Covid-19 has infected more than 274M people and killed over 5.3M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin captured the sense of the continent in an address to the nation, saying the new restrictions were needed to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus. (Reuters)

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Europeans reimpose curbs as Omicron sweeps continent

Nations across Europe are moving to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of infections spurred by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, triggering calls for protests from Paris to Barcelona.

As case numbers escalated, alarmed ministers in France and Austria tightened travel restrictions. 

Paris cancelled its New Year’s Eve fireworks and Denmark closed theatres, concert halls, amusement parks and museums. 

Ireland imposed an 8 PM curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events.

The Netherlands will go into a tough lockdown from Sunday morning to limit a feared Covid-19 surge due to the Omicron coronavirus variant, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference.

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“The Netherlands is again shutting down. That is unavoidable because of the fifth wave that is coming at us with the Omicron variant,” Rutte told a news conference.

And in the UK, the government has already reimposed a requirement for masks to be worn indoors and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test when going to night clubs and large events.

UK infections up 44 percent in past week

The United Kingdom has reported 90,418 new cases — down from a record of just over 93,000 on Friday — and 125 deaths, government statistics showed.

Cases were up 44.4 percent over the seven days to December 18 compared with the previous week. Deaths, which typically lag changes in case numbers, were down by nearly 6 percent over the same period.

The mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared the surge of Omicron infections in the British capital a “major incident”. The move that allows local councils in Britain’s capital to coordinate work more closely with emergency services.

Omicron variant spreading fast in Italy

The highly contagious Omicron variant is spreading quickly in Italy, with new cases identified in the country’s north and south, the national health institute (ISS) said.

The ISS reported that its network of regional laboratories had so far identified 84 Omicron cases, “a strong acceleration” from 55 early on Friday.

Italy also reported 123 deaths against 120 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections declined slightly to 28,064 from 28,632.

Ukraine reports its first case of Omicron variant

Ukraine has detected its first case of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said.

The infected person recently returned to Ukraine from the United Arab Emirates, Lyashko said on Facebook.

So far Ukraine has reported 3.6 million cases and 92,929 deaths.

Portugal begins vaccinating children under 12

Portugal has began vaccinating children under 12-years-old at its biggest vaccination centre in Lisbon.

Around 61,000 children across the county have been signed up for the first weekend.

Portuguese officials say more than 90 percent of the 12-17 age group have received jabs and that the order of vaccination will be by age, with the oldest children receiving their jabs first.

Turkey administers over 123.6M vaccine shots

Turkey has administered more than 123.63 million doses of vaccines since it launched an immunisation drive in January, according to official figures released.

The ministry confirmed 17,644 new infections, 191 deaths, and 25,568 recoveries over the past day.

Omicron cases doubling in nearly 3 days: WHO

The Omicron variant has been reported in 89 countries and the number of cases is doubling in 1.5 to 3 days in areas with community transmission, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Omicron is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity, but it is unclear if this is due to the virus’ ability to evade immunity, its inherent increased transmissibility or a combination of both, the WHO said in an update.

New York sees highest single-day cases

The US state of New York saw its highest single-day total of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

The state reported 21,027 positive cases in 263,536 test results, with a positive ratio of 7.98 percent, Governor Kathy Hochul said on Twitter.

There were 3,839 hospitalisations and 60 deaths reported.

Paris cancels New Year’s Eve festivities

Paris has cancelled planned New Year’s Eve fireworks as well as festivities in line with new government rules to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex recommended that people, even if vaccinated, take a Covid-19 self-test before getting together for year-end parties.

Egypt reports first cases of omicron 

Egypt has confirmed the country’s first three cases of omicron.

A Health Ministry statement said that two of the cases did not show any symptoms for the virus, while the third showed mild symptoms.

The three were placed in quarantine.

Thai prison set on fire during riot over coronavirus cluster

Hundreds of prisoners set fire to a Thai jail during a two-day riot over the handling of a coronavirus cluster, with some inmates wounded as officers sought to restore order.

Thai prisons are notoriously overcrowded and have struggled to curb the spread of the virus. More than 87,000 inmates have been infected with 185 recorded deaths, according to the Corrections Department.

Authorities were set to inspect the damage Saturday after some 400 prisoners in the southern Thai jail went on a rampage starting Thursday night, demanding that inmates with the coronavirus be removed.

Premier League clubs to meet over Covid crisis

Premier League clubs will meet on Monday to discuss disruptions caused by Covid-19 after nine scheduled top-flight matches were postponed due to outbreaks on various teams.

Chelsea and Liverpool had key players missing on Thursday while Tottenham Hotspur, who had 13 cases among players and staff, have not played since December 5 and had three games postponed in all competitions.

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard said teams will hold their own meetings next week after a number of club bosses called for more clarity on the criteria for postponing games due to Covid-19.

Japan to extend foreigner entry curb

Japan will extend a curb on foreigners entering the country beyond year-end to prevent the spread of Omicron.

Japan reversed an easing of controls late last month as Omicron spread around the world and has one of the world’s strictest border policies.

Although Covid-19 cases have fallen dramatically since a deadly wave in August, there is growing concern about Omicron, which has been found more than 30 times in Japan, mostly during airport screening and quarantine.

Omicron to be ‘dominant’ in France in 2022

French Prime Minister Jean Castex likened the spread of the Omicron variant in Europe to “lightning,” adding it would be the dominant strain in France from the start of 2022.

Castex added that while much remains unknown about the variant “it does not seem to be more dangerous than the Delta variant and the data available to us indicate that complete vaccination coverage with the booster dose protects well against severe forms of the disease.”

Nearly 3,000 people are in intensive care with Covid-19 in France according to the latest figures.

Court OKs Biden employer vaccine mandate

A federal appeals court panel allowed President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate for larger private employers to move ahead.

The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a decision by a federal judge in a separate court that had paused the mandate nationwide.

The rule from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration was to take effect Jan. 4. 

With the ruling, it’s not clear when the requirement may be put in place.

Canada lifts Africa ban, reimposes testing

Canada announced the lifting of a ban on foreign travelers from 10 African countries, while reimposing testing requirements and warning that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 risks quickly overwhelming hospitals.

The travel restriction on flights from South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt will end at 11:59 pm on Saturday (0459 GMT Sunday), Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a news conference.

The restriction had been announced last month “to slow the arrival of Omicron in Canada and buy us some time,” he said.

Experts urge Dutch government “strict” lockdown

The health experts advising the Netherlands’ government on the Covid-19 strategy have recommended the country go into a “strict” lockdown, Dutch media reported, just days after a partial lockdown was extended through January.

Broadcaster RTL Nieuws and newspaper NRC Handelsblad cited sources within the panel of experts, whose recommendations are not made public until after the government has taken a decision, that they have advised the closure of all but essential stores.

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