Covid live news: Omicron accounts for 58.6% of all infections in US; Wales reports 12,378 cases in past 48 hours

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live news: Omicron accounts for 58.6% of all infections in US; Wales reports 12,378 cases in past 48 hours ” was written by Jedidajah Otte (now); Jem Bartholomew and Martin Farrer (earlier), for theguardian.com on Tuesday 28th December 2021 16.26 UTC

Hello, I’m Jedidajah Otte and I’ll be taking over for a while. As always, don’t hesitate to flag anything you think we should be covering, you can reach me on Twitter @JedySays or via email.

Tuesday summary

Here’s a roundup of the latest news on Omicron and Covid from around the world.

  • The Delhi government announced lockdown-like restrictions as the Omicron variant spreads, with certain public venues shuttered and others at 50% capacity or facing curfews, impacting the Indian city’s more than 19 million people.
  • China shut down the city of Yan’an, joining Xi’an as millions are now locked down to prevent Omicron taking hold.
  • Malaysia banned New Year’s Eve mass celebrations and people will require negative tests for private celebrations.
  • Japan reported its first suspected Omicron cluster in Osaka, leading to fears of community transmission despite Japan’s strict border policies.
  • Wales reported 12,378 Covid cases in the past 48 hours, with the UK reporting 17,269 new Omicron cases in the past 24 hours.
  • Scotland is suffering with up to five-day PCR test waiting times, and England is experiencing a shortage of lateral flow tests that threatens New Year’s Eve celebrations.
  • Hospitality bosses in England welcomed news of no further restrictions over the new year. Meanwhile, a leading immunologist said Omicron is “not same disease as a year ago” and horrific levels of UK deaths are “now history.”
  • Indonesia detected its first Omicron case, in a 37-year-old man.
  • France reduced the waiting time for a third booster shot to three months from four in response to the rapid spread of Omicron.
  • Omicron cases make up 58.6% of US Covid cases, CDC data showed.
  • Also in the US, top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci suggested the federal government should consider a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel.
  • Globally, 3,500 flights were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday as airlines crews become infected with the Omicron Covid strain.
  • The S&P 500, the benchmark US stock market index, opened at record highs after four buoyant days as investors shrug off Omicron concerns.
  • Health authorities in Denmark are concerned over low vaccination rates for children ahead of the 5 January return to schools and urged parents to come forward.

That’s all from me, Jem Bartholomew in London, for today. I’ll be back on Thursday. Do get in touch with tips and stories via email or on Twitter for then. Bye for now.

Updated

There have been a bunch of changes recently around the world on Covid isolation rules.

My colleague Nicola Davis has this helpful explainer on how long people with Covid are infectious and how isolation rules differ internationally.

Public health authorities in the UK and US cited data on infectiousness when cutting their isolation times from ten days to seven and five, respectively.

Dr Richard Tedder, a member of the Clinical Virology Network, said the shift was a compromise, and was based on the assumption that people with two negative tests are unlikely to transmit coronavirus to contacts.

“On a balance of probabilities this is probably correct,” he said, although he suggested the situation may be different for some people, such as those who are immunosuppressed, and it may not hold if future variants are not picked up by lateral flow tests.

But not everyone agrees – paricularly in the US, where a negative test is not required.

Dr Michael Mina, an assistant professor at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, noted that some people can stay infectious for 12 days so testing is crucial. “I absolutely don’t want to sit next to someone who turned Positive 5 days ago and hasn’t tested [negative],” he said on Twitter.

UK reports 17,269 new Omicron cases amid PCR test waits and LFT shortages

The UK Health Security Agency detected 17,269 new cases of the Omicron variant in the past 24 hours, taking the country’s tally to 177,201 identified through sequencing.

The majority of tests are not sequenced, so the figure is likely to be far higher. (Wales has not reported case numbers since 23 December. Scotland is no longer separating Omicron from other cases.)

The number of people in England who have died with the Omicron variant has risen to 49, the UKHSA said. Hospitalisations reached a total of 668 in England.

It comes as PCR tests are taking up to five days for results in Scotland and a shortage of lateral flow tests in England threaten New Year’s Eve plans.

A masked woman rides the London Underground in the UK on 21 December.
A masked woman rides the London Underground in the UK on 21 December.
Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Updated

Record demand in Scotland for PCR tests has left some families waiting up to five days for results over the Christmas period.

Some people taking tests on 23 December only got them back on 28 December, the BBC reports. The normal waiting time is within 48 hours.

Both Scotland and England detected record-level daily case numbers over the Christmas period, with infections peaking provisionally in Scotland at 11,030 on 26 December.

“I couldn’t see my mum on Christmas Day and my dad couldn’t see his partner. It was all a bit strange,” teacher Matthew Campbell from Dundee told the BBC. Campbell spent Christmas Day in isolation awaiting a PCR test taken on 23 December – only for it to be negative on 28 December.

