Covid-19 has infected more than 279M people and killed over 5.4M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

State television said on Sunday a similar ban imposed in late November on travellers from South Africa and seven neighbouring countries was also extended for 15 days.
State television said on Sunday a similar ban imposed in late November on travellers from South Africa and seven neighbouring countries was also extended for 15 days. (AFP Archive)

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Iran bars travellers from parts of Western Europe over Omicron fears

Iran has banned the entry of travellers from Britain, France, Denmark and Norway for 15 days as part of curbs following the discovery of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the Middle East’s worst-hit country.

State television said on Sunday a similar ban imposed in late November on travellers from South Africa and seven neighbouring countries was also extended for 15 days.

Health authorities also indefinitely halted land travel to neighbouring Turkey, a popular tourist destination, the broadcaster said.

Iran, the pandemic’s epicentre in the Middle East, has reported just 14 confirmed Omicron cases so far but media reports said detection kits were not widely available and officials have warned of a possible rapid spread within weeks.

The country has suffered 131,400 deaths in five waves of Covid-19 infections since February 2020.

Nearly 51.3 million of Iran’s population of about 85 million have received two doses of coronavirus vaccine.

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Omicron grounds hundreds more US flights

US airlines have called off hundreds of flights for a third day in a row as surging Covid-19 infections due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant grounded crews and forced tens of thousands of Christmas weekend travelers to change their plans.

Commercial airlines canceled 656 flights within, into or out of the United States on Sunday, slightly down from nearly 1,000 from Christmas Day and nearly 700 on Christmas Eve, according to a tally on flight-tracking website FlightAware.com on Sunday.

Further cancellations were likely, and more than 920 flights were delayed.

The Christmas holidays are typically a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights with pilots and crew needing to be quarantined.

Delta Air Lines Inc expected more than 300 of its flights to be canceled on Sunday.

Jordan reports 295 omicron cases

Jordanian health authorities have confirmed 295 new cases of omicron variant.

Abdel Bilbeisi, the prime minister’s adviser on containing the Covid-19 pandemic, told the state news agency Petra that the new tally brought to 328 the number of omicron infections detected in the country.

Jordan’s virus tally reached 1,051,421 cases, including 12,444 fatalities.

The omicron strain has been found in some 80 countries since it was identified in November by scientists in South Africa.

The World Health Organization chief warned this week that the omicron variant “was spreading at a rate … not seen with any previous variant” and poses a “very high” global risk.

Oman sets double jab entry requirement for visitors

Omani authorities require foreign travelers aged 18 or older to have received at least two Covid-19 vaccine doses to enter the sultanate, the state news agency has reported.

The sultanate on Sunday also cancelled a previous decision that suspended entry from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique.

Algeria imposes vaccine pass to boost low inoculation rate

Algeria has started requiring a “vaccine passport” to enter a broad range of public venues, in a bid to boost the country’s low inoculation rate and overcome vaccine hesitancy that has left millions of vaccines unused.

The pass is now required for anyone entering or leaving Algeria, as well as for sports facilities, cinemas, theaters, museums, town halls and some other sites. It also applies to hammams – the bath houses that are popular across the region.

Less than a quarter of Algeria’s population has had even one vaccine dose, so the rule will be difficult to enforce.

It was announced in a government statement Saturday night and came into effect Sunday, leaving Algerians and businesses no time to prepare.

The government said the measure was aimed primarily at dealing with a rebound in infections from the delta variant. Only two cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in Algeria but authorities are bracing for more. The government said other measures could be taken in the coming days depending on the evolution of the epidemic.

Crystal Palace’s manager Vieira tests positive

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira has tested positive for Covid-19, the club has announced.

The 45-year-old Frenchman is self-isolating and misses the Boxing Day fixture against Tottenham Hotspur.

“Assistant manager Osian Roberts will deputize for Vieira for today’s match,” the club on Sunday said on Twitter.

With the spread of the omicron variant, coronavirus infections in the UK have hit all-time highs in recent weeks.

The Premier League has also seen a sharp rise in cases this month.

According to the league’s last update this week, 90 new positive cases were confirmed among players and staff between December 13-19, following 42 infections in the previous seven-day period from December 6-12.

France tops 100,000 daily cases

Covid infections in France hit six figures as health officials recorded 104,611 cases over the previous 24 hours.

The country has been recording high numbers for the third consecutive day.

