Two and a half weeks after the massive eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai undersea volcano near Tonga, the South Pacific nation now has to fight a corona eruption as well. Two workers tested positive for the virus during routine tests at a shipyard in the capital Nuku’alofa, Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said. The island nation will go into lockdown starting at 6 p.m. local time, the government ordered.
Tonga had closed its borders in March 2020 and since then has largely sealed itself off from the outside world. So far, only one Corona infection has been confirmed since the pandemic began, after a plane from New Zealand landed last year.
Here’s why, after the volcano erupted, there was concern that foreign aid workers could bring in the virus. To avoid endangering the population, the delivery of relief supplies from New Zealand and Australia was contactless – so there was no direct contact between the relief crews and the people in Tonga. Where the shipyard workers became infected is unclear for the time being.
Omicron subtype BA.2 now detected in 57 countries
A subtype of the omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly worldwide. In the meantime, the BA sub-variant.2 demonstrated in 57 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In some countries, the sub-variant now accounts for more than half of all virus gene sequences collected, it said. The WHO stressed that there is little evidence to date on exactly how BA.2 of the so far dominant subtypes BA.1 and BA.1.1 distinguishes.
Maria Van Kerkhove, one of WHO’s lead covid experts, said some initial data suggested BA was.2 a slightly increased growth rate compared to BA.1 had. However, he said, there is no evidence yet of a change in severity in BA.2. However, she stressed that covid remains a dangerous disease regardless of strain and people should avoid infection.
Biontech/Pfizer apply for vaccine approval in U.S. for children under 5 years old
Pfizer/Biontech vaccine makers plan to seek emergency approval in the U.S. for children under 5 years of age. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the application will be finalized in a few days.
The emergency permit should apply to children aged six months and older, he said. It would be the first available vaccine for this age group in the U.S. It is important that a safe and effective vaccine is available for children six months and older, the agency said. Pfizer/Biontech’s vaccine is already approved for children 5 years and older in the U.S.
Mandatory vaccination in Austria is highly controversial
With the announcement of compulsory vaccination, the willingness to vaccinate in Austria has dropped significantly. In addition, according to SRF correspondent Peter Balzli, not a week goes by in Austria without a demonstration against compulsory vaccination.
«Around 10 to 12 percent are very strongly opposed to vaccination. Those are not expected to be vaccinated in the foreseeable future", explains political scientist Julia Partheymuller. She researches the motivation of the unvaccinated.
The controversial compulsory vaccination in Austria shows a survey commissioned by the magazine "profil". 45 percent of respondents are in favor of introducing compulsory vaccination at the beginning of February, 34 percent are against, 17 percent think the government should wait to do so.
Switzerland’s desire to travel is on the rise
Thanks to the increasing relaxation of the Corona measures, the travel industry is in a slight upswing. Markus Flick from Kuoni confirms this: "At Kuoni, we are currently seeing a strong increase in bookings.» TUI and Hotelplan also confirm that bookings have increased significantly in January.
Because travelers are increasingly being guided through the restriction jungle by travel agencies, the industry is expecting further growth- also because customers would dig deeper into their wallets. «Swiss people tend to spend slightly more money than before the pandemic", confirms Flick.
Media report Berset’s plans for relaxation
Health Minister Alain Berset already hinted last week that the next relaxation steps will be discussed on Wednesday. Now the relaxation plans leaked out. As Blick and Tagesanzeiger report, Berset is proposing two variants to the Federal Council for consultation in the cantons.
The first variant envisages a staggered abolition of the remaining Corona measures, while the second would see all measures lifted at the same time. The cantons will be given two weeks to think it over, after which the Federal Council is expected to decide on the 16. February to make the next decision. In the Tagesanzeiger it says: "The following measures are under discussion: the certificate obligation, the restrictions for private meetings and large events as well as the mask obligation. In a step-by-step approach, the mask requirement could conceivably still be retained for public transport and stores.» In the second variant, the mask requirement would also be lifted.
Norway relaxes corona measures
As of Tuesday evening at 11 p.m., there will no longer be any restrictions on the serving of alcoholic beverages in Norway, among other things. Furthermore, according to the government, popular sports and other recreational activities can resume in full without restrictions. Cinemas, theaters and churches may also be fully occupied again. In addition, restrictions on attendees at meetings will be lifted, as will the testing requirement for entrants.
Mandatory masks in stores, public transport and other crowded situations will remain in place, said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre at a press conference in Oslo. The general distance rule will also remain in force until further notice. We now know that the disease burden is lower with the omicron variant and that the vaccines provide good protection. That’s why many measures could be lifted, he said, even though new infection numbers are rising fast.
The Norwegian government is aiming to lift the last restrictions by 17. February to lift- if the situation continues to develop as expected.
WHO warns against ending corona rules too soon
It is premature to consider the coronavirus defeated, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), in Geneva. Since the emergence of the Omikron variant about ten weeks ago, almost 90 million new infections have been reported- more than the whole of 2020. «We are now seeing a very worrying increase in the number of deaths in most regions of the world.»
Also, the WHO is concerned that some governments no longer feel the need to reduce the risk of infection by wearing masks or keeping a distance. This is justified by the relatively high vaccination rates and the less severe courses of disease caused by Omikron. This is completely wrong, said Tedros. «This virus is dangerous, and it continues to change right before our eyes.»
Countries with high vaccination rates and good health systems, however, could soon be nearing the end of the acute pandemic phase, WHO emergency coordinator Mike Ryan said. People at risk should nevertheless continue to wear masks, even if this is no longer mandatory.
Cantons against rapid abolition of Covid certificate
For days, Health Minister Alain Berset (SP) has been paving the way for a scaling back of the Corona measures. This includes not only the abolition of the contact quarantine and the home office obligation, which the Bundesrat is expected to announce on Wednesday. This includes the abolition of the Covid certificate, which the Federal Council is expected to send to the cantons for consultation on Wednesday. The SVP even demands the immediate abolition of the certificate.
Resistance to a rapid abolition of the allowances is already coming from the cantons. Michael Jordi, Secretary General of the Conference of Health Directors (GDK) tells SRF that he is convinced that the certificate will still be needed in the coming weeks. The GDK believes that the abolition of the certificate is conditional on a "sustainable decrease" in the number of infections and hospitalizations would. Likewise, the positivity rate in the tests for an abolition would have to be significantly lower than today.
Even after the abolition of the general certificate obligation, the Covid certificate could still remain important for some time as an instrument, for example for event organizers or health institutions, according to Jordi. But the GDK secretary general is clear: "You can’t maintain the certificate just to get people to vaccinate.»