The BBC has more details:

The UK Health Security Agency apologised to those waiting “a little longer” for their result. They said they were adding extra capacity to their laboratories to meet “exceptional demand”.

Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland the delays were caused by the scale of demand. “Quite a lot of people went for testing before Christmas in order to try and get Christmas celebrations that were safe if they had symptoms, or if they had contact,” he said. “So I apologise for that, I’m sorry if people had to wait a little bit longer.”

Updated

Shortages in England of lateral flow tests and lack of walk-in test slots are threatening to undermine the UK government’s plans for New Year’s Eve celebrations to go ahead unimpeded, the Guardian reports.

Some community pharmacies in rural areas said they had not received deliveries of LFTs since early last week, although many remained closed on Monday and Tuesday because of the extended bank holidays.

People turning to the NHS website were also out of luck: on Tuesday morning it said no delivery slots for LFTs were available, for the second day in a row. But by mid-afternoon deliveries were again being offered, with a warning that the LFT kits could take three days to arrive.

The UK Health Security Agency said it encouraged people to revisit the sites “every few hours” if they were unable to order tests, as more would become available, and to use any tests they may already have before ordering or collecting more kits.

A UKHSA spokesperson said: “Despite unprecedented demand, we are continuing to supply millions of rapid lateral flow tests every day. Our total delivery capacity has doubled to 900,000 test kits per day since Saturday 18 December so more people can order tests.”

Read the full story here.

Updated

The S&P 500, the US’s benchmark stock market index widely used as a barometer of economic confidence, opened on Tuesday at a record high.

It follows four buoyant days in global markets as investors shrug off Omicron concerns amid studies of potentially lessened severity and new drugs to treat the virus. Reuters reports:

The [benchmark] S&P 500 and [tech-heavy] Nasdaq index on Monday posted their best four-day rally since November 2020, with the S&P 500 scaling a peak as an upbeat outlook on the US economy helped investors look past thousands of flight cancellations and Apple shutting its New York stores due to surging cases.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday shortened the recommended isolation time for Americans with asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.

The CDC’s update along with approvals to new pills and more vaccines to fight Covid have all helped put the three main indexes on pace for monthly gains.

“This policy change is sending the message that it is becoming more like the flu and less like the variants we saw early on when we had no treatments, no vaccines and it was much more deadly,” Thomas Hayes, the managing member at Great Hill Capital in New York, told Reuters.

It comes after a leading UK immunologist told the BBC on Tuesday that Omicron is “not the same disease we were seeing a year ago” and high UK Covid death rates are “now history”.

Updated

In the US, National Basketball Association (NBA) players who test positive for Covid now have a quicker path to return to play, AP reports, after the league cut isolation times from 10 to six days for vaccinated asymptomatic players.

The NBA has seen coronavirus numbers soar in recent days, even with 97% of players vaccinated and at least 65% of eligible players boosted against the virus.

It follows a move from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to cut the isolation period for people testing Covid-positive from 10 to five days. Officials said that data shows people are most infectious in the two days before, and three days after, symptoms appear.

Read the full NBA story here.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (left) was one of 15 players ruled out of Monday night’s Boston-Minnesota game for virus-related reasons alone. He jumps towards the net.
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (left) was one of 15 players ruled out of Monday night’s Boston-Minnesota game for virus-related reasons alone.
Photograph: David Butler II/USA Today Sports

Updated

Health authorities in Denmark are concerned over low vaccination rates for children ahead of the 5 January return to schools.

Currently, 38% of children aged five to 11 have had at least one dose, the Copenhagen Post reports, leading ministers to urge parents to get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent a new-term surge.

“We can see that it had a beneficial effect on infection among the younger age groups when the schools were shut down before Christmas,” the health minister, Magnus Heunicke, said. “But we still need to vaccinate more of the youngest schoolkids so the infection doesn’t skyrocket in the schools when they open in January.”

Omicron has seen new cases climb in Denmark. The country reported 16,164 new Covid cases on Monday, the Post reports, more than doubling the 7,799 new infections on Monday two weeks ago.

Denmark currently has one of the highest per capita Covid rates in the world, local media TV 2 reports, with 1,612 cases of infection per 100,000 people last week.

Denmark’s health minister Magnus Heunicke (left) and prime minister Mette Frederiksen (right) at a Covid press conference in Copenhagen this month.
Denmark’s health minister, Magnus Heunicke, (left) and prime minister (right) at a Covid press conference in Copenhagen this month.
Photograph: Philip Davali/EPA

Updated

US Covid cases are 58.6% Omicron – CDC

Omicron accounts for 58.6% of all Covid cases in the US, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows.

Delta accounts for 41.1% of Covid cases for the week ending 25 December. (The remaining 0.3% is made up of other variants.)

The drastic rise of the highly mutated strain comes after the US reported its first Omicron case on 1 December. Omicron has pushed cases up to record levels in some states and sparked a rush for the delivery of booster jabs in efforts to beat back the variant.

