• This weekly news roundup brings you a selection of the latest news and updates on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as well as tips and tools to help you stay informed and protected.
  • Top news stories: Shanghai reports record daily COVID-19 infections; Italy announces phased end of restrictions; WHO says pandemic is "far from over".

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 470.8 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 6.07 million. More than 11 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.

China's financial hub of Shanghai reported a record daily surge in local COVID-19 infections on Monday as authorities scrambled to test residents and rein in the Omicron variant. Shanghai reported 24 new domestically transmitted COVID cases with confirmed symptoms for Sunday and 734 local asymptomatic infections.

The Chinese city of Shenzhen said it would allow offices and factories to restart operations from Monday and that public transport would also resume, after residents in the city completed three rounds of COVID-19 testing, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

South Korea has reached a deal to buy 10 million doses of the country's first experimental coronavirus vaccine, developed by SK Bioscience, authorities said on Monday.

Hong Kong SAR, China, plans to relax some anti-COVID measures next month, lifting a ban on flights from nine countries, reducing quarantine and reopening schools, after a backlash from business and residents.

France reported an average of close to 90,000 new daily coronavirus infections over the last seven days, a 36% rise from a week earlier when most COVID-19 health protocol measures were lifted by the government just ahead of the country's elections.

The Italian government plans to phase out coronavirus restrictions more than two years after the disease first swept the country. The cabinet said COVID-19 health certificates – proving vaccination or recent recovery from coronavirus – would no longer be needed to access restaurants, gyms and public transport, from 1 May.

Pharmaceutical company Moderna said on Monday it has signed a new agreement with Switzerland for the supply of another 7 million doses of its COVID-19 booster vaccine for delivery in 2023. The agreement also includes an option of 7 million doses for delivery in 2023 and 2024.

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in selected countries
Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in selected countries.
Image: Our World in Data

2. AstraZeneca COVID drug neutralizes Omicron sub-variants in lab study

AstraZeneca said on Monday that its antibody-based cocktail to prevent and treat COVID-19 retained neutralizing activity against Omicron coronavirus variants, including the highly contagious BA.2 sub-variant, in an independent lab study.

This is the first data looking at the impact of AstraZeneca's Evusheld treatment on "cousins" of the Omicron variant following a recent global spike in cases. The Anglo-Swedish firm said in December that another lab study found that Evusheld retained neutralizing activity against Omicron.

Data from the latest study by Washington University in the United States showed the therapy reduced the amount of virus detected in samples – viral load – of all tested Omicron sub-variants in mice lungs, AstraZeneca said. The study has yet to be peer reviewed.

Evusheld was tested against the BA.1, BA.1.1, and BA.2 sub-variants of Omicron and was also shown in the study to limit inflammation in the lungs – a critical symptom in severe COVID-19 infections.

"The findings further support Evusheld as a potential important option to help protect vulnerable patients such as the immunocompromised who could face poor outcomes if they were to become infected with COVID-19," said John Perez, Head of Late Development, Vaccines and Immune Therapies at AstraZeneca.

3. WHO: COVID-19 pandemic is 'far from over'

A World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson has said that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is a long way off, citing a rise in cases in its latest weekly data.

The UN health agency has previously said that the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year, but it would depend on how quickly the target to vaccinate 70% of the population in each country is met, among other factors.

Asked by a journalist at a Geneva media briefing about the timing of the pandemic's end, Margaret Harris said it is "far from over", adding that "we are definitely in the middle of the pandemic".

After more than a month of decline, COVID cases started to increase around the world last week, the WHO said, with lockdowns in Asia and China's Jilin province battling to contain an outbreak.

A combination of factors is causing the increases, including the highly transmissible Omicron variant and its cousin the BA.2 sub-variant, as well as the lifting of public health and social measures, the WHO said.