain Shah, who was in his 40s, was parking his car outside the Press Club when two motorcyclists opened indiscriminate fire, killing him on the spot,” an official of Inspector General Police (IGP) Punjab official said.

Both armed men managed to flee the congested area, he said.

Shah, a resident of Lahore, was working as a Crime Reporter for Capital TV. He is survived by his wife and two children.

“We are investigating reports that he had enmity with some people,” the official said.

Meanwhile, IGP Rao Sardar Ali Khan has directed the Lahore police chief to ensure the arrest of the culprits at the earliest.

The journalists’ associations in Pakistan have condemned Shah’s killing and demanded the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government to arrest his killers.

“A journalist’s murder in front of the Lahore Press Club in a broad daylight is a moment of reflection for the Government,” Lahore Press Club President Azam Chaudhry said.

According to UN data, 85 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1993, including four in 2021.

 

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Covid-19 Stats

29 Jan 2022, 9:34 AM (GMT)

Coronavirus Stats

40,858,241 Total Cases
493,218 Death Cases
38,360,710 Recovered Cases

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