The new data comes after Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser, said the US should consider making vaccination mandatory for domestic air travel, to push up the vaccination compliance rate.

Anthony Fauci at a Covid briefing on 27 December. He wears a face mask and sits in front of an American flag.
Anthony Fauci at a Covid briefing on 27 December.
Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Updated

Ukraine detected 2,248 new positive Covid tests in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said, a 71% decrease from the 7,716 new cases on Tuesday two weeks ago.

Ukraine saw spiking cases in late October and early November, sometimes above 20,000 or 25,000 a day, but cases have receded in recent weeks. (Some countries are reporting lower numbers over the holiday period.)

A further 134 Covid-related deaths were recorded, a 68% decrease on two weeks ago, and 944 hospitalisations were reported. Ukraine’s death toll is now 95,105, the world’s 15th highest.

People at an ice rink Kiev, Ukraine this month. There are bright Christmas lights decorating a tree outside.
People at an ice rink Kiev, Ukraine this month.
Photograph: Ukrinform/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Wales reports 12,378 Covid cases in past 48 hours

Public Health Wales has reported a new 12,378 Covid cases over the latest 48-hour period and warned the country is quickly catching up with the rates seen in England.

Wales was stable at about 2,500-3,000 new cases every day until Omicron hit the UK. The seven-day case rate per 100,000 is now up to 918.

The Labour-led Welsh government is under fire for imposing stricter restrictions than England, with bosses in the night-time industry warning they are being unfairly hit, especially on New Year’s Eve.

The Tories in Wales are demanding to see the science behind the government’s decisions. The party’s leader in the Welsh parliament, Andrew RT Davies, said: “It’s unacceptable that Labour ministers have failed to publish the scientific advice and evidence behind the latest Covid restrictions in Wales.

“The public health picture is challenging for ministers of all stripes across the UK, but full transparency on the data and information behind decision-making is crucial.

“Many Welsh businesses will be severely hit this Christmas and new year, and I can understand their anger and frustration given they’re not being afforded the advice that’s provided to ministers.”

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “The Omicron variant is causing a rapid rise in coronavirus cases across Wales.

“Already, people are off work sick, putting essential services under strain, and we expect this situation to get worse.

“New protections have been put into place to help businesses continue to trade and updated and strengthened guidance has been issued to help people stay safe in their homes. We all need to do everything we can to protect ourselves and keep Wales safe.”

Updated

Bangladesh began its booster vaccination drive today in a bid to ward off the highly mutated Omicron variant.

Health officials said frontline workers and the over-60s will be first in line to get the booster jab, with the campaign starting in the capital, Dhaka.

About 27% of Bangladesh’s population is double vaccinated, Reuters reports.

Two Omicron cases have been detected so far – in two travellers returning from Zimbabwe – but community transmission is yet to be confirmed.

Updated

Really interesting opinion article on burnout for The Guardian here: I thought I could plough through the pandemic without burning out. I was wrong.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant brings home the difficult truth: the moment isn’t going to come “when all this is over”. The pandemic isn’t like a war, to be survived until the day when peace is made, and we can all exhale and begin picking up the pieces. It’s a new reality that will, at best, gradually fade into the background as the threat recedes and our coping strategies improve.

The problem is that our bodies aren’t designed to cope with this. As Emily and Amelia Nagoski point out in their book Burnout, our stress response is designed to help us run away from lions. It is something we are supposed to move through: it has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Writer Christine Berry goes on to discuss her own experience with burnout.

I learned this the hard way when I burned out at the end of July. Like many people, I thought I could just plough on through the pandemic and still meet my own wildly unrealistic expectations of myself.

In my case, this meant juggling parenthood with writing my first solo book and taking on a new senior leadership role. As it turned out, I was spectacularly wrong. After several months wrestling with anxiety, depression and fatigue, I finally faced up to reality and decided to step away from the new job. It was wrenching, but I just couldn’t ignore the message my body was giving me: I had to slow down.

Read the full story here, including how it is important to “find ways to deal with our stress, calm our nervous systems and make our bodies feel safer.”

Updated

The multibillion-pound world’s fair in Dubai has warned that some venues on site may shut down as Covid cases rapidly rise in the United Arab Emirates, AP reports.

Dubai’s Expo 2020 said that virus outbreaks among staff may force some parts of the fair to “close temporarily for deep cleaning and sanitisation,” without elaborating on the scope or the location of the infections.

The UAE’s daily virus caseload has skyrocketed by a multiple of 37 in just the last three weeks after the arrival of the Omicron variant.

The vague statement from Dubai’s government-run media office on Monday underscores the daunting challenges of hosting among the world’s first major in-person events amid a still-raging pandemic. The fair opened in October after a year’s delay as the UAE bet that its rapid vaccine rollout would allow its economy to avoid the closures that have paralysed much of the west.

