(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci expressed optimism that the omicron surge will soon peak, but said the decline won’t be uniform throughout the U.S.

Germany is likely to keep current pandemic measures in place after a meeting on Monday to discuss the matter, according to the country’s regional leaders. In Brussels, protests against restrictions turned violent.

Hong Kong reported the highest number of Covid-19 cases in about a year, while Russian infections climbed to a daily record. A Covid cluster in China’s capital Beijing continues to grow and shows early signs of spreading to neighboring provinces, adding pressure on authorities to contain the outbreak two weeks before the official start of the Winter Olympic Games.

Key Developments: 

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 350.7 million; deaths pass 5.5 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.92 billion shots administered
  • Bars and gyms are bustling as Americans learn to live With Covid
  • Fresh produce risks getting more scarce with U.S. shot mandate
  • Living with Covid proving tough for a gridlocked world economy
  • Is Covid becoming endemic? What would that mean?: QuickTake

Australia to Add Novavax Vaccine (7:21 a.m. HK)

Australia will include the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine in its national inoculation program, for people aged 18 and over, starting the week of Feb. 21, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Monday.

Vaccination had played a key role in the country now experiencing a “clear decrease in cases” and hospitalizations, Hunt told reporters.

“It’s an important moment, we are seeing now clear signs that this omicron wave, at least in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, has peaked,” he said, adding there are promising signs from South Australia.

U.S. Vaccinations Slow (7:18 a.m. HK)

The U.S. reported on Sunday 694,000 vaccine new doses administered, the lowest number since October, amid a general decline in vaccinations despite near-record high infections and hospitalizations. 

Vaccinations peaked last April at more than 4.5 million daily shots, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, and have largely been on the decline since. The availability of booster shots, the expansion to younger age groups and vaccine mandates briefly boosted numbers that are now dropping toward the lowest points since vaccinations were rolled out in December 2020.

Of the eligible populations, 67.4% of Americans are fully vaccinated and 43% have received booster shots, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Anti-Vaccine Protesters March in D.C. (2:20 p.m. NY)

Opponents of vaccine mandates gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Sunday, though the crowd appeared to be smaller than expected. 

Rally organizers had submitted a permit to the National Park Service estimating 20,000 attendees at the rally, but the Washington Post reported the gathering was a small crowd of a few thousand. Robert Kennedy Jr., who has been outspoken about his opposition to the vaccine, was among the speakers.

One in five adults in the U.S. remain unvaccinated. Washington, D.C., where the rally took place, requires proof of vaccination in order to dine in restaurants in the city.

Too Early to End School Masking: Gottlieb (1:23 p.m. NY)

It’s too soon for schools to lift student mask mandates, but public health officials officials need to be clearer about how long they are needed, said Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

“To withdraw it right at the peak of the epidemic, I think it’s imprudent. We should wait,” Gottlieb, a Pfizer Inc. board member, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” 

“But this whole Covid epidemic, I think, has been colored by the fact that policymakers have not prescribed clear endpoints,” he said. “I think parents are willing to tolerate masks in schools, recognizing it’s very disruptive to children if there is an end date to it.” 

New Zealand Businesses Warned on Omicron (12:57 p.m. NY)

New Zealand’s government is warning businesses to be prepared for labor shortages and supply disruptions as omicron takes hold in the community.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has urged companies to ensure business continuity plans are in place and pledged government support, but warned that the impact of the variant could be severe. Modeling showed that in a scenario of 25,000 daily cases there could be 350,000 workers a day self-isolating, he said. 

Italy Looks to ‘Ordinary’ Phase of Covid (11:44 a.m. NY)

Italy must move from treating the pandemic as an emergency a to a new “ordinary” phase where Covid-19 is just an illness among others, health undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri said on Sunday on Rai1 television. 

Sileri said the easing of restrictions must happen “at the right moment,” adding that he expected infections to decline in coming days. Italy recorded 138,860 new cases on Sunday.

Fauci Optimistic Over Omicron (10:44 a.m. NY)

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser expressed optimism that the omicron surge that has pushed Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations to records will soon peak, though that decline won’t be uniform throughout the U.S.

“Things are looking good,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now.”

EU Won’t Add Curbs on Vaccinated Travelers (10:03 a.m NY)

European Union countries agreed not to add restrictions on vaccinated travelers, signaling a shift from basing rules on a region’s epidemiological situation to an individual’s vaccination status. Ministers will sign-off on the decision Tuesday, according to people familiar with discussion. The move is non-binding, but signals that European countries are ready to leave behind the emergency measures they’ve had in place.

