U.K. Omicron Cases Triple; Biden to Address Surge: Virus Update
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden is set to warn the nation of the perils of remaining unvaccinated in a speech Tuesday as omicron takes hold in the U.S. and infections surge. Harvard University will move classes online for the first three weeks in January.
New reported omicron cases in the U.K. tripled in a day, with England “almost certain” to be suffering hundreds of thousands of daily cases of the new variant, experts said. London was put under an emergency alert, as the U.K. government was reported to be considering a two-week ban on people in England gathering indoors.
- Virus Tracker: Cases pass 274.1 million; deaths top 5.3 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 8.66 billion shots given
- Travel Tracker: Covid cases rise, and border tightening follows
- Omicron gets around previous Covid infection, study warns
- Inside South African virology labs: Hunting for the next variant
- What we know about omicron, the new virus variant: QuickTake
Biden to Address Omicron Spread, Unvaccinated (3:15 p.m. NY)
President Joe Biden is set to warn the nation of the perils of remaining unvaccinated against the coronavirus in a planned speech Tuesday as the omicron variant takes hold in the U.S. and the nation experiences a surge in cases.
“We are prepared for the rising case levels, and @POTUS will detail how we will respond to this challenge,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki
Biden will announce new steps the administration is taking to help communities in need of assistance, while also issuing a stark warning of what the winter will look like for Americans that choose to remain unvaccinated, according to a White House official.
Cyprus Tightens Rules for U.K. Visitors (2:14 p.m. NY)
Cyprus is tightening rules for travelers from the U.K., requiring quarantine while arrival test results are processed, the Associated Press reported, citing the Health Ministry.
The ministry said the new rules were in reaction to the “drastic increase” in infections from the omicron variant in the U.K. Passengers who test positive must isolate until health officials give instructions. Also, visitors will be given five rapid tests that they must use during their stay even if their initial PCR test is negative.
Netherlands Returns to Strict Lockdown (1:18 p.m. NY)
The Dutch government announced plans to enforce a stricter lockdown to stem a surge of infections caused by the spread of the omicron variant.
“Omicron spreads even quicker than we feared. That is why we have to act now, to prevent worse,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Saturday at a news conference in The Hague. “We are going back into a lockdown.”
The tougher measures mean the country pivots from evening restrictions that shuttered shops, bars and restaurants after 5 p.m. to a so-called full lockdown that allows only supermarkets and essential shops to stay open. They’ll take effect on Sunday and last until at least Jan. 14.
S. Africa’s Omicron Center Shifts (12:20 p.m.)
The center of a fourth wave of coronavirus cases in South Africa that’s being fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant has shifted from the economic hub of Gauteng to the nation’s second most populous province.
In the last 24-hours the largest share of new cases were from KwaZulu-Natal at 26%, compared with Gauteng’s 21% and Western Cape’s 18%, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement on Saturday.
Total daily infections stood at 16,080, a 40% decline from Wednesday’s record26,976 daily coronavirus cases.
English Soccer Body Makes Vaccine Plea (11:40 a.m. NY)
The chief executive of the English Premier League has written to its 20 clubs, urging them to “strongly encourage” players to get vaccinated.
“It has never been more important,” Richard Masters said in the letter. His comments come as six of the weekend’s top-flight matches were postponed because of Covid outbreaks at some of the clubs.
According to the BBC, 25% of players in the second-tier English Football League say they don’t intend to get inoculated.
U.K. Omicron Cases Triple; London on Alert (11:30 a.m. NY)
England is “almost certain” to be suffering hundreds of thousands of new omicron cases a day as the variant drives a new wave of the virus, the U.K. government’s scientific advisers said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” on Saturday due to the variant’s rapid spread across the capital, according to a statement. The move allows the city to coordinate emergency services and access government support.
Officially, the U.K. reported another 10,059 new omicron cases on Saturday, three times as many as Friday and an almost 16-fold increase in a week. The confirmed total for the variant now stands just under 25,000, the U.K. Health Security Agency said on Twitter. The variant accounts for the majority of U.K. cases, with 90,000 new infections overall reported on Saturday.
Harvard to Go Online in January (10:55 a.m. NY)
Harvard University will move classes online for the first three weeks in January, citing the increase of local Covid-19 cases and the spread of the omicron variant. “Please know that we do not take this step lightly,” the university said in a statement on Saturday. “Public health experts anticipate the increase in Covid-19 cases to continue, driven by the omicron variant, which we have now confirmed is already present in our campus community.”
German States Seek Stricter U.K. Travel Tests (9:27 a.m. NY)
Health officials from German states called on the country’s federal government to designate the U.K. as a virus variant area and require stricter testing of travelers.
People who are six years or older should have to show a negative PCR test conducted within 48 hours before their departure from variant regions, according to Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek.
