Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, January 26, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

Pfizer will begin testing a reformulated COVID-19 vaccine better geared at fighting the highly-contagious omicron variant. The study will include up to 1,420 volunteers between the ages of 15 and 55 who will receive multiple vaccine doses over several months.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 4 advisory against traveling to 15 countries and territories, including the United Arab Emirates and several Caribbean countries, citing a “very high” risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19.

We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

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England lifts COVID restrictions as omicron threat recedes

Most coronavirus restrictions including mandatory face masks were lifted in England on Thursday, after Britain’s government said its vaccine booster rollout successfully reduced serious illness and COVID-19 hospitalizations.

From Thursday, face coverings are no longer required by law anywhere in England, and a legal requirement for COVID passes for entry into nightclubs and other large venues has been scrapped.

The government last week dropped its advice for people to work from home as well as guidance for face coverings in classrooms.

The so-called “Plan B” measures were introduced in early December to stop the rapid spread of the omicron variant from overwhelming health services and to buy time for the population to get its booster vaccine shot.

Read the full story here.

—Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press
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Hospital patient without COVID shot denied heart transplant

A Boston hospital is defending itself after a man’s family claimed he was denied a new heart for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying most transplant programs around the country set similar requirements to improve patients’ chances of survival.

The family of D.J. Ferguson said in a crowdfunding appeal this week that officials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital told the 31-year-old father of two that he was ineligible for the procedure because he hasn’t been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“We are literally in a corner right now. This is extremely time sensitive,” the family said in its fundraising appeal, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars. “This is not just a political issue. People need to have a choice!”

D.J.’s mother, Tracey Ferguson, insists that her son isn’t against vaccinations, noting he’s had other immunizations in the past. But the trained nurse said Wednesday that he’s been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation — an irregular and often rapid heart rhythm — and that he has concerns about the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Read the full story here.

—Philip Marcello and Rodrique Ngowi, The Associated Press

Spotify to remove Neil Young’s music, as he requested in protest of COVID misinformation

Neil Young’s music will be removed from Spotify at his request, following the veteran rock star’s protest over the streaming service airing a popular podcast that featured a figure criticized for spreading COVID misinformation.

Spotify, in a statement on Wednesday, said that it regretted Young’s decision, “but hope to welcome him back soon.”

It wasn’t immediately clear when his music will actually be taken down.

“I realized I could not continue to support Spotify’s life-threatening misinformation to the music loving people,” Young said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

— David Bauder, The Associated Press

Vaccine mandate to kick in for first wave of health workers

Health care workers in about half the states face a Thursday deadline to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine under a Biden administration mandate that will be rolled out across the rest of the country in the coming weeks.

While the requirement is welcomed by some, others fear it will worsen already serious staff shortages if employees quit rather than comply.

And in some Republican-led states that have taken a stand against vaccine mandates, hospitals and nursing homes could find themselves caught between conflicting state and federal demands.

“We would like to see staff vaccinated. We think that it’s the safest option for residents, which is our biggest concern,” said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis County, Missouri, nonprofit that works on behalf of nursing home residents. “But not having staff is also a really big concern, because the neglect that happens as a result of that is severe and very scary.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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German lawmakers to debate possible COVID vaccine mandate

Germany’s parliament is set to hold its first debate Wednesday on a possible wide-ranging coronavirus vaccine mandate, with three options emerging: obligatory vaccinations for all adults or for everyone above 50, or no mandate at all.

German politicians of all stripes long insisted that there would be no vaccine mandate. But the tide turned late last year amid frustration that a large number of holdouts was hampering the fight against COVID-19.

Shortly before he became chancellor in December, Olaf Scholz came out in favor of a vaccine mandate, predicting that it would take effect in February or early March.

The government isn’t putting forward legislation itself, but leaving groups of lawmakers to come up with cross-party proposals and then allowing members of parliament to vote according to their conscience rather than along party lines.

Read the story here.

—Geir Moulson, The Associated Press

State health officials confirm new coronavirus cases, deaths

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 12,293 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 41,535 on Tuesday. It also reported 122 more deaths over those days.

According to DOH, the higher than expected number of cases does not represent a spike in disease activity and is likely related to several factors including a new processor and a cleared backlog of positive lab results.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,257,918 cases and 10,580 deaths, meaning that 0.8% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. New state data is reported on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In addition, 52,413 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 842 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 323,530 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,272 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in late 2020, the state and health care providers have administered 12,599,732 doses and 63.4% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 2,272 vaccine shots per day.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Amanda Zhou

Fewer Czechs dying of COVID-19 despite record infections

The number of Czech citizens dying of COVID-19 has been steadily declining despite a recent record surge in coronavirus infections caused by the highly transmittable omicron variant.

The figures released by the Health Ministry on Wednesday show that 121 people died in the last seven days, down from 206 the previous period and 289 another seven days back.

New infections in the Czech Republic had been declining since a record high in late November, but started growing again in January driven by the omicron variant that has became dominant.

The daily increases hit a record high of almost 40,000 cases on Tuesday, about 11,000 more than a week ago and the third time a record was set in the last eight days. The 7-day infection rate jumped to 1,689 new cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday compared to 1,585 a day earlier.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Australia navy ship with infected crew offloads aid to Tonga

The Australian navy’s largest ship docked at disaster-stricken Tonga on Wednesday and was allowed to unload humanitarian supplies in the South Pacific nation despite crew members being infected with COVID-19, officials said.

Nearly two dozen sailors aboard the HMAS Adelaide were reported infected on Tuesday, raising fears the mercy mission could bring the coronavirus to the small archipelago devastated by an undersea volcanic eruption and a tsunami on Jan. 15.

Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19 and has avoided any outbreaks. It’s one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus free. About 61% of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

The 27,500 metric ton (30,300 U.S. ton) ship had completed the 3,300-kilometer (2,050-mile) voyage from Brisbane and would deliver supplies without contact with the local population to avoid infections, the Australian government said in a statement.

Read the story here.

—Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press

Navy discharges 1st active duty sailors for vaccine refusal

The Navy said Tuesday that it has discharged 23 active duty sailors for refusing the coronavirus vaccine, marking the first time it has thrown currently serving sailors out of the military over the mandatory shots. It comes as the number of service members being discharged across the services due to the vaccine begins to climb.

The Army is now the only service that has not yet discharged any active duty personnel due to vaccine refusal.

The Marine Corps, as of late last week, had discharged 334 Marines, and the Air Force, as of this week, had discharged 111 airmen for refusing to get the shots.

The military services have been going through a methodical process to deal with those who refuse the vaccine as well as those who request medical, administrative or religious exemptions. The reviews require counseling with medical personnel and chaplains as well as senior commanders.

Read the story here.

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

WHO: Record weekly COVID cases last week but deaths stable

The World Health Organization said there were 21 million new coronavirus cases reported globally last week, the highest weekly number of COVID-19 cases recorded since the pandemic began. The number of deaths was largely unchanged, at more than 50,000.

In its weekly assessment of the pandemic, issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the number of new coronavirus infections rose by 5% and that the rate of increase appears to be slowing; only half of regions reported an increase in COVID-19. Earlier this month, the previous highest number of cases — 9.5 million — was recorded amid a 71% spike from the week before, as the hugely contagious omicron variant swept the world.

WHO said the biggest increase in cases was seen in the Middle East, with a 39% rise, followed by a 36% jump in Southeast Asia. Deaths increased in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, but fell in other regions.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Tests, vaccines, best masks and more: How to navigate the pandemic

The omicron era has thrown new twists at all of us, giving rise to plenty of questions: What's the latest thinking on choosing a mask, and how often can you reuse an N95? Where can you get a COVID-19 test or a vaccine in the Seattle area?

We've updated our COVID-19 resources page to provide guidance on a wide range of topics to help you keep yourself and your family healthy. You'll find the latest wisdom on what to do if you test positive, how to minimize risks while traveling, strategies for coping with side effects from vaccines, and more.

—Kris Higginson

Romania sees huge jump in COVID-19 cases, deaths climb

Romania on Wednesday recorded a huge jump in COVID-19 infections, hitting a pandemic record of nearly 35,000 daily cases, almost doubling its previous record set only a day earlier. Deaths have also begun to climb.

Daily coronavirus cases in Romania have dramatically surged over the past month, from about a 1,000 cases a day in mid-December to the pandemic record of 34,255 cases on Wednesday. Its daily death toll was 94, also the highest number of virus deaths in more than a month.

Three-quarters of those deaths were unvaccinated people and more than 80% of the 692 COVID-19 patients now in intensive care in Romania have also not been jabbed, official data shows. Romania is Europe's second least vaccinated country.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

China’s Olympics COVID measures test residents’ patience

Repeated COVID-19 testing of millions of Beijing residents is starting to test the patience of some as the city clamps down on the virus ahead of the coming Winter Olympics.

A third round of mass testing that started Wednesday for the the 2 million residents of Fengtai district drew complaints online and from residents bundled up against the wind to wait in line outdoors. The skies were sunny, but the daytime high hovered around the freezing point.

Athletes and others participating in the Games are being completely isolated from the general public to try to avoid cross-infection. Thirteen people who have come for the Games tested positive on Tuesday, bringing the total to 106 among the 3,695 who have arrived. Two of the positive cases are either athletes or team officials.

The numbers are small compared to other countries — South Korea’s latest daily tally topped 13,000 — but they are a major concern for the government as it prepares to host the Winter Games in nine days.

Read the story here.

—Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press
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Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents

Austria will end its lockdown for unvaccinated residents next Monday — one day before a COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect in the country, the country’s chancellor announced Wednesday.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said the measure, introduced in November, was no longer needed.

For weeks, the lockdown for the unvaccinated has been “a measure that many people complained about, but that was unavoidable for health policy reasons,” Nehammer said, according to Austrian news agency APA.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

UK government holds breath as it awaits ‘partygate’ report

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was braced for the conclusions of an investigation into allegations of lockdown-breaching parties, a document that could help him end weeks of scandal and discontent, or bring his time in office to an abrupt close.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray could turn in her report to the government as soon as Wednesday. Johnson has previously promised to publish it in full and to address Parliament about its findings.

“When I receive it, of course I will do exactly what I said,” Johnson said during a testy Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons.

He batted away questions about the scandal and his future, saying he had “absolutely no intention” of resigning.

Read the story here.

—Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

In Germany, activists rise up to counter vaccine skeptics

Stefanie Hoener was at home one night in Berlin when she heard police sirens wailing through her Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood and anti-vaccine protesters shouting angry slurs as they marched down to the Gethsemane Church — a symbol of the peaceful 1989 revolution in East Germany that ended the communist dictatorship.

“That night these people really crossed a line,” Hoener said Monday as she stood with 200 others— many of them neighbors — in front of the red brick church to protect it from anti-vaccine protesters glaring from the other side of the street.

“If today, when everyone is allowed to express themselves freely without having to fear anything, they stand here and say we live in a dictatorship, then I can no longer tolerate that,” Hoener told The Associated Press. “I for one am very happy to have been vaccinated free of charge and to have received financial support from the government during the pandemic.”

The 55-year-old actress is one of a growing number of Germans who have joined grassroots initiatives and spontaneous demonstrations to speak out against vaccination opponents, conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists who have led protests against Germany’s COVID-19 measures.

Read the story here.

—Kirsten Grieshaber, The Associated Press
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Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them

Sweden announced Wednesday that several coronavirus restrictions will be extended for another two weeks while neighboring Denmark was expected to announce that it no longer considers COVID-19 as “a socially critical disease” as of next month and will remove most restrictions.

“We have an extremely record high spread of infection,” Sweden’s Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said. The Scandinavian country had 270,000 new infections in the past seven days and that “our assessment is that, during this period, at least half a million can fall ill per week.”

In Sweden which has previously stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has ordered cafes, bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m., urged people to work from home when possible and said distance learning was an option in higher education to try to combat rising COVID-19 infections.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

National Guard sees troops reupping despite COVID, hard year

State Guard units are seeing dramatic reenlistment rates – despite the exhausting demands the Guard has faced in the past two years dealing with COVID-19, natural disasters and other military deployments.

For some, the Guard provides extra income during uncertain economic times. For others it’s a job that could become a 20-year career, and give her tuition assistance and employment skills that she’ll always be able to use. And for many, it’s a fulfilling part-time avocation that lets them give back to their communities.

“Since March of 2020, we have had a significant increase in our retention rate,” says Army Brig. Gen. Isabel Rivera Smith, director of the joint staff for the New York National Guard. “We believe that it is because of the impact that our service members have made during this COVID pandemic.”

Read the story here.

—Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

COVID-19 cases are dropping fast in the Seattle area, although they're still high. But Eastern Washington is looking at "the second chapter of the omicron surge," hospital leaders warned yesterday.

What you need to know about free COVID tests and masks: If you live in Washington, you have several ways to get your hands on tests, and KN95 masks will soon follow. Once you have your tests, it's important to know when and how to use them — and how to store them so they'll last longer. But beware: A negative test doesn't necessarily mean you're in the clear. Here's our complete guide.

Who gets long COVID, and why? New research is hinting at four factors that may increase a person's chances of experiencing symptoms that linger for months.

Where not to travel right now: The CDC has added a slew of popular tourism destinations to its no-go list, warning of "very high" COVID risk levels.

Ever tried exercising hard in an N95 mask? It often seems like a perfect mask for exercise doesn’t exist, and guidance keeps changing along with the virus. Consider several things as you choose between a mask that’s safer vs. one that’s more comfortable.

How to help a friend or relative who has COVID: People who have been stuck at home with the illness are sharing the practical acts of generosity that helped the most.

—Kris Higginson