With Dubai’s peak winter tourism season in full swing, the world’s fair has vaulted into the spotlight. Millions of tourists from around the world are flocking to the sprawling site packed with scores of national pavilions, restaurants, shops and performance stages.

Updated

Lockdown-like restrictions announced in Delhi, India

The government of Delhi, India on Tuesday announced more restrictions amid rising Omicron cases, the Times of India reports.

The city of about 19 million people will enter lockdown-like restrictions after it reported a further 63 Omicron cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 142. (The number is likely to be much higher.)

“As the Covid-19 positivity rate has been above 0.5% for the past few days, we are enforcing Level-I (yellow alert) of the Graded Response Action Plan,” Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said.

The new restrictions include, the Times of India reports, among other things:

  • Schools, colleges and other educational institutions closed
  • Sports complexes, cinemas, conference halls, stadiums and swimming pools closed
  • Offices at 50% maximum capacity
  • Restaurants and bars at 50% maximum capaicty with a 10pm curfew
  • Delhi Metro at 50% seating capacity and no standing

It comes after India reports 671 total Omicron cases sequenced so far.

Despite the severity of India’s Delta wave providing some barrier of protection from antibodies, there are fears Omicron could re-infect people – and that the high use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which studies have showed to be less effective against Omicron, could provoke a new wave.

Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal speaks to reporters in Amritsar on 24 December.
Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal speaks to reporters in Amritsar on 24 December.
Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Japan reports first suspected Omicron cluster

Japanese officials have detected a five-person cluster of Omicron cases in the city of Osaka, local media agency Kyodo reports.

It follows days of anxiety over Omicron community transmission in Japan, which has imposed strict border restrictions in attempts to shut out the variant.

The cluster relates to five people in a nursing home. Omicron has been detected beforehand but this is the first suspected cluster, Kyodo reports.

Prime minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday Japan is prepared for a domestic outbreak. “Using the time we bought through strengthened border controls, we have accelerated efforts to enhance the process of prevention, testing and early treatment,” he said.

Japan detected 214 new Covid cases in the past 24 hours, the Japan Times reports, a 67% increase on the 128 on Tuesday two weeks ago. No Covid deaths were recorded in the past 24 hours.

Shoppers in Tokyo, Japan on 28 December.
Shoppers in Tokyo, Japan on 28 December.
Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

Updated

Omicron “not same disease as a year ago” – UK scientist

Omicron is “not the same disease we were seeing a year ago” and high Covid death rates in the UK are “now history”, a leading immunologist has said.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and the UK government’s life sciences adviser, said that although hospitalisations had increased in recent weeks as Omicron spreads through the population, the disease “appears to be less severe and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital”. Fewer patients were needing high-flow oxygen and the average length of stay was down to three days, he said.

“The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago of intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely, that is now history, in my view, and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue,” Bell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

For the full story, read my colleague’s report here.

Updated

Poland reported 9,843 positive Covid infections today, a 44% drop on the 17,460 cases detected on Tuesday two weeks ago.

Poland saw high case numbers often over 25,000 a day in late-November and early-December. In recent weeks cases have receded, but Omicron is driving fears of a new wave.

A further 549 people died from the virus in the past 24 hours, local media Polskie Radio reports, bringing Poland’s total fatalities to 94,914, the world’s 16th highest.

New restrictions – tighter quarantine rules for people living with a Covid-infected person, and the closure or capacity-limitation of certain public venues – were implemented this month.

Poland currently has 21,283 patients with Covid in hospitals, the health ministry said, and 250,422 people are quarantined after exposure.

People visit Christmas market stands at the Old Town Square in Warsaw, Poland on 26 December. The lights twinkle against the pale blue sunset sky.
People visit Christmas market stands at the Old Town Square in Warsaw, Poland on 26 December.
Photograph: Paweł Supernak/EPA

Updated

France will offer intensive care nurses a bonus of €100 a month, prime minister Jean Castex said, to improve working conditions for exhausted frontline staff.

“This is about improving attractiveness, training, qualification, working conditions in intensive care units, acknowledging the skills of those who work there,” Castex said.

A broader set of measures for preventing staff shortages will be announced next week by health minister Olivier Veran.

Hong Kong will tighten quarantine rules for air cargo crew in efforts to block spread of the highly-infectious Omicron variant.

Currently, travellers into Hong Kong must quarantine in hotels, whereas air cargo crew are permitted to quarantine at home. New rules will see them spend three days in hotels before going home.

It comes after several Omicron cases have been identified by regular testing during people’s qurantine period.

Hong Kong, like China, pursues a “zero Covid” strategy, seeing it impose some of the world’s strictest travel restrictions to keep out the virus. Authorities seek to avoid community transmission of Covid entirely.

Last week Yuen Kwok-yung, a government advisor, told CNBC the zero Covid border policy will remain until around 95% of the eligible population is vaccinated. Currently, 72.1% of the total population has been jabbed with at least one dose.

