Several European countries have reported record high COVID-19 cases, as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to surge across the continent.
France reported a record high of 179,807 new confirmed coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period on Tuesday, by far the highest daily number since the start of the pandemic. The previous record of 104,611 was set on Saturday
Britain reported a record 129,471 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours on Tuesday, excluding Northern Ireland and Scotland. The previous record high of daily infections was 122,186 on December 24.
Portugal also reported record-high daily coronavirus cases on Tuesday, despite having one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, as did Cyprus, Italy, and Greece.
Meanwhile, Belgian theatres and other cultural venues won an initial legal victory on Tuesday to reopen after the government ordered their closure as part of coronavirus restrictions to curb the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Here are the latest updates:
California 1st state to top 5M cases amid Omicron surge
California became the first US state to record more than 5 million known coronavirus infections, according to the state’s data on Tuesday, which was delayed by the holiday weekend.
California’s caseload is also ahead of other large states. Texas had more than 4.4 million and Florida topped 3.9 million as of Sunday.
California has recorded more than 75,500 deaths related to COVID-19.
Long lines overwhelm testing sites in US
Long lines are overwhelming coronavirus testing sites across the US amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, with available appointments at pharmacies becoming difficult to find.
“It’s crazy because online they have no available dates at CVS, Rite-Aid (pharmacies) – I can’t even go to my neighborhood drugstore,” Midgalia Dancel, who has been looking to get tested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, told local TV station WPVI.
Dancel stopped by a city-run mobile site in the Rhawnhurst neighbourhood of Philadelphia on Tuesday, but she was unable to get a test.
US President Joe Biden has promised to boost testing capacity in the US to combat the Omicron-driven wave of infections, including by distributing 500 million at-home tests starting next month.
Quebec to allow some COVID-positive essential workers to continue working
The Canadian province of Quebec will allow some essential workers to continue working even after testing positive for COVID-19, in what Health Minister Christian Dube said was an effort to prevent staff shortages from impeding healthcare services.
“Omicron’s contagion is so exponential, that a huge number of personnel have to be withdrawn – and that poses a risk to the network capacity to treat Quebecers,” Dube told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.
“We made the decision that under a certain condition positive staff will be able to continue working according to a list of priority and risk management.”
Quebec, which has been setting daily records since the Omicron variant started a new wave of rapidly rising infections, recorded 12,833 new cases on Monday – the highest one-day count of any region in Canada during the pandemic.
Premier League postpones 16th game this season
The Premier League has postponed Everton’s home match against Newcastle United at the away team’s request, which did not have enough players ready due to COVID-19 cases and injuries.
The game, which was set for Thursday, is the 16th Premier League match to be called off this season because of COVID-19.
“A number of players and staff members have returned positive results during routine PCR tests in recent days, while several players have suffered injuries during an extremely busy period of fixtures,” Newcastle United said in a statement.
The league has not set a new date for the fixture.
Following a request from Newcastle, the Premier League Board has agreed to postpone the club’s away fixture against Everton, due to be played on Thursday 30 December
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 28, 2021
Ireland, USA One Day International cricket series cancelled
Ireland and hosts United States agreed to cancel the One Day International (ODI) series between the two sides after members of the touring staff tested positive for COVID-19, the two boards announced.
The two teams had played a Twenty20 series which ended 1-1 while the ODI series in Florida was interrupted by coronavirus cases first detected amongst the USA squad and umpires.
“While all players in both current playing squads have returned negative COVID results overnight, two members of the Irish support staff have tested positive, as well as several partners of players, resulting in two of the Irish players being deemed as ‘close contacts’,” the two boards said in a statement.
Indonesia records first Omicron community case
Indonesian health authorities have begun conducting contact tracing after detecting the country’s first locally transmitted case of the Omicron variant.
The person infected is a 37-year-old male from the city of Medan who had visited a restaurant in the central business district of the capital, Jakarta, earlier this month, health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi told a news conference.
The man had no recent history of overseas travel or contacts with international travellers, Tarmizi said, adding that he was asymptomatic and was in isolation at a Jakarta hospital after he had initially isolated at home.
Read more here.
Omicron spike differs from previous surges: Academic
Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, says fewer people appear to be getting seriously ill in the current coronavirus surge than in previous spikes in infections.
“In the UK at least, we actually have a much higher number of infections, but it’s with a variant which, for some reason, appears to be less virulent, less able to cause disease, at least in younger people who so far have been infected by it,” he told Al Jazeera from Reading, UK via Skype.
“But that reduction, or inability to cause disease might be due to … the fact that we’ve had a large scale vaccination programme and we know that the vaccines reduce your risk of getting seriously ill with variants, and it’s perfectly reasonable to say that it’s playing its part with Omicron as well,” he added.
US: Emory University goes remote for start of term
Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia has said the school is switching to virtual classes to start the spring semester because of a national surge in COVID cases fueled by the Omicron variant.
In a letter to the university community, President Gregory Fenves said Emory will transition back to in-person learning on January 31 if conditions permit that.
WHO warns of Omicron overload as China, Europe impose new curbs
The World Health Organization has warned the Omicron variant could overwhelm healthcare systems despite early studies suggesting it causes milder disease, as China and Germany reintroduced tough restrictions to stem new infections.
Coronavirus surges have wreaked havoc worldwide, forcing many nations to make tough choices between economically punishing restrictions to control the spread of the virus and keeping society open.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 28, 2021
US forfeits junior ice hockey championship game after two positives
The United States was forced to forfeit their preliminary game against Switzerland on Tuesday at the World Junior Championship after two of their players tested positive for COVID-19, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) said.
