Saudi Arabia registered its highest daily number of new COVID-19 infections so far, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, breaking through 5,000 cases.
Meanwhile, Germany reported more than 80,000 new coronavirus infections, the highest recorded in a single day since the pandemic began, as daily coronavirus infections in Bulgaria reached a record high of 7,062.
The European Medicines Agency says the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant across the continent is pushing COVID-19 towards being an endemic disease that humanity can live with.
Other key developments:
- Red Cross says Omicron threatens to overwhelm South Asia’s health systems
- The WHO predicts more than half of the people in Europe could catch Omicron by March.
- The WHO also said repeating boosters is not a good strategy against emerging variants of the virus, and that more effort has to be made to ensure poorer countries get their first course of the vaccines.
Here are the latest updates for Wednesday:
UK PM Johnson admits attending lockdown gathering, apologises
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has admitted to attending a garden party at his Downing Street residence during a coronavirus lockdown in May 2020, in breach of his government’s own pandemic rules.
Addressing the United Kingdom’s Parliament, Johnson said he wanted to “apologise” to the British people for his actions but deflected opposition demands for his resignation.
“I know the rage they feel with me over the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules,” he told the House of Commons during his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session.
Read more here.
UK’s PM faces Parliament over ‘partygate’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a parliamentary reckoning about another alleged breach of coronavirus rules that has prompted damning headlines and calls for him to quit.
Johnson is under fierce pressure to say whether he attended a boozy gathering in the garden of his Downing Street residence in May 2020, amid the country’s first strict lockdown.
“If the prime minister knowingly attended a party I don’t see how he can survive, having accepted resignations for far less,” Conservative Member of Parliament Nigel Mills told the BBC.
Morocco seeks foreign medics to plug pandemic gaps
Morocco is considering wage rises for health workers and tax incentives to attract foreign investors and doctors to plug shortages in the health system as it battles the pandemic and expands medical insurance, its health minister said.
Hospitals have an “acute shortage” of 32,000 doctors and 65,000 nurses, a number “that is difficult to rapidly train because only 1,200 doctors graduate a year”, Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb told Reuters news agency in an interview.
The government has also allowed doctors with a permit to practice abroad to work in Morocco.
German president calls for debate over COVID vaccine mandate
Germany’s president has called for a thorough debate over plans for compulsory coronavirus vaccinations in the country, saying such a drastic measure needs to be comprehensively justified.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has backed calls for a vaccine mandate and legislators are expected to begin debating a bill later this month.
“The exceptional situation of a pandemic increases the pressure for the state to act, but it doesn’t replace the requirement to weigh up arguments and balance interests,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the beginning of a roundtable debate with citizens on the issue.
“A vaccine mandate means a debate mandate,” he added.
Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial, said he would not take sides in the debate but urged those involved to have “respect for other positions, but also respect for facts and reason that must be and remain our common currency”.
Rwandans ‘flee’ to DRC over COVID vaccine rules
About 100 Rwandans have crossed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in recent days, saying they are fleeing the country because of COVID-19 vaccination rules, local sources said.
Small groups of Rwandans, travelling by canoe, have landed on the southern edge of Idjwi island in Lake Kivu which straddles the border, Karongo Kalaja, the administrator of Idjwi, told the AFP news agency.
“We have already recorded at least 100” arrivals, Kalaja said.
The authorities are interviewing them to find out why they crossed, he said.
Irish minister confident of easing COVID curbs from February
Ireland should be in a position to start easing restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 from next month once the number of people requiring critical care remains stable, a senior minister said.
The daily increase in the number of hospital admissions has also slowed in recent days and Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said if the critical care figure holds steady, the economy would emerge from the current curbs.
“I am very confident we will be able to ease restrictions as we go into February. The science says that this will be a short wave, if we can get through it with our hospital numbers down, then we will be able to start lifting restrictions,” Ryan, the leader of the junior coalition Green Party, told reporters.
Biden sending more COVID tests to schools to keep them open
The Biden administration is increasing federal support for COVID-19 testing for schools in a bid to keep them open amid the Omicron surge.
The White House announced that the administration is making a dedicated stream of five million rapid tests and five million lab-based PCR tests available to schools starting this month to ease supply shortages and promote the safe reopening of schools.
That is on top of more than $10bn devoted to school-based tests authorised in the COVID-19 relief law and about $130bn earmarked in that law to keep kids in school.