People pose for a selfie in front of a Christmas Tree on Boxing Day at Tai Kwun in Hong Kong’s Central district.
People pose for a selfie in front of a Christmas Tree on Boxing Day at Tai Kwun in Hong Kong’s Central district.
Photograph: Bertha Wang/AFP/Getty Images

Hospitality in England welcomes news of no further restrictions

Hospitality bosses in England have welcomed UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that no retrictions will be imposed to suppress Covid until at least the new year.

The prime minister’s decision gives mass gatherings on New Year’s Eve the green light after days of speculation new measures might be imposed to tackle record-breaking Covid levels.

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, the industry body, said: “Britain’s hospitality businesses will be raising a New Years toast to celebrate the government’s pragmatic and proportionate approach. This will give a real lifeline for many who have struggled with the loss of trade in the run up to Christmas and the loss of New Year on top of that would have been devastating for many.”

She added: ‘This will be a welcome boost and keeping restrictions to a minimum and lifting the remaining restrictions as quickly as possible to help the beleaguered sector back onto the road to recovery.”

Michael Kill, the chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (Nita), which represents bars, pubs, nightclubs, restaurants and entertainment venues, said that the decision had come after “an extremely anxious few weeks for our sector”, but he was pleased that the PM had listened.

Kill said: “Our industry can now start to plan with some certainty over the next week, and make up for lost time promoting one of the key nights of the year in the coming days.

British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness McGregor-Smith welcomed the announcement on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, but warned the hospitality sector needed additional support.

“I am delighted to see that we are protecting New Year’s Eve but it just won’t go far enough,” she said.

For more on the reaction from hospitality in England, read this Guardian report.

Updated

Malaysia bans New Year’s Eve mass celebrations

Malaysia has banned mass celebrations for New Year’s Eve and said negative Covid tests will be required for private gatherings, Reuters reports.

Malaysia also lifted its travel ban on eight southern African nations given the Omicron variant’s rapid spread around the world.

Malaysia reported 2,897 new Covid cases in the past 24 hours, local media the New Straits Times reports.

Health minister Khairy Jamaluddin told reporters Malaysia is also cutting the booster vaccine waiting time to three months.

Updated

Russia detected 21,922 new Covid infections in the past 24 hours, a 21% decrease on the 27,910 cases recorded on Tuesday two weeks ago.

Russia experienced spiking cases in early-November and has seen its cases recede in recent weeks. But deaths still remain high.

A further 935 people died from Covid-related causes, a 16% decrease ion the 1,114 deaths on Tuesday two weeks ago. The Moscow Times reports that Russia’s excess deaths since the pandemic began is over 810,000.

There are concerns the highly-mutated Omicron strain might provoke a surge in new infections, after a study earlier this month found Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine provides little or no protection against Omicron.

Last Tuesday Russian authorities said 41 Omicron cases had been detected, but the number is likely to be much higher.

A woman walks on a street in Moscow, Russia. She wears a blue face mask and is backed by red and gold baubles.
A woman walks on a street in Moscow, Russia.
Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

As UK prime minister Boris Johnson said he will not introduce further Covid restrictions in England before 2022 – giving the go-ahead for mass gatherings on 31 December – let’s take a look at the latest Covid stats on cases and hospitalisations.

Here are the UK’s record-breaking infections in recent weeks. (Some figures for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland were not released over Christmas.)

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And here’s the hospitalisation figures, which ministers have said will guide their decisions on restrictions. We’re yet to see what impact the latest wave of cases, driven by Omicron, will have. Some experts have warned that despite the potential lessened severity of Omicron it could still overwhelm the health service.

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This is Jem Bartholomew in London taking charge of the global Covid blog for today. Do get in touch with tips or stories, it’s always great to hear from readers.

  • Email me here.
  • Message me on Twitter here.
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Updated

Summary

I’ll be handing over blogging duties shortly, but if you’re just joining us these are the main developments in the pandemic in the past several hours:

