The requirement to isolate for four days after a positive Covid test was meanwhile on Saturday downgraded to a recommendation, and children with respiratory symptoms are no longer required to get tested for Covid.
Gahr Store stressed however that “the pandemic is not over”, and advised unvaccinated people and those in risk groups to continue practising social distancing and wear masks where social distancing is not possible.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said the country had yet to see the peak of the Omicron surge, but it was expected soon.
The agency’s director Camilla Stoltenberg told reporters the number of Covid hospitalisations had risen by 40 percent in the past week.
As of Friday, 986,851 cases and 1,440 virus-related deaths had been recorded in Norway, where more than 91 percent of the population has received at least two doses of the vaccine.
FHI estimates that three to four million people from a population of 5.4 million may be infected by this summer.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday he had tested positive for Covid-19 but was not experiencing severe symptoms.
“After experiencing light symptoms, my wife and I tested positive for Covid-19. We have a mild infection thankfully, which we learned to be the Omicron variant,” the 67-year-old president said in a tweet.
“We remain on duty. We will continue our work from home. We hope for your prayers,” Erdogan added.
“God willing we will shake this infection off together with Mr Tayyip,” his 66-year-old wife, Emine Erdogan, tweeted.
The Turkish president received his third vaccine dose in June last year.
Cases of Covid have plummeted in Africa and deaths are declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak, the UN said Thursday.
Describing the 56-day flareup as Africa’s “shortest upsurge yet,” the World Health Organization’s African regional office said newly reported cases fell by 20 percent in the week to Sunday, while notified deaths dropped by eight percent.
In a statement issued after a weekly press briefing, the office also said South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected, had seen cases trending downward over the past four weeks.
Only North Africa reported an increase in cases last week, “with a 55 percent spike”, it said.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, warned, however: “The continent has yet to turn the tables on this pandemic. So long as the virus continues to circulate, further pandemic waves are inevitable.”
She said the world’s poorest continent should “not only broaden vaccinations but also gain increased and equitable access to critical Covid-19 therapeutics to save lives and effectively combat this pandemic.”
Only 10 percent of the African population are fully vaccinated, according to the WHO.
The continent, with a population of 1.2 billion, has been relatively unscathed by the pandemic, reporting 234,913 deaths from 10.5 million cases, according to AFP tallies.
The World Health Organization has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, as France, Germany, and Brazil posted new records of infections in the past 24 hours.
The highly transmissible Omicron strain has spread unabated around the world, pushing some governments to impose fresh measures while speeding up the rollout of vaccine booster shots.
“This pandemic is nowhere near over,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Tuesday from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
Europe is at the epicentre of alarming new outbreaks, with Germany’s cases soaring past 100,000 and France reporting nearly half a million cases on Tuesday.
The UN health chief warned against dismissing Omicron as mild, as the dominant Covid strain continues to flare new outbreaks from Latin America to East Asia after it was first detected in southern Africa in November.
“Omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” he said.
Five millions cases were reported in Europe last week and the WHO has predicted Omicron could infect half of all Europeans by March, filling hospitals across the continent.
Germany on Tuesday recorded 112,323 coronavirus cases and 239 deaths, officials said, with Omicron found in more than 70 percent of the infections.
The surge has pushed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to seek compulsory vaccinations to ramp up the immunity of the population in Europe’s biggest economy.
Other European countries are also battling soaring Omicron rates, with neighbouring France recently averaging around 300,000 cases daily.
The latest data issued by Public Health France showed that there were 464,769 new cases in the last 24-hour period, a record number.
The record cases come days after the two-year anniversary of the announcement of the first person dying of a virus in China only later identified as Covid.
Since January 11, 2020, known fatalities in the pandemic have soared to more than 5.5 million.
Hopes for Europe’s tourism recovery remain bleak with the World Tourism Organization saying Tuesday that foreign arrivals will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest, despite a rise of 19 percent last year compared to 2020.
Elsewhere in the world, Brazil registered a new record number of daily cases of more than 137,000 on Tuesday.
The country suffered a devastating second wave last year with deaths topping 4,000 a day, pushing its death toll to the second highest in the world behind the United States.
President Jair Bolsonaro, an avowed vaccine sceptic who has downplayed Omicron, is increasingly under fire for his handling of the pandemic, and he is on course to lose the country’s October presidential election, according to polls.
In Asia, Japan was set to tighten restrictions across the country, including Tokyo, as it battles record infections fuelled by Omicron while China partially relaxed transport restrictions in the megacity of Xi’an where millions have been confined to their homes for weeks.
Japanese experts on Wednesday backed placing 13 regions “under quasi-emergency measures from January 21 to February 13” Daishiro Yamagiwa, minister in charge of coronavirus affairs, told reporters.
China’s resumption of some inter-city train routes in Xi’an from Tuesday comes just before the Lunar New Year holiday later this month, traditionally a period of mass travel.
It also comes as Beijing battles multiple clusters that are testing its enforcement of a strict “zero-Covid” approach ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics.
Hamsters and big cats
Focus is increasingly turning to animals and how the virus interacts with them, after at least two countries reported Covid-19 cases in creatures big and small potentially passed between them and humans.
A study published Tuesday in South Africa said big cats caged in zoos are at risk from catching Covid from their keepers.
Researchers found clues pointing to the infection of three lions and two pumas by their handlers at a zoo in Johannesburg, some of whom were asymptomatic.