The requirement would also apply if travelers are changing planes at a German airport, he said after leading a meeting with colleagues from other states on Saturday.
U.S. Over-Counted Seniors’ Shots (9 a.m. NY)
The U.S. government has over-counted the number of Americans who are at least partly vaccinated, state officials warn, meaning millions more people are unprotected as the pandemic’s winter surge gathers steam.
Last weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised a bellwether metric -- the share of people 65 and older with at least one shot. The agency reduced the proportion from 99.9%, where it had been capped for weeks, to 95%, without changing its raw shot totals.
In collating reams of data on vaccinations, the U.S. has counted too many shots as first doses when they are instead second doses or booster shots.
S. Africa Hospitalizations Decline (7:53 a.m. NY)
South African hospitals reported having slightly fewer Covid-19 patients than yesterday, the first decline in weeks.
Still, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, does caution that figures can be skewed by late reporting of admissions.
The hospitals have 7,915 Covid-19 patients, of which 6.7% are in intensive care units, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a report on Saturday.
Netherlands Prepares Further Curbs (6:26 a.m. NY)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to announce new steps to curb the spread of infections this evening.
The fresh curbs come after the government’s advisory team urged it to move to full lockdown as soon as is possible.
The omicron variant already represents 25% of new infections in Amsterdam, compared with 12% at the start of the week, virologist Menno de Jong told the TV show EenVandaag .
Moderna Omicron Shot Still in Test Phase (6:22 a.m. NY)
Moderna Inc.’s Europe Chief Dan Staner told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that its vaccine adapted to the omicron variant is still in the laboratory testing phase and no decision has been made yet on producing it.
While it takes less than three months to produce an updated shot for omicron, the timing will depend on what information regulators require to grant approvals. “The only quick solution to counter omicron today is the third dose,” Staner told the newspaper.
Ryanair CEO Calls for Anti-Vaxxer Ban (6:04 p.m. HK)
Ryanair Holdings Plc’s Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary thinks only vaccinated passengers should be allowed to fly, according to the Telegraph.
The newspaper said that the European airline chief pushed back against compulsory vaccine programs being rolled out in Austria and Germany in an interview. Instead, he thinks governments should “make life difficult” for people who refuse to take the vaccine without good reason.
U.K. Weighs Curbs on Indoor Meetings (5:59 p.m. HK)
The government is considering a fortnight-long ban on people in England gathering indoors after Christmas to slow omicron variant infections, the Times reported, citing people it didn’t identify.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hasn’t approved the plan, and advisers are waiting for more data about the new strain, the newspaper said. Johnson wants to review the impact of measures imposed over the past week, and may see no need to tighten rules further.
Japan to Decide on Border Curbs in New Year (4:22 p.m. HK)
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government will wait until after the New Year holiday season to determine whether to extend border control measures it put in place amid concerns over the omicron Covid-19 variant, Kyodo reported.
The government wants to see the trend of omicron infections during the holiday period before deciding whether to prolong the measures, Kishida told reporters, according to Kyodo. The measures were initially implemented at the end of November for a one-month period.
Germany Records Fewer New Daily Infections (1 p.m. HK)
Germany reported a total of 42,813 new cases, compared with 50,968 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI. New deaths associated with the virus rose by 414, bringing the total to 108,053. The 7-day incidence rate dropped to 321.8 per 100,000 people
China’s Local Cases Rise to Highest This Month (10 a.m. HK)
China reported 125 new coronavirus cases for Friday, of which 89 are local, according to the National Health Commission. That’s the biggest daily tally for local infections since Nov. 30 when the country had 91 domestic cases, all in Inner Mongolia. The nation is facing heightened pressure as it seeks to stamp out recent flareups of the delta variant, while having detected its first omicron cases, putting its Covid Zero approach to the test.
China urged residents of higher-risk Covid areas not to travel unless necessary as the country goes into new year and spring festival holidays.
Cases Jump in Most Populous Australian State (9:34 a.m. HK)
Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales reported a record 2,482 Covid-19 cases Saturday, a day after easing international arrival rules for vaccinated travelers.
The infections in the state are the highest daily caseload for any Australian jurisdiction since the beginning of the pandemic. The omicron variant likely accounts for the majority of today’s cases and people should get booster shots as soon as they’re eligible, NSW Health said in a statement.
Still, in a state of more than 8 million people, only 206 people are hospitalized with Covid-19. Twenty-six are in intensive care and one death was recorded. The vaccination rate for the state is almost 95% of those aged 16 and over.
New Zealand Sees More Omicron Cases (9:30 a.m. HK)
New Zealand reported 39 new Covid-19 cases Saturday, confirming an additional four omicron infections in recent international arrivals, bringing the total new variant cases in managed quarantine to eight. Passengers arriving on flights with identified omicron cases will now have to complete all 10 days of isolation in a facility, authorities said in a statement.
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