  • Thousands more flights have been cancelled by airlines around the world, causing chaotic scenes at airports at one of the busiest times of the year for travel. Carriers scrapped 2,700 flights on Monday and a further 800 have already been dropped from Tuesday’s schedules. Dr Anthony Fauci said a vaccine mandate should be considered for all passengers in the US.
  • Hundreds of thousands more people were ordered to stay at home in northern China on Tuesday, joining millions under strict lockdown in Xi’an as the government tries to contain a worsening outbreak of Covid-19.
  • Boris Johnson will not introduce further Covid restrictions in England before 2022, giving mass events the go-ahead and leaving nightclubs open for New Year’s Eve – in contrast with devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scientists said it was “the greatest divergence between scientific advice and legislation” seen since the start of the pandemic.
  • The US Centre for Disease Control has reduced the recommended isolation time for people recording a positive test from 10 days to five. The CDC said these changes reflect the latest data on when the virus is most contagious.
  • Joe Biden said the dramatic surge in US Covid cases caused by the Omicron variant “should be a source of concern but it should not be a source of panic”.
  • France has narrowed the delay for a third booster shot to three months from four in response to the rapid spread of Omicron but there will be no curfew for New Year’s Eve. From Monday, all indoor gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people, and to 5,000 people for outdoor events. Consumption of drinks and food will be banned in long-distance transport and home working will become mandatory for at least three days per week where possible.
  • Daily new coronavirus cases in Turkey surged 30% on Monday to 26,099, health ministry data showed, the highest percentage rise this year, as the health minister warned about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant:
  • The number of patients in England admitted into hospital with Covid-19 has reached its highest level since mid-February after a 74% rise in a week. In London, hospital admissions have increased by 73%. A total of 8,474 people were in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of 8am today – the highest number since 5 March.
  • Scotland has recorded a record number of Covid cases over the Christmas weekend, hitting a high of 11,030 new cases on Boxing Day, the Scottish government has said. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is due to update a specially-reconvened sitting of the Scottish parliament on Wednesday about the spread of the virus and the impact on hospitals.

Catching the Omicron variant means it’s more unlikely that you’ll get the Delta infection, according to a study in South Africa, Reuters reports.

The study, by the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that people who were infected with Omicron, especially those who were vaccinated, developed enhanced immunity to the Delta variant.

The analysis enrolled 33 vaccinated and unvaccinated people who were infected with the Omicron variant in South Africa.

While the authors found that the neutralization of Omicron increased 14-fold over 14 days after the enrolment, they also found that there was a 4.4 fold increase of Delta virus neutralization.

Updated

There is varied treatment of Boris Johnson’s decision not to introduce restrictions for new year celebrations in England.

The Mail hails it as “Boris’s new year cheer”.

The Guardian says England is “going it alone” compared with the devolved nations…

…the Telegraph says there will be no restrictions to “spoil New Year’s Eve”..

… and the Mirror asks “Where is the PM”

China shuts down another city

Hundreds of thousands more people were ordered to stay at home in northern China on Tuesday, joining millions under strict lockdown in Xi’an as the government tries to contain a worsening outbreak of Covid-19.

Yan’an, which is about 300km (186 miles) from Xi’an, ordered the closure of businesses on Tuesday and told hundreds of thousands of people in one district to stay indoors.

China has followed a “zero-Covid” strategy as Beijing prepares to welcome thousands of overseas visitors to February’s Winter Olympics.

But authorities have faced a resurgent virus in recent weeks, reporting 209 infections on Tuesday – the highest single-day tally since March last year, when the virus was only beginning to spread around the world from the city of Wuhan.

Indonesia detects first Omicron case

Reuters reports that Indonesian health authorities were conducting contact tracing on Tuesday after detecting the Southeast Asian country’s first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the community, health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi said.

It says: The first confirmed case was a 37-year-old male who was from the city of Medan and had visited a restaurant in Jakarta’s central business district earlier this month, Tarmizi told a news conference. The man had no recent history of overseas travel or contacts with international travellers, Tarmizi said, adding he was asymptomatic and was in isolation at a Jakarta hospital.

Updated

There is an interstate fight brewing in Australia over Covid testing requirements for tourists travelling from New South Wales into Queensland during the busy summer holidays. Cait Kelly and Caitlin Cassidy explain:

Daily new coronavirus cases in Turkey surged 30%

Reuters reports that daily new coronavirus cases in Turkey surged 30% on Monday to 26,099, health ministry data showed, the highest percentage rise this year, as the health minister warned about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant:

Turkey’s daily case levels have been below or about 20,000 in December, down from about 30,000 in October. The number of deaths due to coronavirus fell to 157 on Monday from 173 a day earlier.

“The Omicron variant is spreading more quickly than the other variants,” health minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter late on Monday. “You must be careful and get your booster shot done.”

Let’s take a look at some of the UK papers for Tuesday, most of which lead on the announcement that there will be no new restrictions before New Year’s Eve:

Agence France-Presse reports that Delta Air Lines on Monday cited new Chinese cleaning requirements after it rerouted a China-bound flight back to the United States, drawing criticism from Chinese authorities.

The report states:

The December 21 flight was supposed to land in Shanghai after disembarking from Seattle, but instead returned to the US city midair. Delta said the reason for the reversal was new Chinese requirements issued earlier that day in the wake of the latest Covid-19 surge.

“The new cleaning procedures require significantly extended ground time and are not operationally viable for Delta,” a Delta spokesman said. “We apologize for any inconvenience this is causing for customers as we continue to work on rebooking on alternate flights.”

The Chinese consulate in San Francisco complained that several Chinese citizens were stranded on board with expired visas and Covid-19 tests that no longer met time requirements, according to Chinese state media.

Airlines, including Delta and other leading US carriers, have canceled thousands of flights in recent days as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 hits airline workers and roils travel plans for many consumers.

