Is the COVID pandemic really reaching its final stretch? That's what Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla would like the public to believe - he said during a recent series of interviews with the French media that life on earth should "return to normal" in the coming months. Of course, the "experts" said the same thing last winter.
But the reality on the ground shows that we're a long way away. Globally, the number of new COVID cases has declined from a single-day peak reached earlier this month. Meanwhile, a growing number of governments are taking extreme measures to try and crack down on the virus. Japan is set to grant permission to the governors of Tokyo and 12 other prefectures to tighten restrictions on social activities as COVID-19 cases hit a daily record. Japan reported more than 27K new cases, broadcaster TBS said, exceeding the previous high seen in August shortly after Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics.
Elsewhere in Asia, authorities in Hong Kong have arrested two Cathay Pacific flight attendants for violating the city's strict anti-pandemic policies. The government confirmed their arrests on Monday, claiming that the two flight attendants had violated quarantine policies.
In recent days, a growing number of countries have imposed vaccine requirements on their citizens. Austria has just imposed Europe's first vaccine mandate on its roughly 9MM citizens. Italy imposed a similar mandate on all citizens over 50 years of age earlier this month.
Meanwhile, over in Israel, the government has decided to continue offering a second booster to Israeli citizens, despite new research showing that people will remain vulnerable to COVID no matter how many shots they receive.
Israel started offering a fourth shot to its most vulnerable and high-risk groups last month, but it has held off on expanding the offer to the wider population.
The preliminary study data mentioned above was published by Israel's Sheba Medical Center on Monday, and it found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third, but still probably not high enough.
The Israeli Health Ministry's director-general Nachman Ash described those findings as "unsurprising, to a degree" as Omicron infections had been logged in some people after they received fourth doses.
But "protection from serious morbidity, especially for the elderly population and at-risk population, is still afforded by this vaccine (dose), and therefore I call on people to keep coming to get vaccinated," he told Army Radio.
Finally, in Beijing, authorities are seeing signs of both omicron and delta, a dual-variant threat that is unfurling less than three weeks before the Winter Olympic Games. According to Bloomberg, Beijing's first omicron-infected patient has passed the virus to at least two close contacts, according to China's national health commission. Separately, a person in a different part of the capital tested preliminary positive for delta, a city spokesperson said during a Tuesday briefing.
Australia recorded 74 deaths on Tuesday, its highest number of daily COVID deaths since the start of the pandemic. The state of Victoria has declared a state of emergency for its hospital system, which is buckling under the strain of staff illness and soaring coronavirus cases.
Circling back to Hong Kong, local authorities have created one of the more colorful pieces of COVID news by ordering a cull of 2K hamsters on Tuesday while warning pet owners not to kiss animals after a cluster of COVID cases was traced to a pet shop.
According to Reuters, Hong Kong's pet rodent clampdown echoes the mainland's zero-tolerance approach to COVID even as much of the world shifts to living with the disease.
In other animal-linked COVID news, authorities in South Africa have confirmed that two pumas who had diarrhea, nasal discharge and anorexia had been infected with COVID, but managed to make a full recovery after 23 days.