By The Associated Press
LONDON — A third dose of both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines significantly increased the immune response to the omicron variant, according to a new study by University of Oxford researchers.
The laboratory study, which hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, compared antibody levels in blood samples from people who received two doses of vaccine with samples from those who had received a third dose.
While two doses provided much less protection against omicron than earlier variants, levels of neutralizing antibodies rose sharply after a third dose, the study found.
“In summary, neutralization titres against omicron are boosted following a third vaccine dose, meaning that the campaign to deploy booster vaccines should add considerable protection against omicron infection,” the researchers wrote.
The study also found that unvaccinated people who had recovered from COVID-19 probably have “little protection from reinfection with omicron,” though they may have some protection against serious illness.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
— Ever-morphing coronavirus requires holiday calculus for 2nd winter
— Omicron less likely to put you in the hospital, British studies say
— US Supreme Court to hold special session on worker vaccine requirements
Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
ATHENS, Greece — Christmas concerts and other events have been canceled in Greece as part of new restrictions that include a mask requirement that applies outdoors and in all public areas.
Incoming travelers will also be required to take COVID-19 tests on the second and fourth days after their arrivals.
The restrictions are set to take effect Friday and to remain in effect at least through Jan. 3 as Greece braces for the expected impact of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“Due to the large amount of Christmas activity and crowded conditions that it creates, the mandatory use of masks is fully justified,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said Thursday during a live-streamed presentation of the measures.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron urged his compatriots in an Instagram video Thursday to be extra-careful over the holidays to avoid spreading the coronavirus, as the government’s scientific advisory body warned that the country could soon see hundreds of thousands of infections per day.
The French government has canceled New Year’s gatherings and urged more working from home but has stopped short of adopting some of the tougher measures imposed elsewhere in Europea.
The end-of-year holidays “are moments to see each other again, moments of gaiety, of insouciance,” Macron said. “But this year once again, because of the virus, I ask you to have a lot of vigilance.”
Macron spent the last Christmas season isolated with COVID-19. He asked people this year to get tested, get vaccinated and to wear masks to protect against the delta and fast-spreading omicron variants. He also thanked hospital workers and others working through the Christmas weekend “for taking care of the French.”
France is seeing more confirmed virus infections than at any time in the pandemic, with more than 80,000 new cases recorded Wednesday and more than one in 100 people in the Paris region testing positive. Dr. Arnaud Fontanet of the government’s scientific COVID-19 advisory council said Thursday that the national infections could soon hit hundreds of thousands a day because omicron is so contagious.
BANGKOK — Officials in Thailand say an Israeli tourist who was the subject of a nationwide police manhunt after breaking out of quarantine while apparently infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detained on a southern resort island
The 29-year-old man will be charged with breaking quarantine regulations and then deported and banned from Thailand for life following his release from hospital detention, authorities said.
Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences, said Thursday that the the tourist allegedly left quarantine at a Bangkok hotel on Dec. 7, before his coronavirus test result was completed. It eventually showed he was infected with the omicron variant.
Thailand has had a few dozen cases of omicron, but all were found in quarantined individuals. It has only had two reported cases of domestic transmission, and the case of the missing Israeli dominated news reports.
Officials said two RT-PCR tests were taken after he turned himself in on the southern resort island of Kho Samui on Wednesday. Both were negative.
Supakit said the man could have recovered in the two weeks between his first test taken upon arrival on Dec. 7 and the Dec. 22 tests.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister expects a surge in coronavirus cases around New Year’s.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told public radio network WDR 2 on Thursday that Germany hasn’t seen a big, rapid wave of new infections from the omicron variant, which has already hit other European countries such as Britain.
Lauterbach said that would change “around New Year and in the first week of January.”
The government is urging Germans to limit their contacts over the holiday period and to get vaccinated, including with booster shots if they already had initial doses.
Official figures show 70.7% of Germany’s population received a first round of vaccines, while 35% has had boosters.
Police said about 5,000 people gathered in the center of Munich late Wednesday to protest against pandemic restrictions and a planned vaccine mandate. Some participants attacked officers and 11 people were detained, police said.
TEL AVIV, Israel — An Israeli hospital says a man who was reported to have died from the omicron variant of the coronavirus was found to have the delta variant.
Israeli health officials reported the death earlier this week. It would have been the country’s first omicron casualty.
Soroka Hospital, located in the southern city of Beersheba, said Thursday that final test results from the Israeli Health Ministry indicated the man was infected with delta.
