Covid live news: air travel disruption worldwide; China records most cases in four months
Germany recorded 22,214 new cases, compared with 35,431 the day before, officials said. A further 157 deaths were recorded.
The latest figures came after health authorities admitted they are struggling to trace the contacts of people infected with Covid. In an interview published yesterday, Ute Teichert, chair of the Federal Association of Doctors in the Public Health Service, said “comprehensive followup [of Covid cases] is almost no longer taking place at the moment.”
In some German states including Baden-Württemberg, Berlin and Hamburg, contact tracing has been completely suspended as officials focus on recording the “numerous coronavirus infections”, she added.
Thousands of people across England will receive a Christmas Day booster jab as the vaccination effort continues in the face of record case rates.
Queues have been spotted at pharmacies as people wait for their “jingle jabs” with appointments available in locations in London, Manchester, Swindon and Eastbourne. Vaccination clinics in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are closed today.
NHS England has thanked staff who are working or volunteering on Christmas Day. In a tweet, it said: “From vaccinators to volunteers, porters to paramedics, midwives to mental health practitioners, and all other essential workers — thank you to everyone who is working over the festive period!”
Meanwhile, the government says it will be sending millions of text messages on Boxing Day urging people to “get boosted now”.
The message will say: “Every adult needs a Covid-19 booster vaccine to protect against Omicron. Get your Covid-19 vaccine or booster.”
Malaysia has detected its first local case of the Omicron variant, officials have said. In a briefing today, the country’s health minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, said the case was reported in the Borneo state of Sarawak on Christmas Eve.
The individual, a 38-year-old Chinese national, is fully vaccinated and has not travelled abroad recently, he added. The cause of the infection is not known and investigations are ongoing.
Malaysia has a total of 62 Omicron cases, about half of which are from Saudi Arabia, followed by five from the UK, four from Qatar and three from the US.
New Covid measures in England could be in place until late March under measures examined by the UK government’s scientific advisers, Press Association reports.
The modelling by experts from Warwick University considered a package of measures including a ban on socialising with another household indoors and a return to the rule of six outdoors, in line with the Step 2 restrictions in place in England earlier this year.
The research, published on Christmas Eve by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (Spi-M-O), looked at imposing Step 2 restrictions on either 28 December or New Year’s Day and keeping them in place until 15 or 18 January or 28 March 28. A summary read:
A reduction in mixing equivalent to half that of Step 2 results in only a very small reduction in severe outcomes compared to Plan B alone.
Step 2 has a much larger effect, reducing the number of deaths up to 31st May by 39% (24-54%) if kept in place from 28 December until 28 March , and 18% (12-27%) if kept in place until 15 January.
The work was completed before the latest data suggesting the Omicron variant may produce less severe illness than the Delta strain.
New South Wales has recorded its highest ever Covid daily caseload, with 6,288 new infections announced today – by far the highest number of cases in any Australian state since the pandemic began.
Record Covid cases were reported across Australia on Christmas Day as overwhelmed testing clinics were forced to close and tens of thousands of people spent the holiday in isolation.
Covid transmission also continued to surge in Victoria, where authorities announced 2,108 new Covid-19 infections and six deaths from the virus.
Queensland announced a daily record of 765 new cases, with the state’s health minister, Yvette D’Ath, declaring “this virus is everywhere now”. D’Ath confirmed 151 of those cases had the Omicron variant.
The leading Catholic in England and Wales, the archbishop of Westminster, has urged the government not to reintroduce restrictions on churches amid record Covid-19 infection rates.
Data published on Thursday, suggesting the Omicron strain might cause less severe illness than the previously dominant Delta variant, has fuelled speculation in Westminster that Boris Johnson will resist imposing further restrictions in England after Christmas.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols said it was clear that large spaces such as churches were “not places where we spread the virus”. He told the BBC prior to midnight mass at Westminster Cathedral:
I would sincerely appeal that they do not again consider closing churches and places of worship.
I think this country has shown that people can make good judgements themselves.
We’re at that point of saying we understand the risk. We know what we should do. Most people are sensible and cautious. We don’t need stronger impositions to teach us what to do.
It comes after a further 122,186 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Christmas Eve, another record daily figure, while 137 people died within 28 days of testing positive.
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In Bethlehem, the city where Christians believe Jesus was born, thousands usually pack the streets during the Christmas period. On average, Bethlehem welcomed 3 million visitors a year before the pandemic, with Christmas alone drawing 10,000 people to the city’s hotels, around half from abroad.
But Israel, which controls all entrances to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, has barred its borders to foreigners in an effort to rein in infections from Omicron. In Manger Square, numbers were noticeably lower as Covid fears overshadowed celebrations for a second straight year.
“It’s very strange,” said Kristel Elayyan, a Dutchwoman married to a Palestinian, who came to Bethlehem from Jerusalem told Agence-France-Presse, adding:
Before (the pandemic), you had a bunch of people coming in from different countries to celebrate Christmas, and now you know that everybody who is here is probably not a tourist.
Last year, Bethlehem curtailed celebrations sharply…