South Africa announces end to contact tracing

South Africa has eased a number of coronavirus curbs, despite being hit by a fourth wave of cases driven by the Omicron variant, with contact tracing for anyone who has come into close contact with an infected person also lifted,

Thailand meanwhile reported its first Omicron cluster in the northeast province of Kalasin, saying 21 infections stemmed from a Belgium couple who traveled to the country earlier this month.

In Europe, Italy has reintroduced mandatory masks outdoors, and Greece has ordered people to wear face masks both indoors and outdoors. In South America, Ecuador made vaccines compulsory for nearly all to combat coronavirus infections surging globally just before the Christmas holidays.

Bhutan starts giving COVID-19 booster shots

Bhutan has started giving COVID-19 booster shots to senior citizens and priority groups as the Himalayan kingdom tries to stave off the Omicron variant, health ministry officials said.

Those aged 65 and older, overseas travellers, health workers, sufferers from chronic ailments and all adults living in “high risk” areas are eligible, the officials said.

“Bhutan becomes the first country in the South Asian region to administer booster doses,” public service broadcaster BBS said in a report.

France says COVID tests needed for trips to its overseas territories

France has announced that negative COVID tests will be required to travel to its overseas territories.

The new measure will take effect on December 28 and affect travellers both from mainland France and abroad, the health ministry said.

French regulator recommends boosters 3 months after first course

France’s Haute Autorite de Sante regulator said  COVID-19 boosters could be administered three months after the first full course of shots.

The new recommendation was issued as part of an ongoing effort to try to curb the spread of Omicron in the country.

Japan panel approves Merck’s oral COVID treatment

Japanese regulators approved the COVID-19 antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co Inc, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Duterte ‘nervous’ as Philippines braces for Omicron

President Rodrigo Duterte said he was worried Omicron could ignite a new outbreak that could further strain the government’s finances, especially after a powerful and deadly typhoon devastated several central and southern provinces last week.

“I’m afraid this can be as bad as the previous virus strains. I’m somehow nervous because, let me be frank to the public, the finances of the Philippines have really been depleted,” he said.

Health officials have detected only three omicron infections in recently arrived Filipino and foreign travelers, but the government recalled a decision to reopen the Southeast Asian nation to foreign tourists starting December 1, and to further intensify a vaccination campaign – including the provision of booster shots.South Africa will start offering booster shots of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine from Friday, the health department said in a statement, following its approval for use as a booster by the health regulator a day earlier.

Both J&J and Pfizer COVID-19 shots have been authorised as boosters by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), but the move opens up boosters to the general public for the first time.

“From 24th December 2021 the National Vaccination Programme will provide J&J booster vaccinations to anyone who received their last dose at least 2 months prior,” the statement said, adding ideally it would also be within six months of their original shot.

With immediate effect, the health department also lifted contact tracing for anyone who has come into close contact with an infected

The previously obligatory self-isolation has been lifted, health official Ramphelane Morewane told broadcaster eNCA. Tests will only be necessary in future if the person displays symptoms. For those infected, a 10-day quarantine is still necessary, after which tests are no longer necessary.

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