• 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 news stories: record cases in South Korea, Russia and Czech Republic; WHO warns against assuming Omicron is the COVID-19 'endgame'; study finds Omicron survives longer on plastic and skin.

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 355 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 5.6 million. More than 9.93 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.

Japan's daily count of new COVID-19 infections surpassed 60,000 for the first time on Tuesday, broadcaster FNN said. The government is poised to expand infection control measures to try to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

Russia reported a record number of COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours on Tuesday as the Omicron variant of the virus spread across the country, the government coronavirus task force said. New daily cases jumped to 67,809, from 65,109 a day earlier. The task force also reported 681 deaths.

South Korea's daily count of new coronavirus cases topped 8,000 for the first time on Tuesday, as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads rapidly despite the recent extension of strict social distancing rules to slow infection.

Singapore had record low international arrivals in 2021, but saw signs of recovery after introducing a quarantine waiver system for vaccinated visitors and offering cash vouchers, its tourism authority said on Tuesday.

The Dutch government is expected to announce on Tuesday it will allow restaurants, bars and theatres to re-open despite record numbers of coronavirus infections. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Ernst Kuipers are expected to announce the new rules at a news conference at 7pm.

An Israeli government advisory panel has recommended offering a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose to all adults, on condition that at least five months have passed since they received the third or recovered from the illness, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

The Czech Republic recorded 30,350 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the highest daily tally since the pandemic started in the country of 10.7 million, as the Omicron variant of coronavirus spreads, health ministry data showed on Tuesday.

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people.
Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in selected countries.
Image: Our World in Data

2. WHO: Do not assume COVID pandemic reaching 'endgame'

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday warned against assuming Omicron variant would herald the end of COVID-19's acutest phase, exhorting nations to stay focused to beat the pandemic.

"It’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant and that we are in the endgame," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a WHO executive board meeting of the two-year pandemic that has killed nearly 6 million people.

"On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge."

Though Omicron has sent total cases soaring to nearly 350 million, its less lethal impact and the increasing prevalence of vaccines has led to optimism in some parts that the worst of the pandemic may have passed.

Tedros, the WHO's first African head who is running unopposed for a second term, urged discipline and unity in combatting the coronavirus.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its third year and we are at a critical juncture," he told a news conference earlier. "We must work together to bring the acute phase of this pandemic to an end. We cannot let it continue to drag on, lurching between panic and neglect."

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.

3. Omicron survives longer on plastic and skin

The Omicron variant can survive longer than earlier versions of the coronavirus on plastic surfaces and human skin, Japanese researchers found in laboratory tests.

Its high "environmental stability" - its ability to remain infectious - might have helped Omicron replace Delta as the dominant variant and spread rapidly, they said.

On plastic surfaces, average survival times of the original strain and the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants were 56 hours, 191.3 hours, 156.6 hours, 59.3 hours, and 114.0 hours, respectively.

That compared to 193.5 hours for Omicron, the researchers reported on bioRxiv ahead of peer review. On skin samples from cadavers, average virus survival times were 8.6 hours for the original version, 19.6 hours for Alpha, 19.1 hours for Beta, 11.0 hours Gamma, 16.8 hours for Delta and 21.1 hours for Omicron.

On skin, all of the variants were completely inactivated by 15 seconds of exposure to alcohol-based hand sanitizers. "Therefore," the researchers conclude, "it is highly recommended that current infection control (hand hygiene) practices use disinfectants... as proposed by the World Health Organization."