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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.”
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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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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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North Korea blames ‘alien things’ near border with South Korea for COVID-19 outbreak

North Korea claimed on Friday that the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak began with patients touching “alien things” near the border with South Korea, apparently shifting blame to the neighbor for the wave of infections in the isolated country.
Announcing results of an investigation, the North ordered people to “vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders,” the official KCNA news agency said.
The agency did not directly mention South Korea, but North Korean defectors and activists have for decades flown balloons from the South across the heavily fortified border, carrying leaflets and humanitarian aid.
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
South Korea’s unification ministry, handling inter-Korean affairs, said there was “no possibility” of the virus entering the North through leaflets sent across the border.
According to KCNA, an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old kindergartner who contacted the unidentified materials “in a hill around barracks and residential quarters” in the eastern county of Kumgang in early April showed symptoms and later tested positive for the coronavirus.
The KCNA said all other fever cases reported in the country until mid-April were due to other diseases, but it did not elaborate.
“It’s hard to believe North Korea’s claim, scientifically speaking, given that the possibility of the virus spreading through objects is quite low,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk of people getting infected with COVID-19 through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects is generally considered low, though it is possible.
The North also said the first two patients touched the unspecified objects in the eastern town in early April, but the first time a defectors’ group is known to have sent balloons across the border this year was in late April from the western Gimpo region.
The North’s first admission of a COVID-19 outbreak came months after it eased border lockdowns enforced since early in 2020 to resume freight train operations with China.
But it would have been difficult for Pyongyang to point fingers at China, said Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.
“If they concluded the virus was from China, they would have had to tighten quarantine measures on the border area in a further setback to North Korea-China trade,” Lim said.
The North has claimed the COVID-19 wave has shown signs of subsiding, although experts suspect under-reporting in the figures released through government-controlled media.
North Korea reported 4,570 more people with fever symptoms on Friday, with the total number of fever patients recorded since late April at 4.74 million.
Pyongyang has been announcing the number of fever patients daily without specifying whether they had contracted COVID-19, apparently due to a lack of testing kits.
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