The two players were placed in quarantine and it was not immediately clear whether the US would be cleared to compete in their next preliminary game against Sweden on Wednesday.
“We’re extremely disappointed, especially for our players,” junior national team general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said in a statement.
NYC to limit classroom closures, prioritise testing for schools
New York City officials have announced they will eliminate its current policy of quarantining entire classrooms exposed to the coronavirus and will instead prioritise a ramped-up testing program so that asymptomatic students testing negative for COVID-19 can remain in school.
The step shows health officials are increasing the focus on testing and trying to avoid long isolation periods.
A day earlier, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened the recommended isolation time for Americans with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.
Greece reports record daily high of COVID-19 cases
Greece reported a new daily record of 21,657 coronavirus cases, more than twice the level on Monday.
“Omicron prevails, so we should be prepared and this should not cause panic,” Greek health minister Thanos Plevris told state television ERT.
The country had reported 9,284 cases on Monday, when the government announced tighter curbs would be put in place from January 3 to January 16 to contain infections, targeting mainly nighttime entertainment venues.
Italy reports record high daily infections
Italy’s Health Ministry reported more than 78,300 new cases of the coronavirus, more than double Monday’s figure and a new record for the country.
Some 200 people died from the virus in the same period.
South Africa recalls new isolation and quarantine rules
South Africa has recalled rules that no longer required people without symptoms of COVID-19 to isolate or test if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government announced, saying an amended circular will be re-issued.
Last week the health ministry said that asymptomatic individuals who had been in contact with a case of COVID-19 no longer had to isolate but should monitor for symptoms for 5-7 days and avoid attending large gatherings.
It had added that only those people who developed symptoms needed to get tested and that those with mild symptoms should isolate for eight days and severe cases for 10 days.
Turkey reports more than 30,000 daily infections
The number of daily COVID-19 infections in Turkey topped the 30,000 mark for the first time since mid-October, as the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant takes hold.
The country reported 32,176 new cases and 184 deaths on Tuesday. A day earlier, the daily infections had jumped to about 26,000, after hovering at 20,000 for weeks.
More than 60 percent of South America vaccinated: report
Some 63 percent of the population of South America is now fully inoculated, making it the most vaccinated region in the world, according to the Our World in Data website.
“It has been a remarkable story for a region like South America, which has been one of the most affected in the world during this pandemic, especially throughout 2020 and at the beginning of 2021,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent Alessandro Rampietti reported from Bogota, Colombia.
“If you think about it, South America has only 8 percent of the world’s population. By mid-2021, it accounted for more than a third Coronavirus related deaths globally. Just gives you an idea of just how bad the situation has been here.”
Rampietti added that one of the reasons behind the success of the inoculation campaign is that South Americans had “less resistance towards being vaccinated in general”.
Cyprus confirms record high COVID cases
Cyprus on Tuesday recorded a single-day record high of COVID-19 infections since the virus was first identified on the island in March 2020.
The island reported 2,241 infections on Tuesday, up from 1,925 a day before. To date, there have been 154,926 cases reported and 630 deaths.
“I think this is due to the Omicron variant, which may have arrived earlier than we thought,” Petros Karayiannis, professor of microbiology and molecular virology at the medical school of the University of Nicosia and a member of a scientific advisory committee to the government, was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
France reports record high of 179,807 new coronavirus cases in one day
France has reported a record high of 179,807 new confirmed coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, by far the highest daily number since the start of the pandemic.
The previous record of 104,611 was set on Saturday, after the 86,852 high of November 11, 2020 was broken with two consecutive days of more than 90,000 new cases per day at the end of last week.
On Monday, the government announced new measures to curb infections, including limits on the size of big gatherings, a ban on eating and drinking in transport systems, and the mandatory wearing of masks again outdoors.
Biden announces end to COVID-related southern Africa travel bans
US President Joe Biden has formally announced he will lift a ban this week on travel from South Africa and other countries in the region, imposed due to fear of the Omicron variant.
“The travel restrictions … are no longer necessary to protect the public health” and will at end 12:01am in Washington on Friday (05:01 GMT), Biden said in a statement.
Biden said that he was lifting the bans on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the coronavirus strain has now spread to more than 100 countries including the United States, the threat level is considered lower than initially feared because “scientific experts have determined that people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are protected against severe disease,” Biden said.
Read more here.
UK reports record high daily COVID-19 cases
The United Kingdom has reported a record 129,471 new cases of COVID-19, a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not bring in new restrictions to limit the spread of the virus this year.
The data did not include figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland due to differences in reporting practices over the Christmas holidays.
The 12,378 cases reported for Wales included data that would normally have been reported in previous days.
The previous record high of daily infections was 122,186 on December 24.
The government said there had been 18 new deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test – well below the recent trend of more than 100 per day.
Belgian court suspends COVID closure of entertainment venues
A Belgian court has suspended the closure of concert halls, cinemas, and other entertainment venues, a measure announced last week by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to stem the spread of Omicron.
The authorities have not demonstrated “in what way entertainment venues are particularly dangerous places for [people’s] health … in that they would spread coronavirus, to the extent necessary to order their closure”, said the Council of State, Belgium’s highest administrative court.
Portugal reports record COVID cases
Portugal has reported record-high daily coronavirus cases despite having one of the world’s highest vaccination rates as the Omicron variant surges across Europe.
Health authorities on Tuesday registered 17,172 new infections in the past 24 hours, surpassing the previous record of 16,432 established on January 28 when the Alpha variant, first identified in the UK, swept through the southern European nation.
Almost 90 percent of Portugal’s population have been vaccinated and nearly 2.4 million people have received a third “booster” jab. The United Arab Emirates is the only country with a higher proportion of vaccinated people.