Covid-19 has infected more than 278M people and killed over 5.4M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

More than 2,000 flights around the world have been scrapped.
More than 2,000 flights around the world have been scrapped. (Reuters)

Friday, December 24, 2021

Global airline carriers scrap more than 2,000 flights

Global airline carriers have canceled more than 2,000 flights so far, the FlightAware website said, in an indication of how Covid-19 is affecting holiday travel.

The website showed that as of 1320 GMT (8:20 AM Eastern Time), 2,028 flights around the world had been scrapped.

FlightAware said there had been 448 cancellations within, into, or out of the United States so far.

Lufthansa, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines said they had each cancelled dozens of Christmas Eve flights, as the spreading coronavirus Omicron variant took a toll on its flight crews and other workers.

Germany-based Lufthansa said that it was cancelling a dozen long-haul transatlantic flights over the Christmas holiday period because of a “massive rise” in sick leave among pilots.

US-based Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said they had to cancel dozens of Christmas Eve flights because of staff shortages tied to Omicron. 

US to lift travel ban on eight southern African countries

The US will lift travel restrictions to eight southern African countries on New Year's Eve, the White House announced.

The restrictions, imposed last month, were meant to blunt the spread of the Omicron variant.

The November 29 ban barred nearly all non-US citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

UK reports new record of over 122,000 daily cases

Britain has reported a new record 122,186 new cases, up from 119,789 on Thursday.

Government data showed there were 137 new deaths within 28 days of a positive  test, down from 147 on Thursday, and bringing the total during the pandemic to 147,857.

Around 1 in 10 people in London were likely infected on Sunday, according to new official estimates by the Office for National Statistics.

Turkiye administers nearly 128M vaccine shots to date

Turkiye has administered nearly 128 million doses of vaccines since it launched an immunisation drive this January, according to official figures released.

More than 56.77 million people have received a first jab, while over 51.36 million are fully vaccinated, the Health Ministry said.

The ministry also confirmed 18,910 new infections, 133 deaths, and 20,351 recoveries over the past day.

Irish infections hit record, critical cases slow

Ireland has reported its highest number of daily cases since the pandemic began but those requiring critical care fell further amid a rapid rollout of booster vaccines to battle a surge of the dominant Omicron variant.

The health department reported 11,182 positive cases, topping the 8,248 on January 8 during the country's deadliest wave. The number of patients in hospital peaked at 2,020 in mid-January, with a barely manageable 221 requiring critical care.

Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew tests positive

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, has tested positive, the Patriarchate press office said.

In a statement, the press office said 81-year-old Patriarch Bartholomew was fully vaccinated against the disease and only experiencing mild symptoms.

Japan health panel approves Merck's oral Covid-19 treatment

A Japanese health ministry panel has recommended approval of the Covid-19 antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co Inc, part of plans by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to roll out new treatments by yearend as concerns rise about the Omicron variant.

The panel decision sets the stage for shipments of 200,000 doses across the country from this weekend, based on preparations announced earlier by Kishida.

Japan is betting heavily on oral treatments to keep serious infections and deaths at bay should a feared sixth wave of the pandemic emerge.

Bhutan starts giving booster doses

Bhutan has started giving booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine to senior citizens and priority groups as the Himalayan kingdom counters the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Those aged 65 and older, overseas travellers, health workers, sufferers from chronic medical woes, and all adults living in "high risk" areas were eligible, health ministry officials said.

"Bhutan becomes the first country in the South Asian region to administer booster doses," public service broadcaster BBS said in a report.

The Kuensel newspaper said Bhutan, with a vaccine stock exceeding 250,000 doses, planned to inoculate more than 228,000 people in a week.

France recommends booster jab 3 months after initial vaccines

France has recommended that adults receive a Covid-19 booster vaccination three months after their initial jabs, reducing the guideline of five months to better fight the Omicron variant.

The recommendation was published by the country's HAS health authority, which advises the government in the fight against amid surging cases in France during the Christmas period.

The HAS also recommended that the booster rollout be expanded to now include teenagers who are deemed to be at risk, days after France opened up the vaccination rollout to children aged five and over.

South Africa to roll out boosters immediately

South Africa will start offering booster shots of Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine from Friday.

The health department's announcement came a day after its approval for use as a booster by the health regulator.

Both J&J and Pfizer Covid-19 shots have been authorised as boosters by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), but the move opens up boosters to the general public for the first time.

So far, only J&J booster shots have been available for health workers.

Italy reports highest daily Covid cases since pandemic

Italy has reported 44,595 new Covid-19 infections Thursday, the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that the previous record was 40,902 on November 13, 2020.

With the latest daily figures, the number of overall infections in the country has reached over 5.51 million, according to the Health Ministry.

In the past 24 hours, 168 people in Italy lost their lives due to Covid-19, taking the country’s overall death toll to 136,245.

US sets shorter Covid isolation rules for health workers

Worried that a new Covid-19 wave could overwhelm understaffed US hospitals, federal officials have loosened rules that call on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive.

Those workers now will be allowed to come back to work after seven days if they test negative and don't have symptoms. Isolation time can be cut to five days, or even fewer, if there are severe staffing shortages, according to the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

CDC officials have advised that in calculating the 10-day isolation period, the first day should be the first full day after symptoms first developed or after a positive test.

Australia to shorten booster intervals

Australia would further shorten the wait time for people to receive their Covid-19 booster shots, Health Minister Greg Hunt said, as the country grapples with record infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.

Booster shots will be offered from Jan. 4 to everyone over 18 who had their second shot four months earlier and the interval will be again reduced to three months by the end of January.

Australia has been looking to ramp up the rollout of boosters after becoming one of the world's most-vaccinated countries against Covid-19, with more than 90 percent of people over the age of 16 having received two doses.

New York to limit New Year's celebration scale

New York will sharply limit the number of people it allows in Times Square for its New Year's Eve celebration, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said, in response to a surge of new coronavirus cases fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

For the second year in a row, the virus that causes Covid-19 is casting a shadow over the festivities, which typically draws huge crowds to the famed intersection in midtown Manhattan. 

After hours of live entertainment, the evening culminates with the dropping of a giant crystal ball at midnight, signaling the start of the new year.

Last year, when Covid-19 vaccines were in the early stages of rolling out, the celebration was open to only a handful of invited guests, including essential workers and their families.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies