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‘Celebrate safely’ on Christmas, New Year amid omicron fears: UAE doctors

Health experts in the United Arab Emirates have urged residents to celebrate the Christmas and New Year festive season with caution and adhere to safety protocols amid fears over the omicron variant and soaring cases of COVID-19 across the country.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Rajesh Kumar Gupta, a specialist in internal medicine, at Burjeel Speciality Hospital, Sharjah, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives especially the way we celebrate religious and social observances like Christmas and New Year.”

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“Traditionally festivals and events allow us to reconnect with our friends and family, but today, we are not able to mark these occasions as we have done in the past,” Gupta added.

“As the pandemic is far from over with the new omicron variant, which is far more contagious and spreading very fast all over the world, it is important to be responsible to protect ourselves and our family members by getting a COVID-19 vaccine and a booster dose as well.”

The doctor also urged everyone to follow government guidelines to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“We know that laxity in adhering to the protocol could result in an increase in the daily reported infections so we should always wear a face mask, use hand sanitizer and adhere to physical distancing (1.5 meter) and follow other precautions like avoiding greeting people with hand shaking or embracing them.”

“Since large parties could lead to a spike in cases, it is a good idea to restrict numbers and celebrate with immediate family members who are already vaccinated.”

Pregnant women, children, and those belonging to any high-risk group should stay away from the celebrations or be extra cautious, the doctor added.

“Online celebrations are also an interesting way to share our happiness with others and keep our traditions alive. So, this Christmas and New Year, let us retain the celebratory spirit and be proactive in ensuring the safety of our community.”

“Also, it is very important vaccinated people get the booster jab to protect themselves from the infections.”

Dr. Karthikeyan Dakshinamoorthy, a specialist in internal medicine at NMC Royal Hospital, DIP, Dubai, reiterated the note of caution during the festivities.

“The UAE is reporting the highest number of detected COVID 19 cases since the pandemic was under control.”

“The numbers on the omicron variant are unavailable. We all knew that COVID-19 spreads through aerosol or droplets.”

“As New Year and Christmas nears, we all tend to gather or go to events to celebrate.”

“All these activities carry significant risks. If you are planning for a family gathering, keep the guests in minimum numbers while following safety protocols. If you are planning to go to events check for the safety protocols followed by the organizers. Those who are at high risk should stay home.”

“It’s better to stay home and enjoy safely with family for this Christmas and New Year.”

Dr. Dakshinamoorthy said COVID-19 cases are increasing in number and said this is mostly due to increased interaction between people and “laxity to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.”

“As the New Year and Christmas nears and there is a mood for celebrations, we must understand the gravity of the current situation and act accordingly. Utmost care should be taken to adhere to safety protocols and avoid close gatherings if possible.”

“Vaccines do not prevent us from getting infection, but it prevents development of severe covid. A vaccinated and infected person, even though asymptomatic, can transmit the virus. Be safe.”

Dr. Anuradha Ajesh, a specialist in pediatrics at Bareen International Hospital, MBZ Abu Dhabi City, said staying home with the family is the best way to celebrate Christmas and New Year.

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“Indoor parties are more dangerous. Better to skip large parties this year. Studies showed, you are more likely to get COVID-19 from our relatives than from strangers.”

“Outdoor celebrations are safer with masks, social distancing and hand hygiene. This combination reduces the spread of coronavirus.”

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UAE reports 1,796 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths

The UAE announced 1,796 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the official Emirates News Agency reported.

This brings the current total active cases in the UAE to 17,551 and the total number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic to 949,384, according to data from the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA).

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The cases were determined out of 232,943 tests in the last 24 hours.

No deaths from the virus were recorded on Saturday, maintaining the total deaths caused by COVID-19 to 2,317 in the UAE.

At least 1,727 patients recovered in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total COVID-19 recoveries to 929,516.

On June 13, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced it would strictly enforce its mask rules – with penalties for those flouting the protocol – and announced it would tighten its rules on the Al Hosn green pass system amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.

NCEMA said that it has recently “monitored some behaviors that have become a danger to society and public health,” referring to people not adhering to COVID-19 precautionary and preventative measures and how it has “negatively” impacted recovery efforts.

“Negligence and recklessness in following precautionary measures, and failure in the societal role in maintaining public health and acquired immunity, has resulted in a rise in the number of infections and new waves of the virus,” the authority spokesman said in the briefing.

The authority reaffirmed the need to wear masks in closed public spaces, reiterating that it was mandatory and that not adhering to this rule would result in a fine of up to $816 (AED 3,000).

According to the World Health Organization, more than 4.1 million cases were reported globally in the last week.

It added, however, that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500, noting that COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

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Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines could increase protection as boosters: EMA

Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday.
Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants.
While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
As such, an omicron-specific or bivalent booster – meaning a vaccine that includes both the new strain and the original coronavirus strain – could “increase and extend” protection, a statement from the EMA said.
The statement refers specifically to the mRNA vaccines. Both Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been testing retooled versions of their vaccines to include the omicron variant.
Vaccines which include other variants, for example the beta variant, might also be considered for use as boosters if clinical trial data demonstrate an adequate level of neutralization against omicron and other variants of concern, the statement said.
It follows guidance from the World Health Organization that omicron-specific boosters could restore protection against emerging strains of the coronavirus.
But it stops short of the position of the regulator in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said on Thursday that it would seek the inclusion specifically of the newer BA.4 and BA.5 strains of omicron, currently driving a surge in new infections globally, in any new shots for use domestically.
On Tuesday, the head of a WHO advisory committee that has considered the modified shots said the group preferred BA.1-based boosters, arguing that the variant is more distinct and could generate a broader response than the more recently circulating subvariants.
Top US FDA official Peter Marks said in an interview that regulators from other countries were seriously considering using new boosters based on the BA.1 omicron variant that caused the massive surge in cases last winter, because those shots can be available sooner than the BA.4/5 based booster the United States plans to use.
The EMA said it would provide more details in coming days.
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Russia scraps remaining COVID-19 restrictions

Russia said on Friday it was ending all restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, including the requirement to wear masks, citing a steady decline in deaths from the virus.
However, it did not rule out re-introducing restrictive measures if the situation deteriorates.
Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said it was “suspending previously introduced restrictions, including the mask regime, a ban on public catering at night, and a number of other measures.”
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
It said the dynamics of the virus were consistent with global trends and 93 percent of confirmed cases were mild or asymptomatic.
Since the start of the pandemic in Russia in April 2020, over 800,000 people have died from coronavirus or causes related to COVID-19, Reuters calculations show, with the country recording over 18 million infections.
Russia was quick to develop and launch its Sputnik V vaccine when the pandemic struck but take-up was slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products. About 52 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
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