COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this week

A healthcare worker gives a dose of the COVISHIELD vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), manufactured by Serum Institute of India, to a man as others decorate the vaccination centre to celebrate the milestone of administering one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, in Ahmedabad, India, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Amit Dave
More than 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have now been given in India.
Image: REUTERS/Amit Dave
  • This weekly COVID-19 news roundup brings you a selection of the latest news and updates on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as tips and tools to help you stay informed and protected.
  • Top COVID-19 news stories: Pandemic causes millions of children to miss out on routine vaccinations; More than 2 billion vaccine doses given in India; What is BA.5?

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 562.4 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 6.36 million. More than 12.22 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.

The Czech Republic will begin to offer a second COVID-19 booster shot from today. It will be recommended for people aged over 60 and those in at-risk groups.

An estimated 3.5 million people in Britain had COVID-19 in the latest week of available data, the Office for National Statistics said on 15 July.

Canada has authorized Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for babies as young as 6 months old.

Japan has warned that a new wave of COVID-19 infections appears to be spreading rapidly and has urged people to be cautious. "The coronavirus is spreading throughout the nation and through all age groups," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

New Zealand is offering free face masks and rapid antigen tests in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 and protect the country's health system.

Adapted versions of established mRNA COVID-19 vaccines that address two variants in one shot will soon offer people better protection than vaccines that are now available, a European health official said last week.

The Pan American Health Organization warned last week of the growing number of COVID-19 cases caused by the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, even as overall cases dipped in the Americas.

More than 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have now been given in India, with the news coming as infections in the country hit a four-month high.

Australia will reinstate payments to casual workers who have to quarantine because of COVID-19.

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

2. Millions of children miss out on routine vaccinations

Around 25 million children across the globe missed out on routine vaccinations in 2021, as COVID-19 continued to disrupt healthcare around the world.

That is 2 million more than in 2020, when the pandemic caused lockdowns around the world, and 6 million more than pre-pandemic in 2019, according to new figures released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization.

UNICEF described it as the biggest slide in vaccination levels in a generation, taking coverage rates back to early-2000s levels.

"I want to get across the urgency," UNICEF's senior immunization specialist, Niklas Danielsson, told Reuters. "This is a child health crisis."

3. What is the BA.5 variant?

The latest World Health Organization (WHO) report shows the BA.5 variant was behind 52% of COVID-19 cases sequenced globally at the end of last month, up by 37% in a week. In the United States it's thought to be causing around 65% of new infections.

BA.5 is not new though – it was first identified in January and the WHO has been tracking it since April.

It's a sister variant of the Omicron strain that's been dominant since late 2021, and like BA.4 is particularly good at evading immune protection offered by vaccination or prior infection. "BA.5 has a growth advantage over the other sublineages of Omicron that are circulating," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's Technical Lead on COVID-19, told a news briefing last week.

However, Van Kerkhove stressed that there's no evidence that BA.5 is more dangerous than other Omicron variants.

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