The latest figures, from France’s public health agency come ahead of a video-conference meeting on Monday in which President Emmanuel Macron and key members of his government will discuss new Covid safety measures.

Officials are concerned about the effect of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Over 128.6M vaccine shots given in Turkiye to date

Turkiye has administered more than 128.65 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines since it launched an immunisation drive this January, according to official figures.

Nearly 56.8 million people have received a first jab and over 51.4 million are fully vaccinated, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

Turkiye has also given third booster shots to more than 17.2 million people.

Earlier this week, Turkiye’s homegrown Covid-19 vaccine Turkovac was cleared for emergency use, and will be rolled out in the country starting next week. 

The Health Ministry also confirmed 20,138 new infections, 173 deaths and 21,214 recoveries over the past day.

As many as 351,965 virus tests were done in the past 24 hours.

Italy reports fall in cases, 81 deaths

Italy has reported 81 coronavirus-related deaths against 144 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new cases fell sharply as testing plunged over the Christmas weekend.

Following three successive days of record numbers of cases, the health ministry on Sunday said just 24,883 new infections were registered in the last 24 hours, down from a previous 54,762.

Only 217,052 tests were carried out over the past day, compared with 969,752 announced on Saturday, the health ministry said.

Italy has registered 136,611 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth highest in the world.

It has reported 5.65 million cases to date.

First Omicron case detected in Gaza

The Palestinian health ministry said it had identified the first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the Gaza Strip.

The carrier is a Gaza resident who was infected within the coastal territory, ministry official Majdi Dhair told a news conference.

Gaza, with a population of 2.2 million people, has registered 189,837 Covid-19 cases and 1,691 deaths.

Japan’s Aichi prefecture finds two community cases of Omicron 

Central Japan’s Aichi prefecture has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 resulting from community spread, Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura said.

The infections were found in a teenage girl and her mother, neither of whom had recently travelled abroad, while the transmission route was unclear, Omura told a news conference.

China’s local Covid case count driven to 21-month high by Xian outbreak

China has reported its highest daily rise in local Covid-19 cases in 21 months as infections more than doubled in the northwestern city of Xian, China’s latest Covid hot spot.

The city of 13 million, which entered its fourth day of lockdown, detected 155 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms for Saturday, up from 75 a day earlier, official data showed.

That drove the national daily count to 158, the highest since China managed to contain a nationwide outbreak in early 2020.

Australia’s New South Wales sets new daily case record

Australia’s most populous state has reported a record number of new Covid-19 cases and a sharp jump in hospitalisations while thousands of people were isolating at home after contracting the virus or coming into contact with someone who has.

New South Wales reported 6,394 new infections, up from 6,288 a day earlier. Case numbers in the state have surged over the past two weeks but hospitalisations have lagged behind new infections.

More than 70 percent of cases in some Australian states are the omicron variant of the coronavirus but New South Wales does not routinely carry out genome testing to identify the variant.

India to administer vaccines for aged 15 and up in Jan

India will open its Covid vaccination drive for adolescents and start administering booster doses to its at-risk adult population, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced.

“Omicron is a matter of discussion right now,” Modi said.

It is time to be “careful and cautious”, he added, announcing that vaccines will be available for children aged 15 and up from January 3.

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Israel buys 100K Pfizer’s anti-Covid pills

Israel has ordered 100,000 units of Pfizer anti-viral Covid-19 pill Paxlovid for people aged 12 and older at risk of severe illness, an Israeli official said. 

Channel 12 TV said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett agreed the deal in a phone conversation with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

There was no immediate confirmation from the company.

The first oral and at-home treatment for Covid-19, Paxlovid was nearly 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from Pfizer’s clinical trial.

China reports 206 new Covid-19 cases

China reported 206 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Dec. 25, up from 140 a day earlier, its health authority said.

Of the new infections, 158 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 87 a day earlier. Most of the new local cases were in the northwestern province of Shaanxi.

China reported 29 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, up from 24 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,6 36. Mainland China had 101,077 confirmed cases as of Dec. 25.

Dominican Republic reports first Omicron case

The Dominican Republic has identified its first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the health ministry of the Caribbean country said.

In a statement on Twitter, the ministry said Omicron had been identified in a person with mild symptoms who had arrived in the country from South Africa.

The ministry also said it had later been informed by Chilean authorities that a person who traveled to Chile from the Dominican Republic had tested positive for Omicron.

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