Protesters Take to Streets in Brussels (9:39 a.m. NY)

Around 50,000 people took to the streets of Brussels on Sunday protesting Covid restrictions and vaccination passes. Some set flower pots on fire and others threw projectiles, including a chair, at police, according to local media. Police used tear gas and a fire engine to quell the protesters.

Protests erupted around Europe on Saturday, including in London, Paris, Stockholm and Athens, to protest vaccine passports and other virus regulations and restrictions. 

Germany Likely to Keep Current Measures (7:18 a.m NY)

Germany will likely keep its current pandemic measures in place, the country’s regional leaders said ahead of a meeting Monday with Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss the situation.

“Tightening of the corona measures is not on the horizon and that is good news for the current state of affairs,” Lower Saxony premier Stephan Weil told the RND media group before the summit. North Rhine-Westphalia’s regional leader Hendrik Wuest also said relaxing current measures isn’t on the table.

No Delay to Health Worker Vaccinations, Raab Says (11:49 a.m. NY)

U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab signaled the government would maintain a deadline for health service workers to get a Covid-19 vaccine or risk losing their jobs in a response to a press report that the mandate would be delayed.

Hong Kong Cases Hit Year-High (5:14 pm. HK)

Hong Kong reported 140 confirmed Covid-19 cases on Sunday, the highest number in about a year.

Of the new cases, 125 were locally transmitted while 94 are related to a cluster at a public housing estate in the New Territories, the city’s authorities said at a press conference.

Russia Cases Hit Daily Record (4:48 p.m. HK)

Russia recorded a daily record of 63,205 new Covid-19 infections, the government response center said Sunday. The number of deaths was 679, close to levels of July.

With Russia at the start of a new wave, the Sputnik V vaccine is showing “very good efficacy” against the omicron variant, said Alexander Gintsburg, director at Gamaleya Center, which developed the vaccine, Interfax reported.

Western Australia Minister Says Omicron Can’t Be Eliminated (1:45 p.m. HK)

Western Australia reported 24 new community cases Sunday, prompting the state’s Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson to say that omicron can’t be eliminated, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

“I think it’s clear that we’re not going to eliminate omicron, it’s now about how we suppress and manage omicron,” Sanderson told reporters Sunday in Perth, according to the ABC. The state now has 90 active cases, the Department of Health said in an emailed statement.

Ardern Cancels Her Wedding as N.Z. Tightens Curbs (1:25 p.m. HK)

The South Pacific nation will tighten restrictions, moving to a “red” setting at 11:59 p.m. today, Ardern said at a news conference Sunday in Wellington. That will mean more mask wearing, gathering limits and increased distancing requirements at hospitality outlets. Businesses will be able to remain open and people allowed to travel freely. No regional lockdowns are being considered, Ardern said.

A gathering limit of 100 people at sporting or private events means weddings and funerals need to be re-assessed, she said. “As for mine, my wedding will not be going ahead but I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic,” Ardern said, without elaborating when her nuptials were planned for. “Such is life.”

Japanese Less Concerned About Omicron Than Delta (9:40 a.m. HK)

A poll by Japanese newspaper Mainichi on Saturday showed 46% of those surveyed said they were fearful about the spread of omicron coronavirus variant but not as concerned as they were with the delta strain, while 34% of respondents said they were very fearful.

Tokyo found 11,227 infections on Saturday. Authorities have placed curbs on 13 prefectures, including Tokyo and its surrounding areas, from Friday to Feb. 13. 

Of those surveyed, 31% said they approved of the government’s coronavirus measures, a decline of 15 percentage points from the previous poll by the paper. Those who did not approve of the government’s actions rose 13 percentage points to 39%, according to the Mainichi.

Beijing Covid Cluster Grows (9 a.m. HK)

A Covid-19 cluster in China’s capital continues to grow and shows early signs of spreading to neighboring provinces. Beijing reported nine new local infections on Saturday. Two were workers in a cold storage in southwestern Fengtai district.

The neighboring Shanxi province said a resident who tested positive for the virus was a cold storage worker in Fengtai, as was another case in Shandong province. Two other cases in Shandong were cargo drivers who are linked to a Fengtai cold storage facility.

L.A. Schools Prohibit Cloth Masks (5:55 p.m. NY)

Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will no longer be allowed to wear cloth masks, the district announced on Saturday. 

The new rule requires “well-fitted, non-cloth masks with a nose wire.” The masks must be worn “at all times, indoor and outdoors.” The higher-grade masks will be given to students who request them. 

U.S. health officials have urged people to wear more protective masks, particularly as the highly-transmissible omicron variant has spread. Cloth provides less protection than respirators or surgical-grade masks, they say. 

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