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Greece strengthens vaccination rules as Covid-19 cases hit 1 million; One dies from Omicron as UK boosts response

By AFP
December 14, 2021

London: Britain on Monday confirmed what is thought to be the first confirmed death after infection with the Omicron variant, as the country launched an ambitious Covid booster shot programme to stop the virus spiralling out of control.

On a visit to a vaccination centre in west London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Omicron accounted for about 40 percent of the cases in the British capital, and hospital admissions were rising.

"Sadly, at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron," he told reporters, a day after warning that the country faces a "tidal wave" of infection. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) told AFP: "It appears indeed that this is the first confirmed Omicron death."

But the centre said many cases around the world were not genome-sequenced, so it was "impossible to know whether this is the first Omicron death". In South Africa, where the virus mutation was first identified, no deaths linked to Omicron have been officially announced, the department of health said.

Britain -- one of the worst-hit countries with 146,000 Covid deaths since last year -- on Sunday sounded the alarm because of high levels and rising rates of transmission. Johnson said in a rare televised address that emergency measures were needed to prevent hospitals becoming overwhelmed in the weeks ahead.

All adults can now receive a third Covid vaccine by the end of December -- a month earlier than a previous government deadline. The National Health Service (NHS) vaccination booking site crashed almost immediately and users requesting rapid testing kits were told they were out of stock. Long queues were seen at London clinics. At one, Sarah Jackson, 29, said she had taken the morning off to get a jab before visiting her grandparents at Christmas.

"I don’t know if it’s going to be enough. I was told there is a queue of two hours to register and then two hours to get vaccinated," she told AFP. "But I have to go back to work at 1:30 pm."

The "turbocharged" booster programme has seen 750 armed forces personnel drafted in to set up extra vaccination centres to be run around the clock by medics and volunteers. Downing Street said booster doses would even be given on Christmas Day.

Some 500,000 booster jabs were administered on Saturday but to hit the new deadline that number will have to be doubled to a million per day for the remainder of the year to slow the spread.

Concerns have mounted about a new wave because of indications that two jabs are less effective against infection than three. The UK Health Security Agency said there were 4,713 Omicron cases on Monday, up 1,576 in 24 hours

Vaccination rates are high in Britain, with more than 81 percent or 46.7 million of those aged 12 and over having had a second jab. Some 23 million or 40 percent have so far had a booster.

The new measures come after face masks were made compulsory in indoor public spaces last Friday, and new testing and self-isolation rules for contact cases began on Monday. Meanwhile, Greece's government is strengthening vaccination measures as Covid-19 infections in the country hit one million on Sunday.

The National Public Health Organisation announced 3,225 new cases and 90 more related deaths in the past 24 hours, which brings the total to 1,002,877 and 19,245 respectively. In the wake of the emergence of the Omicron variant, Greece has strengthened measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Meantime, a research report from Australia's Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity underscored the risk of being reinfected by Covid-19. The report, published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) on Monday, called on people to get vaccinated whether they have been previously infected or not. The study followed three individuals in the Australian city of Melbourne, two of which appeared to be infected by both the Alpha and Delta strains of the virus.

"The phylogenetic data, together with the link with a known Covid-19 outbreak, indicate that the 2021 Covid-19 diagnoses reflected new infections rather than prolonged viral shedding (from the first infection)," read the study. The study also cited instances of people being reinfected with Covid-19 less than a month after the initial infection.

In a related development, Indonesia will start vaccination for children aged six to 11 years old against Covid-19 on Tuesday, targeting 26.5 million kids, the Ministry of Health said on Monday. The vaccine to be used was produced by the Chinese biotechnology company Sinovac, the only brand that has for the time being obtained an emergency use authorization for this age group from Indonesia's National Agency of Drug and Food Control (BPOM),

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a virtual meeting with senior ministers. The government has provided 6.4 million doses of Sinovac vaccine to be inoculated to children this month, acting Director-General of Disease Prevention and Control at the Ministry of Health, Maxi Rein Rondonuwu, said at a meeting on Sunday.

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