• This daily news round-up brings you a selection of the latest news and updates on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as well as tips and tools to help you stay informed and protected.
  • Top stories: Vaccine makers train their sights on Omicron variant; EU could approve Omicron vaccine in 3-4 months; India and China promise more shots for Africa.

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 262.2 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 5.2 million. More than 7.98 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.

Australian authorities on Tuesday confirmed a person with COVID-19 had the new Omicron variant after disclosing that the person had been active in the community. It brings the country's total number of infections with the new variant to six.

BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron in case their existing shots are not effective against the new coronavirus variant, the companies said on Monday.

Japan confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, in a man who had arrived in the country from Namibia.

One person has also tested positive for the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion and six of his contacts are being tested, the government said on Tuesday.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African nations after COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed by several countries over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Share of people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Share of people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Image: Our World in Data

China expects to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics "smoothly" and on schedule, despite challenges posed by the emergence of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular daily briefing on Tuesday.

Germany reported another 45,753 new coronavirus cases and 388 deaths on Tuesday, but the seven-day incidence of cases per 100,000 people fell slightly for the first time in three weeks.

New mask mandates and other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant came into force in England on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson eyes an expanded booster programme to help increase protection against COVID-19. Face masks are now compulsory on transport and in shops, banks and hair salons.

France's Haute Autorite de Sante (HAS) health regulator on Tuesday backed vaccinating fragile children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 if they were at risk of developing a serious form of the disease, or if they lived with vulnerable people.

Greece said on Tuesday it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over, a drastic step for the country grappling with a new surge in coronavirus cases.

2. EU could approve vaccine against Omicron in 3-4 months

The EU drug regulator said on Tuesday it could approve vaccines adapted to target the Omicron variant of the coronavirus within three to four months if needed, but that existing shots would continue to provide protection.

Speaking to the European Parliament, European Medicines Agency (EMA) executive director Emer Cooke said it was not known if drugmakers would need to tweak their vaccines to protect against Omicron, but the EMA was preparing for that possibility.

"Were there a need to change the existing vaccines, we could be in a position to have those approved within three to four months," she said.

"Companies adapting their formulations to include the new sequencing (...) will then have to show that the production system works, they will then have to do some clinical trials to determine that this actually works in practice."

The CEO of drugmaker Moderna had set off fresh alarm bells in financial markets on Tuesday by warning that existing vaccines were unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa, as they have been against the Delta version.

"Even if the new COVID-19 variant becomes more widespread, the vaccines we have will continue to provide protection," Cooke said.

The European Union's health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, has urged governments to boost efforts to detect coronavirus mutations, as some lag behind even as the new Omicron variant is detected around the bloc.

3. India promises more COVID-19 shots to Omicron-hit Africa

India stands ready to "expeditiously" send more COVID-19 vaccine to Africa to help fight the Omicron variant, New Delhi said late on Monday after China pledged 1 billion doses to the continent.

India and China have close ties with many African countries but Beijing has pumped much more money into the region, and on Monday promised to invest another $10 billion.

India said it had supplied more than 25 million doses of domestically made shots to 41 African countries, mostly through the global vaccine-distribution network COVAX.

"The Government of India stands ready to support the countries affected in Africa in dealing with the Omicron variant, including by supplies of Made-in-India vaccines," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Supplies can be undertaken through COVAX or bilaterally."

Vaccines, Health and healthcare, Gavi

What is the World Economic Forum doing about access to vaccines?

In 2000, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance was launched at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, with an initial pledge of $750 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The aim of Gavi is to make vaccines more accessible and affordable for all - wherever people live in the world.

Along with saving an estimated 10 million lives worldwide in less than 20 years,through the vaccination of nearly 700 million children, - Gavi has most recently ensured a life-saving vaccine for Ebola.

At Davos 2016, we announced Gavi's partnership with Merck to make the life-saving Ebola vaccine a reality.

The Ebola vaccine is the result of years of energy and commitment from Merck; the generosity of Canada’s federal government; leadership by WHO; strong support to test the vaccine from both NGOs such as MSF and the countries affected by the West Africa outbreak; and the rapid response and dedication of the DRC Minister of Health. Without these efforts, it is unlikely this vaccine would be available for several years, if at all.

Read more about the Vaccine Alliance, and how you can contribute to the improvement of access to vaccines globally - in our Impact Story.

It said the government had cleared all orders placed by COVAX for supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine to countries such as Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea and Lesotho, apart from delivering doses of the home-grown Covaxin shot to Botswana. It did not say how many doses have been approved recently.

"Any new requirement projected either bilaterally or through COVAX will be considered expeditiously," it said, also promising the supply of life-saving drugs, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators as required.