In three days time, on 31 December, it will be the second anniversary of the day that health authorities in Wuhan reported an unknown pneumonia outbreak to World Health Organization (WHO) colleagues in Beijing.

This time last year, Michael Standaert visited Wuhan to report on how the city had changed since the emergence of the coronavirus.

Updated

Tests are under way for all students at a middle school in Gwangju, South Korea
Tests are under way for all students at a middle school in Gwangju, South Korea
Photograph: YONHAP/EPA
A woman walks through a closed Covid-19 testing drive-thru clinic at Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia.
A woman walks through a closed Covid-19 testing drive-thru clinic at Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia.
Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images
A mask lies on the sand while tourists enjoy a beach as the coronavirus disease pandemic continues, in Cancun, Mexico
A mask lies on the sand while tourists enjoy a beach as the coronavirus disease pandemic continues, in Cancun, Mexico
Photograph: Reuters

Our colleagues in Australia report that 486 people who were initially told by a Sydney clinic that their Covid test had a negative result were actually positive.

That is a total of 886 people to whom St Vincent’s hospital mistakenly gave the all clear. First, 400 people were told on Christmas Day that their result was negative, only to be told later they were positive.

Yesterday the hospital’s pathology department (SydPath) said another 950 people who were tested in the days before Christmas were “prematurely” sent a text message saying they were negative when their actual results had not yet been confirmed.

Of those 950 people, 486 were eventually found to be positive.

All of the Covid developments in Australia are wrapped up at their live blog:

Updated

Local authorities in Shaanxi province are cracking down on food hoarding and price gouging as 13 million people in its capital Xi’an entered a sixth day of strict lockdown and mandatory testing, writes our correspondent in Taipei, Rhoda Kwan.

The new rules, introduced on Sunday, introduced a reporting hotline and strengthened the monitoring of shops and markets. The hotline has received over 300 complaints in two days, most over an increase in the prices of daily necessities including eggs, meat and vegetables.

A medical worker prepares to administer a nucleic acid test to a client at a private outdoor clinic in Beijing.
A medical worker prepares to administer a nucleic acid test to a client at a private outdoor clinic in Beijing.
Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Authorities say they have investigated 33 illegal cases and have closed five by Tuesday.

The measures come as China is battling its worst community outbreak of the Delta variant since 2020 little over a month before Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympic games.

Updated

Stock markets have continued to gain ground despite the surge of Omicron around the world.

Asian markets lifted on Tuesday with the Nikkei in Japan up nearly 1%, Shanghai up 0.2%, Seoul up 0.1% and Sydney’s ASX200 is up 0.44%.

Wall Street had another record-breaking day on Monday with the S&P 500 index rising 1.38% to end at an all-time high thanks to strong US retail sales. The narrower Dow Jones average climbed 0.98% and the Nasdaq Composite added 1.39%.

Apple has closed all of its 12 stores in New York City to indoor shopping as cases of the Omicron variant surge across the United States. Customers will be able to pick up online orders at the stores, an Apple spokesperson said.

“We regularly monitor conditions and we will adjust both our health measures and store services to support the wellbeing of customers and employees,” the company said in a statement.

The Apple store on Fifth Avenue, New York.
The Apple store on Fifth Avenue, New York.
Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Germany has reported another 21,080 cases bringing the country’s total to 7,026,369. The Robert Koch Institute also reported another 372 deaths which means that Germany has now seen 110,805 people die of Covid-19.

More from the US where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday it was shortening the recommended time for isolation for Americans with Covid to five days from its previous guidance of 10 days, given they are asymptomatic.

It is hoped the move will help airlines and other businesses mitigate staff shortages from the disease.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky said it was “vital people stay home and test when sick and adhere to recommended masking in order to mitigate the spread of Covid, especially as we continue to see more of the Omicron variant”.

France speeds up booster scheme – but no new year curbs

France has reduced the waiting time for a third booster shot to three months from four in response to the rapid spread of Omicron.

Jean Castex, the French prime minister, also said that from Monday and for the next three weeks all public gatherings would be limited to 2,000 people for indoor events, and to 5,000 people for outdoor events.

A queue for Covid tests in Paris.
A queue for Covid tests in Paris.
Photograph: Lionel Urman/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Masks will be mandatory in city centres and people must work from home three days a week if possible, Castex said, as the country’s infection rate hit a record level of more than 700 per 100,000 people.

However, there will be no curfew on New Year’s Eve celebrations and schools will reopen after the festiv season as planned on 4 January.

China cases rise again

China’s coronavirus cases rose for a fourth consecutive day on Monday, with Xi’an city reporting more infections in a flare up that has put 13 million residents under lockdown.

Xi’an reported 175 cases, up from the previous day’s 150, official data showed on Tuesday. None of them are of the Omicron variant. China has reported only a handful of Omicron infections among international travellers and in its south.

Mainland China detected 182 local symptomatic cases for Monday, the health commission said, compared with 162 a day earlier.

