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Thousands held on Hong Kong cruise ship for COVID-19 testing

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Thousands of passengers were being held Wednesday on a cruise ship in Hong Kong for coronavirus testing after health authorities said nine passengers were linked to a recent omicron cluster and ordered the ship to turn back.

Authorities forced the Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas ship, which began sailing on Sunday on a “cruise to nowhere,” to return a day early on Wednesday, according to a government statement.

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The ship was ordered to return after nine passengers were identified as close contacts of an infected patient who was linked to a new omicron cluster.

The ship returned to Hong Kong on Wednesday morning and passengers were being held onboard while they awaited testing.

Royal Caribbean said in a statement that the nine guests were immediately isolated and had all tested negative, and that the company was working closely with authorities to comply with epidemic prevention policies and regulations.

Over the past week, Hong Kong authorities have locked down several residential buildings linked to emerging omicron clusters as it sought to prevent the spread of the coronavirus variant in the city.

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The clusters emerged after several Cathay Pacific crew members broke isolation rules and dined at restaurants and bars in the city, before testing positive for the omicron variant.

Royal Caribbean said guests who were on-board the affected ship would receive a 25 percent refund on their cruise fare. The ship’s Thursday sailing was also canceled as the crew has to undergo mandatory tests, and those guests will receive a full refund.

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Moderna begins testing omicron-matched COVID-19 shots in adults

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Moderna has begun testing an omicron-specific COVID-19 booster in healthy adults.

The company announced Wednesday that the first participant had received a dose. Earlier this week, competitor Pfizer began a similar study of its own reformulated shots.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

It’s not clear whether global health authorities will order a change to the vaccine recipe in the wake of the hugely contagious omicron variant. The original vaccines still offer good protection against death and severe illness. Studies in the US and elsewhere show a booster dose strengthens that protection and improves the chances of avoiding even a milder infection.

Moderna pointed to a small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday that showed antibodies able to target omicron persisted for six months after a booster dose, although the levels were dropping.

Moderna’s new study will enroll about 600 people who already have received either two doses of the company’s original shots or two plus a booster dose. All the volunteers will receive a dose of the experimental omicron-matched version.

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Abbas rival Dahlan delivers one mln COVID-19 vaccine doses to Gaza

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One million doses of coronavirus vaccine arrived in Gaza from the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, the latest donation facilitated by an exiled rival of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Mohammed Dahlan, a Gaza native now based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, was once a top Palestinian Authority official who served as Abbas’s security chief in the territory before its takeover by the Islamist Hamas movement in 2007.

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Gaza health ministry spokesman Mahmud Hammad told journalists that the consignment of one million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine marked the largest single shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to the Israeli-blockaded territory.

The vaccines were delivered through Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt, the only one not controlled by Israel.

The same route was used for previous shipments organized by Dahlan, who has increasingly sought to position himself as a benefactor for the Palestinian people.

Dahlan had been expected to emerge as a key player from Palestinian elections scheduled for last year but the polls were postponed indefinitely by Abbas in a move that also infuriated Hamas.

The ministry’s head of preventive medicine, Magdy Duhair, warned that Gaza’s health system was under increased strain due to the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus.

While Gaza’s beleaguered medical system has struggled at times during the pandemic, coronavirus transmission has been limited by the tight controls Israel and Egypt enforce on travel in and out of the coastal enclave.

Gaza, which has a population of roughly 2.3 million, has recorded 196,578 COVID-19 cases and 1,744 deaths. So far, 578,000 residents have received two doses of a vaccine.

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Saudi Arabia records 4,526 COVID-19 cases, three deaths in 24 hours

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Saudi Arabia has recorded another minor dip in COVID-19 transmissions with 4,526 cases and three virus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health.

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In that time, 5,772 recoveries were also recorded.

There have now been 666,259 COVID-19 infections and 8,927 deaths in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the pandemic.

Case numbers have risen sharply in January amid global reports of the omicron variant spreading.

Saudi Arabia detected its first case of the more transmissible variant in early December.

It was thought to have been transmitted by a traveler from an undisclosed north African country.

Daily case numbers reached an all-time high of 5,928 on January 19.

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Omicron risk remains very high: WHO

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Saudi Arabia sees slight increase with 4,838 new COVID-19 cases

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