The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that international travel bans “do not add value and continue to contribute to economic and social stress” for countries.
In a statement released after a WHO meeting, the UN health agency said travel restrictions that were introduced to curb the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of such measures over time”.
In late November, several countries suspended flights to and from southern African countries, citing concerns about the omicron. Most governments lifted this ban.
The WHO also urged countries not to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as the sole means of entry for travelers, citing unequal distribution of vaccines.
Countries should consider adjusting some measures, including testing and quarantine requirements, “where appropriate”, that put a strain on travelers, the WHO said.
Separately, the WHO said that coronavirus cases globally rose 20% last week to more than 18 million.
Infections have increased in all regions of the world except Africa, where cases have dropped by nearly a third, according to the WHO.
The death toll globally remained similar to the previous week, at around 45,000.
Here is a summary of the latest developments on COVID-19 around the world:
South African biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong opened a factory in Cape Town, South Africa, which will be the first on the continent to produce COVID-19 vaccines from start to finish.
The NantSA facility aims to produce one billion doses annually by 2025.
The factory is South Africa’s third vaccine factory, but it would make vaccines on its own rather than producing them from semi-finished batches.
Soon-Shiong, who is also a doctor, will transfer technology and materials from his California-based NantWorks to scientists in South Africa to produce second-generation vaccines “within a year”. They will also work on vaccines against cancer, tuberculosis and HIV.
“Africa should no longer be the last in line for access to vaccines against pandemics,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the opening of the factory.
Ramaphosa said Africa has secured 500 million doses of vaccine through the African Union Vaccine Procurement Task Team, but the continent needs more.
“These doses represent only about half of what the continent needs to vaccinate 900 million people to reach the 70% target set by the World Health Organization,” Ramaphosa said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that people in England would no longer be required to wear masks from next week.
He told Parliament on Wednesday that measures introduced to combat the omicron variant were no longer needed as scientists believe infections have peaked in the UK.
“Because of the extraordinary enforcement campaign, along with the way the public responded to Plan B measures, we are able to return to Plan A in England and allow Plan B regulations to expire from early Thursday next week. “, Johnson said. he said.
He intended to drop self-isolation rules for people with coronavirus in March.
The prime minister also announced the end of the vaccine certificate mandate, but added that companies can continue to ask for COVID-19 passes if they want to.
Museums and concert halls in Netherlands opened as beauty salons and gyms to protest the Dutch government’s pandemic policies.
The cultural sector is protesting rules that they must remain closed while COVID-19 measures have been lifted in stores and “contact professions” such as barbers, beauty salons and sex workers.
During the protest, nail artists were getting manicures at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Barbers also cut their hair on stage in Amsterdam’s historic concert hall Concertgebouw.
Authorities handed out inspection notices to several of the 70 sites that took part in the day-long protest.
Germany recorded more than 100,000 daily cases of COVID-19 for the first time. The new single-day record of 112,323 comes as Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he believed there could be twice as many unreported cases as known.
Lauterbach told broadcaster RTL that Germany has not peaked and mandatory vaccination is expected to be introduced in May.
In the east-central German state of Thuringia, around 1,200 protesters, protesting against COVID measures, marched in front of the house of Gera mayor Julian Vornab, police said.
Asked if he felt threatened, Vonarb said: “The police were there, but not in proportion to the number of protesters.”
Bodo Ramelow, leader of the state of Thuringia, said that marching to politicians’ homes is nothing more than intimidation.
Protests against Germany’s pandemic policies have increased in recent weeks. Around 70,000 people joined protests against anti-COVID measures across Germany earlier this week.
Austria recorded a record number of infections. “We have around 30,000 infections. That’s a frighteningly high number,” said Chancellor Karl Nehammer.
The previous record for new daily cases, 17,006, was set a week ago.
Sweden set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases, recording 37,886 on Tuesday, health agency data released on Wednesday showed. The country is in the midst of a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Kronoberg, one of Sweden’s 25 health regions, said it would pause all testing except for patients and hospital staff and the elderly.
Inside Slovenia and Croatia, labs cannot process tests quickly enough. The two countries reported record new COVID-19 cases of 12,285 and 10,427 respectively.
The Ministry of Tourism in Cyprus announced that the country will lift all entry requirements on March 1 for travelers who show proof of receiving a booster shot.
The tourism-dependent island nation currently requires travelers to show proof of a negative COVID test or self-quarantine upon arrival.
Under the new rules, travelers who have not received a booster dose can enter the country if less than nine months have passed since they received their last dose.
The U.S plans to give away 400 million N95s to adults for free starting next week.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a White House official said the masks will be available at pharmacies and community health centers.
President Joe Biden’s administration hopes this will help contain the rapidly spreading omicron variant.
Also in the US, Starbucks said it would no longer require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The decision to reverse the policy announced by Starbuck earlier this month came after the US Supreme Court rejected a plan by the Biden administration to require regular COVID vaccines or testing in companies with more than 100 workers.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said that coronavirus infections in the Americas are reaching new highs, with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 COVID-related deaths in the last week.
“The virus is spreading more actively than ever before,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said at a press conference.
According to PAHO, the Caribbean had the biggest increase in infections since the beginning of the pandemic.
The regional agency recommended that countries prioritize rapid antigen testing for people with symptoms who are at risk of spreading the virus amid a testing shortage.
India reported 282,970 new infections on Wednesday, the most in eight months.
Officials said omicron was causing fewer hospitalizations and deaths than the delta variant, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in India last year.
While infection rates have dropped recently in India’s big cities, experts say cases nationwide could peak in the middle of next month.
“We have to worry about hospitalizations and deaths and that will come later,” Tarun Bhatnagar of the ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology told Reuters news agency.
Japan expanded COVID-19 restrictions to several cities, including Tokyo, as it battles a record wave of omicron infections.
The country has weathered complete shutdowns, focusing instead on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol.
He also urged the public to wear masks and practice social distancing.
A sharp rise in infections has begun to cripple hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.
New Zealand canceled national cricket team tour Australia prior to the first scheduled match due to strict COVID-19 quarantine requirements.
The Black Caps, as they are commonly known, would not have had to isolate themselves on their return home when the tour was first announced.
The spread of the omicron variant in Australia has caused the New Zealand government to delay a plan to introduce unquarantined travel between countries.
fb, lo/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)