Israel has identified 341 cases of omicron. It has greatly restricted air traffic in and out of the country and is imposing a series of public restrictions to prevent the spread of the highly contagious variant.
The Health Ministry director is also considering whether to administer a second booster shot to at-risk groups, following a recommendation by a medical advisory group.
Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has reported over 8,200 COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic.
BEIJING — China is redoubling efforts to control new virus outbreaks with a lockdown of the 13 million residents of the northern city of Xi’an following a spike in coronavirus cases.
The measure comes just weeks before the country hosts the Winter Olympics in Beijing, roughly 1,000 kilometers (6210 miles) to the west.
There was no word on whether the virus was the newly surging omicron variant or the far more common delta. China has recorded just seven omicron cases — four in the southern manufacturing center of Guangzhou, two in the southern city of Changsha and one in the northern port of Tianjin.
China has also been dealing with a substantial outbreak in several cities in the eastern province of Zhejiang near Shanghai, although isolation measures there have been more narrowly targeted.
Authorities have adopted strict pandemic control measures under their policy of seeking to drive new transmissions to zero, leading to frequent lockdowns, universal masking and mass testing. While the policy has not been entirely successful while leading to massive disruptions in travel and trade, Beijing credits it with largely containing the spread of the virus.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has set a new record for daily COVID-19 deaths as it struggles to resolve a shortage of hospital beds amid weeks of surging cases.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Thursday that 109 people died in the latest 24-hour period. That raised the country’s total number of pandemic fatalities to 5,015.
The agency reported 6,919 new coronavirus cases, the vast majority of them involving the delta variant.
Infections surged after South Korea significantly relaxed its pandemic restrictions in early November as part of its efforts to restore pre-pandemic normalcy. Alarmed by the spike, health authorities on Saturday restored the country’s toughest distancing rules such as a four-person cap on private gatherings and a 9 p.m. curfew for restaurants and cafes.
SYDNEY — Australia is reporting a major spike in coronavirus infections a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected lockdowns or mask mandates to slow the spread of the omicron variant.
The country’s most populous state, New South Wales, listed 5,715 new cases Thursday. That was up from 3,763 a day earlier and almost as many as were recorded across all of Australia on Wednesday.
There were 347 people in New South Wales hospitals, up from 302 the previous day, and 45 in intensive care units, up from 40.
Victoria state also saw a sharp increase, reporting 2,005 new infections Thursday.
Morrison on Wednesday convened a Cabinet meeting with leaders of Australia’s states and territories but ruled out lockdowns.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court says it will hold a special session to weigh challenges to two Biden administration policies covering vaccine requirements for millions of workers, policies that affect large employers and health care workers.
The high court’s announcement that it will hear arguments in the cases on Jan. 7, an extraordinarily fast timeline, comes amid rising coronavirus infections. The court had not been scheduled to hear cases again until Jan. 10.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 2-1 last week that the vaccine or testing regime for workers at larger companies could take effect. The plan, which was to take effect Jan. 4, requires workers at larger companies to be vaccinated or wear face masks and get tested weekly.
The high court also will hear arguments over a rule published Nov. 5 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid that applies to a wide range of health care providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It requires their workers to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. I
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s roughly 2.5 million health care workers have until Feb. 1 to get a coronavirus vaccine booster shot or risk losing their jobs, the governor says.
Gov. Gavin Newsom gave more details on the booster mandate during a Wednesday news conference at a vaccine clinic in Oakland.
California was the first state to require health care workers to be vaccinated, a rule that took effect in September. Most workers have complied. But thousands of others have either lost their jobs or been suspended.
Now, California joins New Mexico as at least the second state to require a booster shot for its health care workers. Also this week, two of the nation’s largest public university systems — California State University and the University of California — announced that students must have booster shots for the spring semester.
California also requires other groups to either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, including state workers and, eventually, teachers and students. But Newsom said Wednesday there is no plan to require those other groups to get a booster shot.
MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier says beginning the day after Christmas, gatherings inside homes will be limited to six people or two family bubbles.
Restaurants are already operating at half capacity and have to close at 10 p.m., and on Dec. 26 will also have to limit groups at tables to six people or two families.
Premier Francois Legault says the “exponential” increase in coronavirus infections over the past week is continuing. He says Quebec will report about 9,000 news cases for Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the French-speaking Canadian province abruptly closed bars, gyms and schools and warned that further restrictions could be coming while awaiting projections on the spread of the virus and its impact on hospitalizations.
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