The pace of new cases in Germany eased further even as the leader of the country’s most populous region said restrictions to slow the spread of the virus are needed into next year.
Limits on social contact and other measures will be required into 2022 due to the impact of the omicron strain in Germany, Hendrik Wuest, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, said in an interview with DPA. In Australia, the two most populous states reported a surge in infections, with New South Wales registering the most new cases in a 24-hour period since the start of the pandemic.
Tokyo plans to expand the number of testing locations where patients can take free PCR tests to 180 from later this month, Nikkei reported. U.S. airlines scrapped more than 1,000 flights for the holiday weekend because of personnel shortages linked to a spike in omicron cases as well as some bad weather.
Germany Reports 22,214 New Covid Cases (3:13 p.m. HK)
The country recorded a total of 22,214 new cases, compared with 35,431 the day before, according to the nation’s public health authority RKI. Germany’s 7-day incidence rate dropped to 242.9 per 100,000 people.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has warned of a “massive fifth wave” of the virus powered by omicron, though for the time being the infection rate continues to decline from a peak in late November.
Tokyo Expands Testing Sites to Combat Omicron (3 p.m. HK)
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike plans to expand the number of testing locations where patients can take free PCR tests to 180 from Dec. 27, the Nikkei reported.
The new measures began on Saturday at 15 locations, and are aimed at bolstering the city’s defense against the omicron variant after the capital’s first community spread case was found Friday.
Malaysia Suspects First Local Omicron Case (11:44 a.m. HK)
Malaysia has a total of 62 cases of the omicron coronavirus variant, one of which is suspected to be the country’s first incident of local transmission, according to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
The probable local case was reported in the Borneo state of Sarawak on Dec. 24, in a 38-year old Chinese national. The individual is vaccinated and has been working with a local engineering company for three years and hasn’t traveled abroad during that period.
China Reports 140 Cases, 75 in Xi’an City in Lockdown (9:23 a.m. HK)
China reported a total of 140 new infections across the country, of which 87 were local, according to a statement by the National Health Commission on Saturday. In the western Chinese city of Xi’an, where 13 million residents have been placed under a lockdown since Thursday, 75 new local cases were identified.
Australia’s Biggest State Hits Covid-19 Record (8:09 a.m. HK)
In New South Wales, where Sydney is the capital, 6,288 cases were reported on Christmas morning. Some 383 people are currently hospitalized with the virus in the state. Further south, Victoria recorded about a third of the number with 2,208 new infections. Active case numbers in intensive care declined in both states.
With about 91% of people 16 years and over double-dosed, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said lockdowns are no longer necessary. Delivering his annual Christmas message, the leader urged the nation to “overcome and to push through.”
New York Positive Rate Tops 12% (4:45 p.m. NY)
New York State set a new record for daily Covid-19 infections — 44,431, almost 5,600 more than a day earlier. That amounted to 12.4% positive rate, Governor Kathy Hochul said at a briefing.
Hospitalizations totaled, 4,744, or 210 more than on Thursday.
Hochul also said essential workers who test positive may — with their employers’ permission — return to work five days after a positive test, cutting in half the current waiting period.
Those wanting to get back on the job must be vaccinated, fever-free for 72 hours and be able to wear a mask. Hochul’s policy came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed a shorter isolation period for some individuals, to seven days instead of 10, for health care workers.
Pope Celebrates Mass for 2,000 (3:30 p.m. NY)
A maskless Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve Mass before an estimated 2,000 people in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, the Associated Press reported.
Some 2,000 people were allowed to attended, 10 times more than last year when Italy was in a full Christmas lockdown, but a fraction of the 20,000 capacity of St. Peter’s, AP said.
French Cases Hit Another Record (1:25 p.m. NY)
French infections hit a record for a second straight day, topping 90,000 again, as the omicron variant takes hold in much of Europe. Deaths totaled 169 on Friday, according to data from the public health office.
President Emmanuel Macron will convene his health defense council on Monday to discuss the coronavirus, AFP reported, citing the president’s office.
The government intends to adopt a system requiring people to be fully vaccinated to enter bars, restaurants and cultural venues starting as soon as early January, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Tuesday.
Christmas Travel Chaos Deepens (12:50 a.m. NY)
Air carriers scrapped more than 1,000 U.S. flights for the holiday weekend, led by United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, as surging Covid infections and the prospects of bad weather disrupted Christmas travel.
The global tally exceeded 3,500 trips for Friday and Saturday, according to data tracker FlightAware.com. China Eastern and Air China ranked one-two, and the most-affected airport was in the Chinese city of Xi’an, where the Beijing government cracked down under its Covid Zero policy after an outbreak.
U.K. Cases at Another Record (11:16 a.m. NY)
U.K. Covid-19 cases hit a record for a third day on Friday, at 122,186, up from 119,789. Another 137 deaths were confirmed.
Earlier, the U.K. Health Services Agency said that another 23,719 cases of the omicron variant had been identified, up 41% from the 16,817 cases of the strain seen on Thursday.
An estimated one in 25 people across England — more than 2 million people — had Covid as of Dec. 19, according to Office for National Statistics modeling.
The nation continues to line up in large numbers for booster shots. More vaccine centers have opened across the country — including in shopping centers, football stadiums and pop-ups such as vaccine buses.
Ireland Hits Daily Case Record (10:50 a.m. NY)
Ireland reported its most daily coronavirus cases on record, with the omicron variant now dominant in the country.
There were 11,182 newly confirmed cases, the health ministry said in a Twitter post. That’s almost 3,000 more than the previous peak in January.
While hospitalizations have eased in the past month and are at their lowest since October, the government has warned they may increase in the days ahead.
Portugal Cases Highest Since January (10:27 a.m. NY)
Portugal on Friday recorded 12,943 new daily coronavirus infections, the highest level since Jan. 29, as authorities prepare to impose new restrictions, including closing bars and nightclubs, to fight the pandemic during the holiday season.
There were 11 fatalities in a day, taking the total to 18,851 deaths, Portugal’s Directorate General of Health said in a statement. Hospitalizations have crept up recently, but remain far below last winter’s levels. Portugal has one of the highest coronavirus vaccine levels in the world.