In Hong Kong, hamsters were bearing the brunt of the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s similarly strict approach to Covid, with officials appearing to blame them for two human cases.
The financial hub’s government faced growing outrage Wednesday over its decision to cull 2,000 small animals in pet shops after several hamsters in a store allegedly tested positive for Covid-19.
“Internationally, there is no evidence yet to show pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans,” Health Secretary Sophia Chan told a press conference.
“But… we will take precautionary measures against any vector of transmission.”
The Federal Government has asked Saudi Arabia to lift the travel restrictions it imposed on Nigerian travellers following the outbreak of the omicron variant of the COVID-19 in South Africa that was later discovered among some travellers said to have visited Nigeria.
Ambassador Zubairu Dada, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, made the appeal on Saturday when he met with the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Faisal bin Ebraheem Al-Ghamdi.
Dada in a statement by his spokesman Ibrahim Aliyu urged the Saudi Authorities to review the travel restrictions its placed on Nigerians over the Omicron outbreak as already done by many countries who have earlier banned Nigeria but have since reversed their stands having studied the achievements of Nigeria so far in the fight against the Omicron variant and the Coronavirus pandemic in general.
While commending the cordial relationship that existed for years and continues to exist between the two countries, the Minister expressed optimism for a timely response to Nigeria’s request from Saudi Arabia.
This is as he pledged to continue to give every necessary support and cooperation to the ambassador in the discharge of his responsibility.
In his remarks, Ambassador Al-Ghamdi expressed satisfaction with the effort the government is making to contain the spread of Omicron and promised to convey Nigeria’s message to the relevant authorities back home in Saudi Arabia
According to the diplomat, Saudi Arabia also has similar agencies that are responsible for monitoring and recommendations on the issues of the corona.
He equally lauded the Minister for his commitment to improved bilateral relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia imposed a temporary ban on flights from Nigeria in December amid the Omicron variant of COVID in Nigeria.
The southern Chinese city of Zhuhai suspended public bus routes on Saturday after announcing it had detected at least seven cases of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant there and warning residents not to leave the city.
The coastal city of Zhuhai, which borders the gambling hub Macau, said late Friday Omicron had been detected in one mildly ill and six asymptomatic patients, after launching mass testing due to a case in a neighbouring city.
China is battling a spate of coronavirus outbreaks, including several from the Omicron variant, as the country steps up vigilance against the virus ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics next month.
Millions of people across the country have been ordered to stay home in recent weeks, with scores of domestic flights cancelled and factories shut down.
Indonesia opened its coronavirus booster campaign to the public Wednesday as the country records rising infections driven by the Omicron variant.
The free shots will be given to the elderly and at-risk residents as a priority, but will be available to everyone who received their second dose six months prior, President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday after announcing the decision.
The boosters will be administered as half doses — which a local study confirmed was sufficient protection against the virus — due to supply shortages, said health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country with more than 270 million people, has struggled to procure enough vaccines for its residents since the onset of the pandemic.
Elderly Indonesians lined up at vaccinations centres in Jakarta Wednesday for their boosters in hope of better protection against the highly contagious Omicron variant.
“I must get this shot because I have a lot of activities,” said 84-year-old Hardini in Jakarta after receiving her third shot.
“I am still playing tennis, running. If I don’t have immunity then I could infect people or I could become sick.”
Indonesia is administering half doses for all of its approved vaccines, of which there is no precedent elsewhere in the world, Covid-19 taskforce spokesperson Siti Nadia Tarmizi told AFP.
Indonesia uses Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac for Covid-19 inoculations.
Some countries, including the United States, are injecting half a dose of Moderna as a booster.
The decision to use half doses was based on a study conducted by the University of Indonesia and the Padjadjaran University in collaboration with the Health Ministry, Tarmizi said.
The country has been severely impacted by the pandemic since July last year, with hospitals running out of beds and oxygen to treat infected patients.
It had reported more than 4.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases, and more than 144,000 deaths as of Wednesday.
Around 40 percent of the Indonesian population is double-jabbed.
The low vaccination rate is leaving the country vulnerable to new outbreaks, especially of the more transmissible Omicron variant that is driving record case numbers in Europe.
Experts said Monday that an alleged hybrid coronavirus mutation dubbed “Deltacron” reportedly discovered in a Cyprus lab is most likely the result of a lab contamination, and not a new worrying variant.
Cypriot media reported the discovery Saturday, describing it as having “the genetic background of the Delta variant along with some of the mutations of Omicron”.
While it is possible for coronaviruses to genetically combine, it is rare, and scientists analysing the discovery of so-called “Deltacron” say it is unlikely.
“The Cypriot ‘Deltacron’ sequences reported by several large media outlets look to be quite clearly contamination,” Tom Peacock, a virologist with the infectious diseases department at Imperial College London, tweeted over the weekend.
Jeffrey Barrett, the head of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at Britain’s Wellcome Sanger Institute, said the alleged mutations are located on a part of the genome that is vulnerable to error in certain sequencing procedures.
“This is almost certainly not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lineages,” he said Monday.
Scientists are eager to battle a deluge of disinformation about Covid-19, much of it circulating online.
Last week, unverified reports emerged of a “flurona” or “flurone” virus circulating — a combination of the flu and the coronavirus — which the World Health Organization (WHO) dismissed Monday.