COVID cases hit record highs in US, parts of Europe

The risk posed by the Omicron variant is still “very high”, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, after COVID-19 case numbers shot up by 11 percent globally last week.

Omicron is behind the rapid virus spikes, the WHO said in its COVID weekly epidemiological update, having overtaken the previously-dominant Delta variant in several nations, including the United Kingdom and the United States.

The news comes as several European countries, including France, the UK, Italy, Greece, and Portugal all hit record daily infections. France reported almost 180,000 cases in a 24-hour period on Tuesday.

Malta registers COVID record

Malta has registered a record number of new COVID-19 infections, with 1,337 cases detected over the past 24 hours.

The development marked the fifth time in eight days that the number of daily infections hit a new high figure on the Mediterranean island, despite a high rate of mass vaccination. However, hospitalisations stayed low at just 82 virus patients.

About 95 percent of the island’s residents have received two doses of a vaccine and some 200,000 people – out of a population of about 500,000 – have received a booster dose, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Tuesday.

France to report 208,000 new COVID cases: Minister

The French health ministry will report 208,000 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, a national and European record, Health Minister Olivier Veran says.

Veran’s announcement came after France on Tuesday reported a new high of nearly 180,000 new confirmed cases over a 24-hour period.

Greece introduces new curbs as Omicron spreads

Greece will roll out new restrictions on the hospitality sector from Thursday, bringing forward measures planned for early January as COVID-19 infections surge.

The decision came after authorities announced a new daily record of 21,657 cases on Tuesday, more than double compared to Monday. Authorities said Omicron now appeared to be the dominant variant circulating nationwide, barely a month after it was first detected.

Bars, nightclubs and restaurants will be forced to close at midnight, with no standing customers and no music, with the exception of New Year’s Eve when then can stay open until 2am.

Authorities had already moved to introduce other restrictions last week, mandating masks in open spaces and banning Christmas and New Year festivities in public places.

Daily cases surpass 2,000 mark in UAE

Daily infections in the UAE, the Gulf region’s tourism and commercial hub, have risen above 2,000 for the first time since June.

Authorities on Wednesday recorded 2,234 new infections in the past 24 hours, without breaking down the cases by variant. The UAE, which is hosting the Dubai Expo 2020 world fair, announced its first known case of the coronavirus variant Omicron earlier this month.

Daily cases had fallen below 100 in October but started to climb again in December as tourists flocked to Dubai during the holiday period. The UAE, a federation of seven emirates, saw daily infections hit a record near 4,000 last January amid the peak tourism season as millions of visitors travelled to Dubai to escape lockdowns at home.

PM urges Britons to get booster jabs

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is urging people to take COVID-19 booster vaccines, saying the overwhelming majority of people admitted to hospital intensive care units with the disease had not received their third jab.

“I’m sorry to say this, but the overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care in our hospitals are people who are not boosted,” he told reporters on a visit to a vaccine centre. “I’ve talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90 percent .”

Johnson also said people should celebrate with caution on New Year’s Eve after he decided not to bring in tougher restrictions to curtail the UK’s virus caseload.

China’s Xian in COVID lockdown for 7th day

A lockdown of 13 million people in the Chinese city of Xian has entered its seventh day, with many unable to leave their residential compounds and relying on deliveries of necessities as new COVID-19 infections persisted.

Xian reported 151 domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Tuesday – nearly all of the 152 cases nationwide – bringing the total number of local cases to nearly 1,000 in the December 9 to 28 period. No cases of Omicron have been announced in the city so far.

While the Xian outbreak is small compared with outbreaks in many other places around the world, officials have imposed tough curbs on travel within and leaving the city since December 23, in line with Beijing’s drive to immediately contain outbreaks as they appear.

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