Health Highlights: Dec. 28, 2020

Below are newsworthy items compiled by HealthDay staff:

WHO Calls for New Measures to Identify COVID-19 Variants

The World Health Organization says steps to expand the sequencing the genome of new variants of the coronavirus are needed as the pandemic enters its second year, the Associated Press reported.

New variants found in Britain and South Africa appear to be more contagious and have triggered new travel restrictions. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at an online news conference Monday from Geneva that "there will be setbacks and new challenges in the year ahead -- for example new variants of COVID-19 and helping people who are tired of the pandemic continue to combat it," according to the AP.

WHO is working with scientists around the world to "better understand any and all changes to the virus" and their impact, he said.

Tedros added he wanted to "underscore the importance of increasing genomic sequencing capacity worldwide" and of sharing information with the U.N. health agency and other countries. He said that "only if countries are looking and testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope."

CDC Requires Negative COVID-19 Test From U.K.

Travelers flying to the U.S. from the United Kingdom will now need a negative COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before leaving Britain, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The test is needed to guard against the spread of a new form of the virus found in the U.K. that may be 70% more contagious than other forms of COVID-19.

Passengers will have to get a test for current infection within the three days before their flight from Britain to the U.S. and provide written or electronic documentation of their test result to the airline. If a traveler opts not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding the passenger, the CDC said.

EU Kicks Off COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign

Starting with health care workers and the elderly, the European Union has begun a massive program to vaccinate millions against COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.

Weeks after the U.S., Canada and Britain started inoculations the EU's 27-nations began a rollout to show that the shot was safe and the best way to stop the pandemic.

For health care workers the vaccines are an emotional relief but also meant to encourage Europe's 450 million people to get vaccinated.

"Today I'm here as a citizen, but most of all as a nurse, to represent my category and all the health workers who choose to believe in science," Claudia Alivernini, the first person to be vaccinated at the Spallanzani infectious disease hospital in Rome, told the AP.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called the vaccine a "game-changer."

"We know that today is not the end of the pandemic, but it is the beginning of the victory," he told the AP.

"Today is a beautiful, symbolic day: All the citizens of Europe together are starting to get their vaccinations, the first ray of light after a long night," Italian virus czar Domenico Arcuri told reporters. "We all have to continue to be prudent, cautious, and responsible. We still have a long road ahead, but finally, we see a bit of light," Arcuri said.

The new campaign should help ease frustrations that had been building up, especially in Germany, since Britain, Canada and the United States started their inoculation programs weeks earlier, the AP said.

After getting vaccinated, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Sunday is "a great day for science and the European Union."

"We hope that, with time, even those of our fellow citizens who are suspicious of vaccination will be convinced it is the right thing to do," he told the AP.

However, a new virus variant that has been spreading around London and southern England has now been spotted in France, Italy, Spain, Canada and Japan. The new variant, which authorities said is more contagious, has caused many countries to restrict travel from Britain, the AP reported.

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