Covid-19 has infected more than 284M people and killed over 5.4M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

The number of daily new Covid cases worldwide crossed one million for the first time, according to a tally by AFP news agency.
The number of daily new Covid cases worldwide crossed one million for the first time, according to a tally by AFP news agency. (Reuters)

Thursday, December 30, 2021

World tops one million new daily Covid cases

Millions around the world are bracing for drastically curtailed New Year celebrations as record coronavirus cases fuelled by the Omicron variant saw the WHO warn a Covid "tsunami" threatens to overwhelm healthcare systems.

The number of daily new Covid cases worldwide crossed one million for the first time, according to a tally by AFP news agency on Thursday, with more than 7.3 million in the last seven days.

From Greece to Mexico, from Barcelona to Bali and across swathes of Europe, authorities have cancelled or curtailed public gatherings, either closing or imposed curfews on nightclubs.

In France, wearing masks outdoors will be compulsory while walking the streets of Paris from Friday for everyone over the age of 11. Nightclubs have been closed until well into January.

In Spain, public festivities have been cancelled across most regions and in the biggest cities except Madrid, where a stripped-down gathering is scheduled with the crowd limited to 7,000 people compared to 18,000 in 2019 before the pandemic swept Europe.

Indonesia, which has reported more than 4.2 million confirmed cases, warned that foreign travellers may be deported from the resort island of Bali if they are caught violating Covid health rules during New Year.

In Saudi Arabia, authorities reimposed social distancing measures at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy c ity of Mecca, after recording the highest number of infections in months.

Turkiye records 39,681 new cases

Turkiye has registered 39,681 new Covid-19 infections and 139 deaths over the past day.

The country has administered more than 131.13 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines since it launched an immunization drive in January, according to official figures. 

More than 56.89 million people have received a first jab, while over 51.56 million have been fully vaccinated, the Health Ministry said.

Russia confirms 103 Omicron cases

Russia has now confirmed 103 cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, Anna Popova, the head of state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, has said in an interview on state television.

Popova said Omicron coming to Russia was inevitable and that all new arrivals from risk zones were being tested.

Israel receives first shipment of Pfizer anti-Covid drug 

Israel has received a first shipment of Pfizer's anti-Covid pill, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hailing it as critical amid a surge of cases driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant.

"Thanks to our rapid action, the drugs have arrived in Israel quickly and will assist us in getting past the peak of the coming Omicron wave," Bennett said.

The pills landed in Israel as coronavirus infections are surging.

UK rail operator cancels London route

A British rail operator has been forced to suspend all direct services to the busy London Victoria train station until January 10 after staff fell ill with Covid-19 and others had to isolate.

Southern Rail said on Twitter that due to coronavirus isolation and sickness, there would be no direct services to or from London Victoria, disrupting commuter routes from south London and lines that run to the south of the country.

Barcelona's Covid outbreak swells to 10 players

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Barcelona squad has swelled to 10, potentially jeopardising the team's return to league play after Spain's winter break of nearly two weeks.

Sergiño Dest, Philippe Coutinho and Abde Ezzalzouli are the latest players to contract Covid-19, Barcelona said. They are self-isolating at home and the team said they were “in good health.”

The club already announced this week that Ousmane Dembélé, Samuel Umtiti, Gavi, Jordi Alba, Alejandro Balde, Clement Lenglet and Dani Alves had tested positive and were isolating.

Portugal cuts Covid isolation from 10 days to seven

Portugal has cut the mandatory isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 but are asymptomatic from 10 days to seven, even as new infections hit record highs.

The move, which also applies to high-risk contacts, came after health experts urged the government to rethink its policy amid concerns that the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant and lengthy quarantines could paralyse the country.

"This decision is aligned with guidelines from other countries and is a result of a technical and weighted consideration, given the incubation period of the now predominant variant, Omicron," the DGS health authority said in a statement.

Greece reports new daily record of cases

Greece reported a single-day record high of 35,580 Covid-19 infections as the highly contagious Omicron becomes the dominant variant in the country.

It was the third successive daily record of cases, with infections more than tripling since the beginning of the week.

"It seems that the raid of Omicron is very intense," Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga said during a press briefing, adding that more than 60 percent of new cases relate to the new variant.

Dutch flock to Belgium to escape holiday lockdown

Frustrated Dutch tourists have flocked to neighbouring Belgium to escape a tough Covid lockdown over the festive period, despite appeals from the authorities not to head across the border.

The Netherlands has imposed the tightest winter restrictions in Europe by closing down non-essential shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums and theatres until January 14 in a bid to curb infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.

But just next-door, Belgium has so far opted for lighter measures despite fears the new strain could spark another wave of infections in the country.

Dutch visitors were out and about in the city of Antwerp, shopping and stopping in at bars and cafés that are shuttered back home.

Italy logs new record 126,888 coronavirus cases, 156 deaths

Italy reported 126,888 Covid-19 related cases, against 98,030 the day before, the health ministry said, while the number of deaths rose to 156 from 148. Thursday's infections mark a fresh record.