Saudi Arabia reports highest daily new COVID cases
Saudi Arabia has registered its highest daily number of new COVID-19 infections so far, health ministry data showed, breaking through 5,000 cases.
Cases in the kingdom, which has the Gulf’s largest population at about 35 million, have risen dramatically since the start of the year with the global spread of the Omicron variant.
The kingdom on Wednesday reported 5,362 new cases and two deaths, rising above the previous peak of daily infections in June 2020 of 4,919.
New COVID restrictions come into force in Sweden
A package of tightened restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus went into effect in Sweden.
Bars and restaurants licensed to sell alcohol now have to close by 11pm, groups at such establishments are limited to eight people and can only be served sitting down.
Adults have been explicitly encouraged to limit close indoor contact with people from other households and to avoid larger gatherings and celebrations. Indoor public events also face limits on attendance numbers.
The measures are to remain in place until further notice and will be reviewed every 14 days.
Russia prepares new measures as Omicron cases near 700
Russia has so far recorded 698 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant and will prepare new measures by the end of the week to combat its spread, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said.
Omicron has pushed COVID-19 cases to record highs in parts of Western Europe and the United States, but the variant has been slower to hit Russia, where daily COVID cases have fallen from a peak of 41,335 registered in early November.
Data compiled by the Reuters COVID-19 tracker show Russia’s reported pandemic death toll stands at more than 666,000, the second-highest in the world behind the US.
Speaking to President Vladimir Putin at a televised government meeting, Golikova said Russia could see COVID-19 cases increase “several-fold” in light of the new variant.
“We are preparing additional measures for an urgent response,” she said. “The proposal will be formulated by the end of the week.”
Austria’s daily COVID infections hit record
Austria’s daily new coronavirus infections have risen to a new record of 18,427, newspaper Kronen Zeitung reported as cases have been surging because of the spread of the extremely contagious Omicron variant.
Daily figures are due to be published later on Wednesday.
Hungary’s daily tally of new COVID cases jumps
Hungary’s daily tally of new COVID-19 cases jumped to 7,883 from 5,270 reported a week earlier, but the number of patients treated in hospital declined over the week, the government said.
The government said 29 percent of the new infections were caused by the new Omicron variant, but some private labs have reported much higher figures.
In Hungary, a country of 10 million, 40,083 people have died of COVID-19. There are 2,758 coronavirus patients in hospitals now, including 257 on ventilators.
France says early to tell if COVID wave has peaked
French Health Minister Olivier Veran said it was too early to say if the current, Omicron-fuelled wave of the new coronavirus had peaked in the country, which is currently reporting record numbers of daily new cases.
“We still need a bit of time to work out whether or not we are near a current COVID peak,” Veran told France Info radio, adding that the more dangerous Delta variant was declining in France.
French health authorities on Tuesday reported 368,149 new coronavirus cases, the highest single-day tally of the pandemic. And the seven-day moving average of new cases, which smoothes out reporting irregularities, rose to a record level of 283,394.
Kyrgyzstan reports first cases of Omicron
Kyrgyzstan’s healthcare ministry said it had confirmed the Central Asian nation’s first cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Bulgaria’s daily coronavirus infections at record high
Daily coronavirus infections in Bulgaria reached a record high of 7,062, largely fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, official data showed.
New cases, on the rise since the beginning of the year, surpassed a previous peak set in late October, when the European Union’s least vaccinated member state grappled with the Delta variant.
The virus has killed 89 people in the past 24 hours in the Balkan country, according to official figures, bringing the total death toll to 31,761.
More than 5,200 people were in hospitals, including 580 in intensive care. In the capital, Sofia, planned operations have been suspended as hospitals prepared to expand wards for COVID-19 patients.
Health authorities have said a surge in hospitalisations may mean new restrictions.
Germany’s COVID cases hit daily record
Germany reported 80,430 new coronavirus infections, the highest recorded in a single day since the pandemic began, as the contagious Omicron variant rips through a population with lower vaccination rates than some other parts of Europe.
The previous daily record, on November 26, was more than 76,000.
Germany’s tally of infections now stands at 7,661,811. The death toll also rose by 384 on Wednesday to reach 114,735.
The seven-day incidence rate, a key yardstick in deciding coronavirus policy, has ticked up steadily since the start of the year, to stand at 407.5 cases per 100,000 people on Wednesday, versus 387.9 the day before.
COVID infections in Japan’s Osaka to nearly triple
Japan’s western prefecture of Osaka expects to record about 1,700 new coronavirus cases, roughly tripling from a day earlier in their first rise beyond 1,000 since mid-September, public broadcaster NHK said.
