At least 23 people on an Australian ship carrying aid to Tonga have tested positive for COVID-19. Planes have been used to unload supplies for the volcano-stricken island nation amid fears of spreading the coronavirus. So far, only one confirmed case has been reported in Tonga since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, in Australia, health authorities approved the Novavax vaccine for adults amid an ongoing surge. It’s expected to roll out next month. New Zealand has imposed its toughest restrictions yet after at least nine Omicron cases were detected.
In South Korea, COVID cases hit a new daily record of 13,000.
China lifted its lockdown in the city of Xi’an this week, where 13 million residents had been ordered to stay at home since December 22 as part of the country’s “zero-Covid” strategy. Beijing continues to report new daily cases, though overall numbers remain low, as the Winter Olympics are set to kick off at the end of next week. Officials have sealed off Beijing neighborhoods near the games and have conducted mass testing of some 2 million people in the run-up to the event. Dozens of people associated with the Olympics have tested positive so far.
In the Netherlands, officials are loosening restrictions despite record cases, allowing bars, restaurants and theaters to reopen starting today. Ireland also recently removed most of its COVID curbs, including curfews on hospitality venues and requiring proof of vaccination for patrons. Ireland’s prime minister credited the high uptake of boosters for preventing a worse outcome during the Omicron surge.
In Saudi Arabia, millions of schoolchildren returned to in-person classes this week after nearly two years of remote learning, one of the longest school system shutdowns in the world.
Cuba has pledged to donate 200 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to low-income countries in the Global South. The move was announced at talks hosted by the Progressive International and was heralded as a possible “historic turning point” in the pandemic.