Omicron pushing COVID from pandemic to endemic: EU agency

European Medicines Agency chief says increase of immunity will accelerate shift, as WHO says half of Europe could get infected by March.

Hello. Welcome to Al Jazeera’s COVID-19 live blog. I’m Ted Regencia and will be updating you over the next few hours on the latest developments in the pandemic.

The European Medicines Agency, the region’s drug regulator, says the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant across the continent is pushing COVID-19 towards being an endemic disease that humanity can live with.

“With the increase of immunity in population – and with Omicron, there will be a lot of natural immunity taking place on top of vaccination – we will be fast moving towards a scenario that will be closer to endemicity,” Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based regulator, told journalists on Tuesday.

Other major developments:

  • The United Kingdom’s Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that the UK government is hopeful the country will be among the first in the world to “transition” from pandemic to endemic.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts more than half of the people in Europe could catch Omicron by March.
  • The WHO has also said that repeating boosters is not a good strategy against emerging variants of the virus, and that more effort has to be made to ensure poorer countries get their first course of the vaccines.

Here are the latest updates on Wednesday:

5 mins ago (03:20 GMT)

South Korea’s daily infections back to above 4,000

South Korea’s health authority said on Wednesday that its COVID-19 cases bounced back to above 4,000 for the first time in six days, possibly due to the the Omicron variant.

At least 4,388 new cases were reported, including 4,007 local infections, raising the total caseload to 674,868, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

According to Yonhap news agency, the government will assess later on Wednesday the risk level of the pandemic and decide on possible revisions to the current social distancing rules.

24 mins ago (03:01 GMT)

China’s Tianjin starts new round of COVID testing for 14 million residents

At least 14 million residents of the city of Tianjin in China have started a new round of COVID-19 testing to block the spread of Omicron.

Tianjin reported 33 domestically transmitted coronavirus infections with confirmed symptoms for Tuesday, up from 10 a day earlier, according to the country’s coronavirus monitor.

The city ordered a half-day off for employees at companies and other institutions on Wednesday and required them to remain at home to comply with the city’s second round of mass testing, Reuters news agency reported.

Meanwhile, China’s city of Shenzhen also reported four new cases of the virus. As of Monday, the city had completed more than 22 million tests in four days as the city also tries to contain the spread of COVID.

1 hour ago (02:10 GMT)

German trade body warns of huge supply chain disruption over Omicron

In Germany, the country’s trade association has warned of significant supply chain disruptions due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus, but said a long-term collapse of the supply chains was unlikely.

“There is no risk of collapse, but of a massive disruption of the supply chain – at least temporarily,” BGA trade association president Dirk Jandura was quoted on Wednesday by Funke newspaper group as saying.

German industry has been hit by supply shortages of microchips and other components, while rising COVID-19 cases are clouding the outlook for retailers at the start of 2022.

2 hours ago (01:35 GMT)

Indonesia rolls out booster shots for free

Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced on Wednesday that the country will be rolling out its COVID booster shots for free, according to the Jakarta Post.

The government had initially planned to ask the majority of Indonesia’s 270 million inhabitants to pay for the boosters out of their own pockets.

There have been concerns that the rollout could exacerbate vaccine inequity across the country. Only about 117 million Indonesians have been fully vaccinated out of a population of more than 270 million since the campaign began on January 13 last year.

Read all the updates from January 11 here.

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