Coronavirus cases reach record highs in France and UK

Britain and the France have reported record national highs in the numbers of new COVID-19 infections, with the UK recording 119,789 new cases and France reporting more than 91,000 new cases.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious disease has confirmed the country’s first death due to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus on Thursday.

Coronavirus infections have begun rising again across the six Gulf Arab states after months of low or falling figures. The resurgence comes as the UAE is welcoming millions of visitors to the Expo 2020 Dubai world fair and other seasonal events.

As the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread around the world, AstraZeneca has said its booster is effective against the new coronavirus variant, citing data from an independent Oxford University lab study.

Two studies in the UK provided some early hints that Omicron may be milder than the Delta strain. Any reductions in severity will need to be weighed against the fact Omicron spreads much faster than delta and is more able to evade vaccines, the studies say.

Here are the latest updates:

Italy makes outdoor mask wearing compulsory

Italy has reintroduced the mandatory wearing of face masks in outdoor spaces, Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced, to contain mounting coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant.

The minister, who announced the measure to the cabinet, did not say when the rule would come into effect but stated that higher quality masks would be required in certain venues including cinemas, theatres, sporting events and on public transport.

Ecuador makes coronavirus vaccine obligatory

Ecuador on Thursday made it obligatory for people to get the coronavirus vaccine, following the arrival of the Omicron variant in the South American country.

“In Ecuador, vaccination against Covid-19 is declared compulsory,” the health ministry said in a statement.

UK says Omicron cases at much lower risk of hospital admission

Preliminary data suggest that people with Omicron variant of coronavirus are between 50 percent and 70 percent less likely to need hospitalisation than those with the Delta strain, The United Kingdom’s public health agency has said.

The UK Health Security Agency’s findings add to emerging evidence that Omicron produces milder illness than other variants – but also spreads faster and better evades vaccines.

Read more here.

Experts says Biden’s Omicron measures too little, too late

US President Joe Biden’s steps to backstop hospitals and distribute coronavirus test kits, however welcome, are too little too late to stem a surge of Omicron-related coronavirus cases over Christmas and New Year’s, health experts said.

A day after Biden outlined plans to distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus test kits, Anne Rimoin, a UCLA professor of epidemiology, praised his focus on testing, a “critical tool” that the United States was “woefully” behind on.

“Unfortunately, it’s late in coming and will be a small drop in the bucket compared to the tsunami of cases on the horizon.”

Lithuania to require Covid health pass from MPs

Lithuania’s parliament passed a law that will require lawmakers to have a COVID health pass starting from January in order to attend hearings.

Doors to the building will only be open to MPs who are fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative for the virus over the previous 72 hours.

It is possible that lawmakers unable to attend parliamentary hearings because they do not have the health pass will see their salaries cut.

France’s COVID-19 cases reach national record as deaths rise

France had its worst-ever day in terms of new COVID-19 cases, with more than 91,000 new cases being recorded while the number of deaths also climbed, as the country battles against a fifth wave of the virus.

“Today’s figures are not good,” said health minister Olivier Veran.

Veran had earlier told reporters that the case number would stand at around 88,000 for Thursday, but the final official tally from the health ministry showed 91,608 new cases.

White House says it is ‘grateful’ Trump got, promoted COVID-19 booster

The White House is grateful that former U.S. President Donald Trump received and promoted getting the COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The Republican former president recently said in an interview that he received a booster shot, and called the COVID-19 vaccines “one of the greatest achievements of mankind.”

“The ones that get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don’t take the vaccine,” Trump said in an interview with conservative commentator Candace Owens. “If you take the vaccine, you’re protected.”

Former US president Donald Trump [File: Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg]

UK health agency says omicron patients less likely to require hospitalisation

UK health agency data suggest omicron patients 50 percent to 70 percent less likely to require hospital admission than those with delta.

France to report around 88,000 new COVID cases

France will report around 88,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, health minister Olivier Veran said, adding these figures would be the worst the country has seen since the pandemic began in 2020.

“Today’s figures are not good,” Veran told reporters.

India’s Modi tells states to beef up health facilities as Omicron cases rise

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked chiefs of states to ramp up oxygen supplies and strengthen health infrastructure to contain a possible surge of Omicron cases ahead of the festive season, as gatherings in public spaces and markets grow in size.

India has recorded 236 Omicron coronavirus cases across 16 states over the last 24 hours, the federal health ministry said, more than double from last week.

“PM directed the officials to ensure that the health systems in the states, beginning from the district level, are strengthened to meet any challenge posed by the new variant,” the government said in a statement.

This week, authorities in New Delhi announced a partial ban on public celebrations for Christmas and New Year’s Eve in a bid to prevent overcrowding. [File: Alastair Grant/AP]

Germany adds US, Spain, Portugal to COVID-19 high risk list

Germany is adding the United States, Spain and Portugal to its list of COVID-19 risk areas, it said, making it more difficult for unvaccinated travellers to return to Germany from those countries.

It also said it was removing Austria from its list of high-risk areas. The changes take effect from midnight on Saturday.

Britain reports record 119,789 new COVID-19 cases

Britain reported a record 119,789 new daily COVID-19 cases on Thursday, compared with 106,122 a day earlier.

There were 147 deaths within 28 days of a positive case, versus 140 on Wednesday, according to government data.

The British government said it won’t introduce any new coronavirus restrictions until after Christmas [File: Tolga Akmen/AFP]

Defense Dept staff test positive for COVID after base tour

Seven US Department of Defense staff who traveled last week to multiple American bases, including Indo-Pacific Command on Hawaii, have tested positive for COVID-19, the Pentagon said.

The staff, which consisted of civilian and military personnel, traveled to bases in Michigan, Colorado, Hawaii, California, and Nebraska as part of Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks’ visit to the United States’ bases and commands, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. Hicks tested negative.

Vatican tightens COVID restrictions following Italy action

All Vatican officials and employees will have to have a green pass showing they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or prove they have recovered from the virus, according to a decree issued.

They will not be allowed to work without such proof and will forfeit wages for time absent, according to the decree issued by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Previously, those not vaccinated were able to enter workplaces by providing negative results of recent COVID tests.

The tightening of regulations was due to the “worsening of the current health emergency”.

The Vatican decree was issued shortly after Italy, which surrounds the tiny city-state, said it would tighten restrictions to try to curb a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections.

Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter’s Square, at the Vatican [File: Andrew Medichini/AP]

Omicron wave forces Lufthansa to axe 33,000 flights

German national…

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