Pope scraps New Year's Nativity visit over Covid fears

Pope Francis has cancelled his traditional New Year's Eve visit to the Nativity scene in St Peter's Square over concerns of spreading coronavirus among the gathered crowds, the Vatican has said.

The pontiff is normally met by well-wishers when he visits the crib on December 31, after presiding over the end-of-year Vespers and chanting of the Te Deum prayer.

But the Vatican said in a diary note that "the event will not be held, to avoid gatherings and the subsequent risks of Covid-19 infection".

Experts warn of Omicron surge in eastern Europe

As the fast-spreading coronavirus variant omicron rages through Western Europe, officials and experts in low-vaccinated eastern Europe anticipate a post-holiday explosion of Covid-19 cases in much of the region.

Adriana Pistol, director of Romania's National Center for Surveillance and Control of Communicable Diseases, has warned that the country could see a peak of 25,000 new daily cases during the expected next wave. 

Romania is the European Union’s second-least vaccinated member nation.

Neighbouring Bulgaria is the EU's least-vaccinated member, with just 32 percent of adults having received a full vaccine. 

It, too, suffered a deadly fall outbreak, but its vaccine rollout has continued at a sluggish pace. 

Government data shows that only 255,000 booster jabs have been administered in the country of 7 million people. 

“Epidemiologists predict that wave five will hit Bulgaria at the end of January and probably harder in February,” Mariya Sharkova, a public health law specialist based in Plovdiv, told The Associated Press. 

“Holidays will bring omicron to Bulgaria and probably will have a negative impact on the spread of Covid-19.”

In the Balkans region of Europe, Bosnia, Slovenia, Serbia, and Croatia have all confirmed omicron cases but so far not tightened restrictions to control the variant's spread.

Omicron fuels record surges of cases in US

More than a year after the vaccine was rolled out, new cases in the US have soared to their highest level on record at over 265,000 per day on average, a surge driven largely by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

New cases per day have more than doubled over the past two weeks, eclipsing the old mark of 250,000, set in mid-January, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The number of Americans now in the hospital is running at around 60,000, or about half the figure seen in January, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Australian leaders redefine 'close contact' meaning

Australia's national leaders signed off on a new, nationally-consistent definition of a close contact, said Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

National Cabinet leaders from all the states and territories agreed a close contact will be classified as someone who has spent four hours or more with a confirmed case in a household or household-like setting.

He said he hoped this would reduce the number of people going for PCR tests, and ensure large numbers of essential workers aren't taken out of the workforce unnecessarily.

Three NZ Olympians test positive in Canada

New Zealand's Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, Nico Porteous and his older brother Miguel have tested positive five weeks before the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, local media reported.

Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous, both 20, won bronze medals in snowboarding and freestyle skiing respectively at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

Study: J&J booster slashes Omicron hospitalisations

A booster dose of Johnson & Johnson Inc's single-dose vaccine has been 84 percent effective at preventing hospitalisation in South African healthcare workers who became infected as the Omicron variant spread, researchers said.

The real-world study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was based on a second dose of the J&J vaccine administered to 69,092 workers between November 15 and December 20.

India imposes stricter rules to prevent virus spread 

Indian authorities have started to impose stringent rules to prevent mass gatherings at parties and public venues ahead of new year celebrations as the nation sees a spike in infections.

Night curfews have been imposed in all major cities and restaurants ordered to limit customers, officials said.

The country reported 13,154 new cases and 268 deaths in the last 24 hours, the federal health ministry said, with urban centres reporting a big jump.

Turkiye starts initiatives at WHO for use of homegrown vaccine

Turkiye has started initiatives at the World Health Organization (WHO) for use of the country’s homegrown COVID-19 vaccine Turkovac, the country's senior health authority said.

The inactive vaccine, developed in cooperation with Erciyes University in Kayseri province and the Presidency of Turkish Health Institutes (TUSEB) of the Health Ministry, has reached the stage of mass production in a period of 20 months, Erhan Akdogan, the head of TUSEB, told Anadolu Agency.

Noting the importance of obtaining the "right information" on the vaccine jabs, Akdogan said the states that primarily produce the vaccines can start vaccination in their own country after obtaining permission from their local authorities.

Mexico reaches 299,132 Covid deaths

Mexico has reported 188 more confirmed fatalities from Covid-19, bringing the official death toll in the country since the pandemic began to 299,132.

The ministry has previously said the real number is likely significantly higher.

Greece reports all-time high daily Covid cases

Greece registered a new all-time record for daily Covid-19 cases, with health authorities reporting 28,828 infections in the past 24 hours.

The latest figure is up from 21,657 on Tuesday and 9,284 on Monday, said the National Organization for Public Health.

The government has decided to bring forward new measures that were scheduled to come into effect in January.

UK pledges 105M pounds to help other countries fight Omicron

Britain has pledged 105 million pounds ($141.7 million) in emergency aid to help vulnerable nations, particularly in Africa, cope with the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant.

The government said the money would go towards measures helping to reduce transmission, increase testing and boost oxygen supplies.

The Foreign Office said its latest pledge came on the back of confirmation that Britain had delivered 30 million vaccines to the rest of the world as promised by the end of 2021, part of the 100 million shots it has vowed to donate.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies