• 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: US study - COVID-19 less severe with Omicron than Delta; Pfizer/BioNTech launch trial of Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine; record daily confirmed cases in Czech Republic, Bulgaria, South Korea.

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 358.5 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 5.61 million. More than 9.95 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.

An English COVID-19 study reported record prevalence in January after an Omicron-fuelled spike in infections, Imperial College London said today. Infections have dropped back from their peak, and were now plateauing, it added.

The Czech Republic has recorded 39,614 new confirmed COVID-19 cases - its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic.

Bulgaria has also posted a new record daily tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases - 12,399.

The Netherlands is set to further ease COVID-19 restrictions, despite high numbers of cases. Bars, restaurants and theatres will be allowed to re-open from today.

Malta will start to scrap a requirement for people to present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate for entry to restaurants and other venues from next month, Health Minister Chris Fearne said yesterday.

Older primary school students and high school students in Poland are to move to remote learning, Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek said on Tuesday, amid rising cases.

Australia has marked two years since its first recorded COVID-19 case. The country has recorded one of its highest number of deaths in a single day from the virus.

New confirmed COVID-19 cases have exceeded 13,000 in a single day in South Korea for the first time, as the government launched a new testing scheme.

Germany has extended its current COVID-19 restrictions amid concerns about the continuing spread of the Omicron variant.

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

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2. US study: COVID-19 less severe with Omicron than Delta

The Omicron COVID-19 variant appears to result in less serious disease than seen during previous periods of high COVID-19 transmission - including during the Delta wave - a new US study has found. Hospital stays have been shorter, there has been less need for intensive care and fewer deaths, the study said.

However, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has led to record numbers of infections and hospitalizations, straining the US healthcare system.

Despite the steep spike in COVID cases, the percentage of hospitalized patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU) during the current Omicron wave was about 29% lower than during last winter's surge and some 26% lower than during the Delta wave, the study published on Tuesday in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found.

The lower COVID-19 disease severity during the Omicron period is likely related to higher vaccination coverage, booster use among those eligible for the extra shots, as well as prior infections providing some immunity protection, the study said.

3. Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of Omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech have announced the start of a clinical trial to test a new version of their COVID-19 vaccine specifically targeted at the Omicron variant.

Using volunteers in the United States, the companies plan to test the immune response generated by the Omicron-based vaccine both as a three-shot regimen in unvaccinated people and as a booster shot for people who already received two doses of their original vaccine.

They are also testing a fourth dose of the current vaccine against a fourth dose of the Omicron-based vaccine in people who received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine three to six months earlier.

"While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with Omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address Omicron and new variants in the future," Pfizer's head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement.