France warns it could see 100,000 daily COVID infections

France could soon have around 100,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, health minister Olivier Veran has warned, as the new Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread rapidly. The Omicron variant will be the dominant strain of the coronavirus in France by early January, he said.

Singapore said it will freeze all new ticket sales for flights and buses under its quarantine-free travel scheme for four weeks from Thursday. Citing the risk of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, the government said the move would buy time to strengthen its defences against COVID-19.

Australia ruled out a Christmas lockdown and renewed its vaccination push, as surging Omicron cases caused authorities to impose new curbs and expedite COVID-19 booster shots.

The US state of California said it would require health care workers to have a booster shot in preparation for a potential new wave of infections.

Here are the latest updates:

UK says 14 deaths and 129 hospitalised by Omicron

There are currently 129 people in hospital with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and so far 14 people have died with it, junior health minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News.

She also said the UK government would not hesitate to bring in further COVID-19 restrictions if the data showed it was necessary.

Finland aims to tackle rising COVID cases by curbing bars’ opening hours

Finland will restrict restaurants’ opening hours to curb rising COVID-19 infections and the spread of the new Omicron variant, the government said.

Starting on Christmas eve, bars will have to stop serving alcohol at 9pm and close at 10pm. From December 28 onwards, alcohol can only be served until 5pm and bars need to close by 6pm  and restaurants by 8pm, the government said in a statement.

The government also decided university and other adult students would shift to remote schooling after the Christmas holidays and foreign travellers coming to Finland would need a proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 and a recent negative test result.

France could soon have 100,000 COVID cases a day

France could have around 100,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, health minister Olivier Veran said, up from around 70,000 currently as the country battles a fifth wave of the epidemic.

Veran said no new restrictions were on the table for now, although nothing could be ruled out, with authorities hoping an increase in the numbers of people having vaccinations will allow them to keep the virus in check.

Malaysia suspends ticket sales for quarantine-free travel to Singapore

Malaysia has temporarily suspended sales of tickets for air and land travel under a vaccinated travel lane scheme with Singapore until January 20, the health ministry said, amid concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The action followed a similar move by Singapore to freeze all new ticket sales over the same period.

Under the vaccinated travel lane programme, both countries allow quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travellers, who have to do multiple screenings.

California says health care workers must get booster shots

California health care workers will be required to have coronavirus booster shots to ensure that hospitals are ready to deal with a surge in cases as the more-transmissible Omicron variant spreads throughout the state.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the order on Tuesday on his personal Twitter account and planned to provide more details at a Wednesday news conference.

California already requires health care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, a directive that took effect in September and has since led to the firing or suspension of thousands of people. Now it will join New Mexico as at least the second state to require booster shots for health care workers.

Australia PM meets with state leaders as virus cases surge

New COVID-19 cases in Australia’s most populous state surged to a pandemic record on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with state leaders to discuss preventive measures.

Morrison emerged from the national cabinet meeting again rejecting lockdowns and mask mandates imposed by the federal government. He said policies on mask-wearing were best left to state governments and to Australians who should follow “commonsense behavioural measures.”

“Despite these rising cases, hospitals and health systems remain in a strong position but of course, they will be tested,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra after the emergency meeting.

Singapore suspends quarantine-free travel ticket sales

Singapore has said it will freeze all new ticket sales for flights and buses under its programme for quarantine-free travel into the city-state from December 23 to January 20, the government said, citing the risk from the fast-spreading Omicron.

“Our border measures will help to buy us time to study and understand the Omicron variant, and to strengthen our defences, including enhancing our healthcare capacity, and getting more people vaccinated and boosted,” Singapore’s health ministry said in a statement.

Under the vaccinated travel lane programme, Singapore allows quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travellers, who have to take multiple COVID-19 tests.

About two dozen countries are listed in the programme including Australia, India, Malaysia, Britain and the United States.

Travellers already holding tickets on flights or buses and who meet all other requirements can still travel under the programme.

Singapore has confirmed imported Omicron cases and several local infections.

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