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Israel approves 4th COVID-19 vaccine dose for most vulnerable

Israel has approved a fourth vaccine dose for people most vulnerable to COVID-19, an official said Thursday, becoming one of the first countries to do so as it braces for a wave of infections fueled by the omicron variant.

Nachman Ash, the director general of the Health Ministry, announced the decision at a press conference, saying the doses would initially be given to those with weakened immune systems.

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“We will continue to track the data on a daily basis and we will see if we need to broaden this recommendation to more of the population,” he said.

The Sheba Medical Center later said it would begin administering the fourth dose to heart transplant patients early on Friday. Israel launched trials of the fourth dose at the center earlier this week, administering it to some 150 medical personnel who had gotten a booster in August.

Israel was among the first countries to roll out Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine a year ago and began rolling out boosters last summer. But it still saw a wave of infections blamed on the delta variant, and officials have warned of another driven by the fast-spreading omicron.

Around two-thirds of Israel’s population of nearly 9.5 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and some 4.2 million Israelis have received all three doses, according to the latest Health Ministry figures.

“Israel will lead the way in administering a fourth vaccine (dose) to the Israeli people,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. “Israel’s strategy for overcoming omicron is clear: The greater the wave, the greater the protection we will need to overcome it.”

Earlier Thursday, Israel received its first shipment of pills that treat the worst effects of the virus.

It’s among of the first countries to receive Pfizer’s Paxlovid, a pill that can be taken at home to ward off the most severe symptoms of the coronavirus. All the previously authorized drugs require an IV or injection.

Israeli media reported that the first shipment consists of 20,000 doses, with more expected as Pfizer ramps up production.

Israel currently has more than 22,000 active patients, including more than 90 who are seriously ill. At least 8,243 people have died from COVID-19 in Israel since the start of the pandemic.

Last week, Chile announced that it would start offering a fourth dose in February. Chile has reported almost 86 percent of its population fully vaccinated, making it the country with the highest level of immunization against the coronavirus in Latin America.

Read more: Experts warn of US omicron ‘blizzard’ in weeks ahead

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North Korea’s fever cases under 200,000 for second day amid silence on aid offer

North Korea's daily fever cases stayed below 200,000 for a second day in a row, state media said on Monday, as Pyongyang remained silent on South Korean and US offers to help fight its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID wave, declared on May 12, has fuelled concerns over a lack of vaccines, inadequate medical infrastructure and a potential food crisis in the country of 25 million.

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that Washington had offered COVID-19 vaccines to China and North Korea, but “got no response.”

North Korea reported 167,650 new patients suffering from fever on Monday and one more death. More than 2.33 million of the 2.81 million cumulative cases reported since late April had recovered as of Sunday evening, the North's state news agency KCNA said. The official death toll stands at 68.

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While staying silent on the offer for help, North Korea has boasted of a “favorable turn” in the country's virus situation.

“The crisis and responsibility awareness is further enhanced in every region, sector, workplace and post across the country to maintain the favorable turn in the epidemic prevention work and all inroads of the epidemic are checked through the strict execution of regional and unit lockdown and blockade measures,” the KCNA said.

Such COVID-19 restrictions may be playing a role in North Korea's lack of response, a senior US administration official said Sunday.

Apparently deprived of testing supplies, North Korea has not confirmed the total number of people testing positive for the coronavirus. Instead, health authorities report the number with fever symptoms, making it difficult to assess the scale of the COVID wave, experts have said.

Authorities have distributed food and medicine across the country, with military medics deployed to help distribute drugs and conduct exams.

KCNA said pharmaceutical factories “are speeding up the production,” but did not elaborate which medicines were being produced.

Read more:

Biden offers aid, vaccines to COVID-stricken North Korea

North Korea hails ‘good results’ on COVID-19 as fever cases pass two million

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Beijing city reports 63 new local COVID-19 cases over 24 hours

Beijing reported 63 new domestically transmitted COVID-19 infections during the 24 hours to 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) on Saturday, a disease control official at the Chinese capital said.

Of the infections, 56 were found in controlled areas and seven during community screening tests, Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director at Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told a news briefing.

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The city has recorded 1,399 COVID infections since April 22, Liu said.

Read more:

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Biden says US has offered N.Korea COVID-19 vaccines but ‘got no response’

US President Joe Biden said Saturday that America had offered North Korea COVID-19 vaccines but “got no response” despite a spiraling epidemic in the isolated country.

“We've offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but to China as well and we're prepared to do that immediately," he said at a press conference in Seoul.

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“We've got no response,” he added.

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Read more:

North Korea hails ‘good results’ on COVID-19 as fever cases pass two million

US President Biden touts South Korea’s role in securing global supply chain

China launches South China Sea military drills as US President Biden visits Asia

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