COVID-19 live updates: Hong Kong to cull 2,000 animals after hamsters test positive

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(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 851,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 62.9% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Jan 18, 7:30 am
Hong Kong to cull 2,000 small animals after hamsters test positive

Some 2,000 hamsters and other small animals will be culled in Hong Kong amid fears over possible animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19, authorities announced Tuesday.

The move came after an employee at the Little Boss pet store in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district tested positive for the highly contagious delta variant on Monday. Further testing revealed at least 11 hamsters in the shop, imported from the Netherlands, were also infected, according to authorities.

The store has been shuttered and its hamsters, rabbits and chinchillas will all be tested and euthanized. Anyone who visited the shop since Jan. 7 is being urged to get in touch with authorities. Although officials said there is no evidence animals can transmit the virus to humans, they are not ruling out the possibility.

As a precautionary measure, authorities said they will seize all hamsters in Hong Kong’s 34 licensed stores for testing before putting them down in a humane manner. Residents who purchased hamsters after Dec. 22 are being urged to hand them over to be tested and culled. The customers themselves will be subject to mandatory testing and quarantine.

Hong Kong will also cease the sale and import of small mammals, including hamsters. All shops selling hamsters in the city have been ordered to stop doing so immediately, according to authorities.

“We have assessed the risks of these batches are relatively high and therefore made the decision based on public health needs,” Dr. Leung Siu-fai, director of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, told a press conference Tuesday. “We urge all pet owners to observe strict hygiene when handling their pets and cages. Do not kiss or abandon them on the streets.”

-ABC News’ Britt Clennett

Jan 17, 2:31 pm
Moderna working on combined COVID, flu booster

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the Davos Agenda Monday that the company is working on a combined COVID-19 and flu booster shot, which could, in a “best case scenario,” be made available by fall 2023.

Bancel said the company’s goal is to be able to provide a single annual booster.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 2:16 pm
Fauci: Unclear whether omicron will lead world into an ‘endemic’ phase

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday it’s an “open question” as to whether the omicron variant will lead the globe into a new endemic phase of the pandemic.

“We were fortunate that omicron, although it is highly transmissible, nonetheless, is not as pathogenic but the sheer volume of people who are getting infected overrides that rather less level of pathogenicity,” Fauci said at the Davos Agenda, a virtual event held by the World Economic Forum.

But Fauci said it’s still unclear if omicron’s reduced severity will translate to the virus gradually becoming less prevalent.

“I would hope that that’s the case. But that would only be the case if you don’t get another variant that alludes to the immune response to the prior variant,” Fauci said, adding that it is “very difficult” to calculate how the globe could reach herd immunity.

When the globe does enter an endemic phase, Fauci said there will be a “new normal.”

“It’s not going to be that you’re going to eliminate this disease completely. We’re not going to do that. But hopefully it will be at such a low level that it doesn’t disrupt our normal, social, economic and other interactions with each other,” Fauci said. “To me, that’s what the new normal is. I hope the new normal also includes a real strong corporate memory of what pandemics can do.”

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 11:40 am
Growing evidence suggests COVID surge may be receding in parts of US

Growing evidence suggests the omicron surge may be beginning to recede in the parts of the U.S. that were first hit by the variant.

Although new case rates remain high across much of the Northeast, daily totals are slowly beginning to fall. New York City reported a 17% drop and New Jersey reported a 17.6% drop in new cases over the last week. Washington, D.C., reported a nearly 25% decline and Vermont saw a nearly 22% decline in cases in the last week.

But health officials caution the latest surge has yet to peak for much of the U.S. The nation is still reporting nearly 800,000 new cases a day — a record high and a more than eight-fold increase compared to six weeks ago.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday that Americans should not expect a decline in the days to come.

“This is a very difficult time during this surge. We are seeing high case numbers and hospitalization rates… we’re also seeing strain in many of our hospitals around the country,” Murthy said. “The next few weeks will be tough.”

Nearly 1,800 Americans are dying from COVID-19 each day – an approximately 52.6% jump since Jan. 1.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

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