The prefecture had 613 cases on Tuesday, NHK added.
‘No vaccine, no ride’: Limits imposed on Manila public transport
The Philippine government issued an order on Wednesday that would ban unvaccinated residents of Metro Manila from public transport, amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases.
The order was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte’s transport secretary, Arthur Tugade, on Tuesday, and was released to the public on Wednesday.
The order applies to all domestic travel to, from and within Metro Manila via all forms of public transport.
Read more here.
Red Cross: Omicron threatens to overwhelm South Asia’s health systems
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said from India to Nepal and Bangladesh, hospitals are reporting “alarming increases” in infections, including a 2,013 percent increase in India in the past month.
“This latest surge of COVID-19 spells immense danger for millions of people and health systems across South Asia. Omicron is spreading fast and while vaccination rates have been soaring, after such tragic loss of life last year, fear is mounting of record infection rates,” Udaya Regmi, head of IFRC in South Asia, said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.
Djokovic admits error made on Australian travel entry form
Tennis star Novak Djokovic has admitted an incorrect answer on his Australian entry documents, breaching the country’s strict laws on reporting recent travel.
Djokovic said his travel declaration was filled in by his support team, which made an “administrative mistake” when they ticked the “no” box in response to whether he had travelled elsewhere in the 14 days before arriving in Australia.
Giving false or misleading information in the form is an offence, carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison, and a fine of up to 6,600 Australian dollars ($4,730) and can lead to cancellation of the offender’s visa.
Carrie Lam warns of COVID’s effect on Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam said the city could soon feel the negative effects of tougher quarantine curbs on aircrew, with the expected decline of cargo traffic and flow of supply of goods.
In a speech before the “patriots-only” Legislative Council, Lam said Hong Kong already had the strictest measures against imported COVID-19 infections and it was difficult to tighten them further.
S Korean officials test positive after attending US trade show
Reuters is reporting that more than 30 officials from major South Korean companies who attended the giant CES tech trade show in Las Vegas last week tested positive for COVID-19 while in the US.
About 20 officials from Samsung Electronics and six at SK Group, parent of energy firm SK Innovation and chipmaker SK Hynix, were among those who tested positive for the virus after attending CES, the sources said.
Hyundai Heavy Industries also said six of its employees who attended tested positive and were quarantined, and some have been released since.
South Korea’s daily infections back to above 4,000
South Korea’s health authority said its COVID-19 cases bounced back to above 4,000 for the first time in six days, possibly due to the Omicron variant.
At least 4,388 new cases were reported, including 4,007 local infections, raising the total caseload to 674,868, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
According to the Yonhap news agency, the government will assess later on Wednesday the risk level of the pandemic and decide on possible revisions to the current social distancing rules.
China’s Tianjin starts new round of COVID testing for 14 million residents
At least 14 million residents of the city of Tianjin in China have started a new round of COVID-19 testing to block the spread of Omicron.
Tianjin reported 33 domestically transmitted coronavirus infections with confirmed symptoms for Tuesday, up from 10 a day earlier, according to the country’s coronavirus monitor.
The city ordered a half-day off for employees at companies and other institutions on Wednesday and required them to remain at home to comply with the city’s second round of mass testing, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, China’s city of Shenzhen also reported four new cases of the virus. As of Monday, the city had completed more than 22 million tests in four days as the city also tries to contain the spread of COVID.
German trade body warns of huge supply chain disruption
In Germany, the country’s trade association has warned of significant supply chain disruptions due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus, but said a long-term collapse of the supply chains was unlikely.
“There is no risk of collapse, but of a massive disruption of the supply chain – at least temporarily,” BGA trade association president Dirk Jandura was quoted on Wednesday by Funke newspaper group as saying.
German industry has been hit by supply shortages of microchips and other components, while rising COVID-19 cases are clouding the outlook for retailers at the start of 2022.
Indonesia rolls out booster shots for free
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced on Wednesday that the country will be rolling out its COVID booster shots for free, according to the Jakarta Post.
The government had initially planned to ask the majority of Indonesia’s 270 million inhabitants to pay for the boosters out of their own pockets.
There have been concerns that the rollout could exacerbate vaccine inequity across the country. Only about 117 million Indonesians have been fully vaccinated out of a population of more than 270 million since the campaign began on January 13 last year.
Read all the updates from January 11 here.
Germany, Bulgaria report record daily COVID cases: Live – Al Jazeera English