Xi’an is experiencing China’s biggest community outbreak since 2020. Read our correspondent Rhoda Kwan’s report on how the city is responding, including a disinfection campaign, with staffers spraying pathogen-killing solutions on surfaces of roads and buildings:

Government should consider flight vaccine mandate, says Fauci

Dr Anthony Fauci has suggested that the federal government should consider a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel.

“That is just another one of the requirements that I think is reasonable to consider,” America’s leading infectious disease expert told MSNBC in an interview.

Dr Anthony Fauci wears a face mask as he arrives for the White House Covid team’s regular call with the National Governors Association on Monday.
Dr Anthony Fauci wears a face mask as he arrives for the White House Covid team’s regular call with the National Governors Association on Monday.
Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Biden administration has thought about this move before , or one requiring either vaccination or proof of negative test. But given the resistance to vaccine mandates for health workers and other categories in the US, such a requirement could face legal challenges.

Here’s how we reported the pushback against mandates in the US earlier this year:

An illustration of the airline problem comes in the travel saga of two brothers from the US Pacific North-west.

Harley Garner, a 27-year-old creative strategist from Portland, and his brother, who lives in Seattle, were staying with their parents in Pahrump, Nevada, over the holidays and had planned to fly home on Sunday evening, Reuters reports.

Both brothers’ respective flights from Las Vegas – to Portland via Alaska Airlines and to Seattle via Allegiant Airlines – were cancelled on Sunday afternoon. Both managed to book seats on later flights.

When their second flights were cancelled, they decided at 3am on Monday to start driving. Their father took them to Bakersfield, California, where they planned to rent a car and then drive up to Portland and Seattle, totalling some 17 hours on the road.

Garner said the most frustrating part of the travel nightmare, which Alaska Airlines said was weather-related, although Portland was not experiencing severe weather on Monday, was the last-minute notification of cancellations.

Thousands more flights scrapped

More than 3,500 flights have been cancelled on Monday and Tuesday causing widespread disruptions for travellers all over the world as airlines crews succumb to the Omicron Covid strain.

According to flight tracker FlightAware, 2,700 flights have been cancelled on Monday and 860 more on Tuesday.

A Brazilian woman and her child wait for their flight at Miami airport.
A Brazilian woman and her child wait for their flight at Miami airport.
Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

In total, 11,000 flights have been cancelled since Friday thanks to the impact on crews, although bad weather has also played a part in cancellations in the US.

In more travel misery, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday it was investigating 68 cruise ships after reports of Covid-19 cases on board.

Updated

Good morning/afternoon/evening to you wherever you might be and welcome to our rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s a summary of the main developments:

  • Thousands more flights have been cancelled by airlines around the world, causing chaotic scenes at airports at one of the busiest times of the year for travel. Carriers scrapped 2,700 flights on Monday and a further 800 have already been dropped from Tuesday’s schedules. Dr Anthony Fauci said a vaccine mandate should be considered for all passengers in the US.
  • Boris Johnson will not introduce further Covid restrictions in England before 2022, giving mass events the go-ahead and leaving nightclubs open for New Year’s Eve – in contrast with devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scientists said it was “the greatest divergence between scientific advice and legislation” seen since the start of the pandemic.
  • The US Centre for Disease Control has reduced the recommended isolation time for people recording a positive test from 10 days to five. The CDC said these changes reflect the latest data on when the virus is most contagious.
  • Joe Biden said the dramatic surge in US Covid cases caused by the Omicron variant “should be a source of concern but it should not be a source of panic”.
  • France has narrowed the delay for a third booster shot to three months from four in response to the rapid spread of Omicron but there will be no curfew for New Year’s Eve. From Monday, all indoor gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people, and to 5,000 people for outdoor events. Consumption of drinks and food will be banned in long-distance transport and home working will become mandatory for at least three days per week where possible.
  • Denmark and Iceland reported record daily Covid cases on Monday. Denmark now has the world’s highest infection rate, with 1,612 cases per 100,000 people.
  • The number of patients in England admitted into hospital with Covid-19 has reached its highest level since mid-February after a 74% rise in a week. In London, hospital admissions have increased by 73%. A total of 8,474 people were in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of 8am today – the highest number since 5 March.
  • Scotland has recorded a record number of Covid cases over the Christmas weekend, hitting a high of 11,030 new cases on Boxing Day, the Scottish government has said. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is due to update a specially-reconvened sitting of the Scottish parliament on Wednesday about the spread of the virus and the impact on hospitals.
  • Paraguay has confirmed the country’s first Omicron cases, health officials said. The cases were detected in people who had travelled outside the country this month but the government has not taken immediate action on travel. Argentina reported its highest daily tally for six months with 20,263 cases.
  • Greece has announced further restrictions effective between 3 and 16 January to contain a further surge in Covid infections. Bars and restaurants will have to close at midnight and no standing customers at entertainment venues will be allowed. There will also be a maximum limit of six people per table.

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