France OKs 5-11 shots; Austria ends lockdown
PARIS — France’s health authority has approved COVID-19 vaccinations for children five to 11 years old and the government says injections could begin Wednesday.
France began vaccinations for children with health risks last week, and the High Authority for Health on Monday expanded its recommendation to include all 5 to 11-year-olds, using Pfizer’s pediatric dose.
It cited “the fifth wave due to the delta variant and the appearance of the omicron variant,” and said the decision came after lengthy discussions with ethical committees, medical professionals, parents and teachers. Health Minister Olivier Veran said the injections could begin Wednesday.
France is seeing more weekly confirmed virus cases than at any time in the pandemic, and a rise in hospitalizations linked to the virus. The government canceled New Year’s Eve events and is accelerating efforts to administer booster shots, but has not closed restaurants and stores or set curfews like some other European countries have done to limit the spread of omicron.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
— British nurses warn the health care system at a breaking poin t as omicron cases soar
— German military gives hospital an edge in treating COVID-19 patients
— Omicron prompts World Economic Forum to delay Davos meeting until summer 2022
— Austria ends 20-day lockdown, considers move a success as virus cases plummet
Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The European Union’s drugs regulator gave the green light to a fifth COVID-19 vaccine for use in the 27-nation bloc, granting conditional marketing authorization to the two-dose vaccine made by U.S. biotech company Novavax.
The European Medicines Agency decision to recommend granting conditional marketing authorization for the vaccine for people aged 18 and over, which must be confirmed by the EU’s executive commission, comes as many European nations are battling surges in infections and amid concerns about the spread of the new omicron variant.
Novavax says it currently is testing how its shots will hold up against the omicron variant, and like other manufacturers has begun formulating an updated version to better match that variant in case in case it’s eventually needed.
The Novavax shot joins those from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca in the EU’s vaccine armory. The EU has ordered up to 100 million doses of the Novavax vaccine with an option for 100 million more.
VIENNA — As the last few regions in Austria reopened restaurants and hotels on Monday, the country reported fewer than 2,000 new coronavirus cases, the lowest number since October.
Austria saw 1,792 new infections in 24 hours, down from daily highs of around 13,000 daily cases in late November — a trend that stands in contrast to rising cases across much of Europe.
In response to a massive fourth wave of infections, the small Alpine nation went into a 20-day lockdown on Nov. 22. National lockdown restrictions were lifted for vaccinated people on Dec. 12, but remain in place for unvaccinated people.
Since Dec. 12, each of Austria’s nine states has set its own policy regarding reopening: In some states, restaurants and hotels reopened immediately, while in others they remained closed a few days longer. The capital, Vienna, opted to open shops and Christmas markets last week, but kept restaurants and hotels closed until Monday.
The latest case numbers show the benefit of the lockdown, especially as the omicron variant has led to rising cases elsewhere across Europe. Austria’s seven-day rate of new infections now stands at 215 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with a high of 1,100 per 100,000 late last month.
LONDON — Britain’s main nurses’ union warned Monday that exhaustion and surging coronavirus cases among medical staff are pushing them to the breaking point, adding to pressure on the government for new restrictions to curb record numbers of infections driven by the omicron variant.
The warning throws into stark relief the unpalatable choice Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces: wreck holiday plans for millions for a second year running, or face a potential tidal wave of cases and disruption.
Many governments in Europe and the U.S. are confronting similar dilemmas over how hard to come down in the face of omicron, which appears more transmissible than the previous delta variant. Even if it is milder, the new variant could still overwhelm health systems because of the sheer number of infections.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.K. have surged by 50% in a week as omicron overtook delta as the dominant variant.
The British Medical Association has warned that almost 50,000 doctors, nurses and other National Health Service staff in England could be off sick with COVID-19 by Christmas Day unless additional restrictions are introduced.
WESTERSTEDE, Germany — As hospitals across Europe brace themselves for a surge in coronavirus cases over the holiday season because of the new omicron variant, Westerstede Clinical Center is cautiously hopeful it can weather the storm.
The region of northwestern Germany it mainly serves has among the lowest case numbers nationally, and an above-average vaccination rate.
“I think we’re on a stable level here,” said the head of the hospital’s intensive care unit, Rene Lehr, when The Associated Press was recently granted rare access inside the facility.
The 43-year-old predicted his ICU might need to treat up to five COVID-19 patients during the period from Christmas to New Year — a number that staff can confidently handle.
In part that’s because it enjoys benefits many other hospitals don’t have. It is operated in cooperation between regional authorities and the German military, helping ensure it has state-of-the art equipment, spare beds and additional staff who work there while they are on standby for possible troop deployments.
The military’s vast resources — and its desire to keep medics at the cutting edge of their profession — mean this little-known facility was among the first in Germany to treat people with COVID-19.
GENEVA — The World Economic Forum is again delaying its much-ballyhooed annual meeting of world leaders, business executives and other elites in Davos, Switzerland, amid new uncertainties about the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The forum, which repeatedly delayed, moved and finally canceled last year’s event, says the previously planned Jan. 17-21 gathering in the alpine town will now take place in “early summer” — without giving specifics.
“Current pandemic conditions make it extremely difficult to deliver a global in-person meeting,” the forum said in a statement. “Preparations have been guided by expert advice and have benefited from the close collaboration of the Swiss government at all levels.”
The decision comes as some countries in Europe impose new restrictions or face tough choices about what to do about rising numbers of COVID-19 infections tied to omicron. Switzerland on Friday announced requirements to show proof of vaccination or COVID-19 recovery to go to restaurants and indoor events amid a spike in infections in recent weeks, largely of the delta variant.
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s health ministers agreed Monday to start vaccinating children aged between 5 and 11 against the coronavirus.
Ministers from the country of 11.5 million said the vaccination is highly recommended to children with conditions that put them at high risk for complications from COVID-19.
Those children will be invited to receive their jabs as a priority before the end of the month.
EU regulators last month approved a reduced-dose vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech for use in the 5-11 age group.
To counter a new spike in case of the virus which has already claimed 27,900 lives in Belgium, the government has tightened rules for schools and nurseries, bringing school holidays forward and asking children aged 6 and over to wear masks. In addition, classes must close when two children from the same class test positive.
BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has convoked a meeting with the heads of Spain’s regions to face a rise in coronavirus infections.
Sánchez said that Wednesday’s meeting via video will be to “analyze the situation of the pandemic and evaluate new measures that we can put into place over the coming weeks.”
Spain is one of the world leaders in vaccination with over 90% of its population having received at least two doses. But with the emergence of the omicron strain cases have been rapidly on the rise and are above 500 per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days.
Sánchez said hospitalization rates for COVID-19 are still lower than a year ago thanks to the protection offered by the vaccines.
Authorities are now worried about a big spread of infections during the Christmas holidays when families traditionally gather in large numbers.