I’ll be handing over blogging duties shortly, but if you’re just joining us these are the main developments in the pandemic in the past several hours:
- Thousands more flights have been cancelled by airlines around the world, causing chaotic scenes at airports at one of the busiest times of the year for travel. Carriers scrapped 2,700 flights on Monday and a further 800 have already been dropped from Tuesday’s schedules. Dr Anthony Fauci said a vaccine mandate should be considered for all passengers in the US.
- Hundreds of thousands more people were ordered to stay at home in northern China on Tuesday, joining millions under strict lockdown in Xi’an as the government tries to contain a worsening outbreak of Covid-19.
- Boris Johnson will not introduce further Covid restrictions in England before 2022, giving mass events the go-ahead and leaving nightclubs open for New Year’s Eve – in contrast with devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scientists said it was “the greatest divergence between scientific advice and legislation” seen since the start of the pandemic.
- The US Centre for Disease Control has reduced the recommended isolation time for people recording a positive test from 10 days to five. The CDC said these changes reflect the latest data on when the virus is most contagious.
- Joe Biden said the dramatic surge in US Covid cases caused by the Omicron variant “should be a source of concern but it should not be a source of panic”.
- France has narrowed the delay for a third booster shot to three months from four in response to the rapid spread of Omicron but there will be no curfew for New Year’s Eve. From Monday, all indoor gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people, and to 5,000 people for outdoor events. Consumption of drinks and food will be banned in long-distance transport and home working will become mandatory for at least three days per week where possible.
- Daily new coronavirus cases in Turkey surged 30% on Monday to 26,099, health ministry data showed, the highest percentage rise this year, as the health minister warned about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant:
- The number of patients in England admitted into hospital with Covid-19 has reached its highest level since mid-February after a 74% rise in a week. In London, hospital admissions have increased by 73%. A total of 8,474 people were in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of 8am today – the highest number since 5 March.
- Scotland has recorded a record number of Covid cases over the Christmas weekend, hitting a high of 11,030 new cases on Boxing Day, the Scottish government has said. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is due to update a specially-reconvened sitting of the Scottish parliament on Wednesday about the spread of the virus and the impact on hospitals.
Catching the Omicron variant means it’s more unlikely that you’ll get the Delta infection, according to a study in South Africa, Reuters reports.
The study, by the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that people who were infected with Omicron, especially those who were vaccinated, developed enhanced immunity to the Delta variant.
The analysis enrolled 33 vaccinated and unvaccinated people who were infected with the Omicron variant in South Africa.
While the authors found that the neutralization of Omicron increased 14-fold over 14 days after the enrolment, they also found that there was a 4.4 fold increase of Delta virus neutralization.
China shuts down another city
Hundreds of thousands more people were ordered to stay at home in northern China on Tuesday, joining millions under strict lockdown in Xi’an as the government tries to contain a worsening outbreak of Covid-19.
Yan’an, which is about 300km (186 miles) from Xi’an, ordered the closure of businesses on Tuesday and told hundreds of thousands of people in one district to stay indoors.
China has followed a “zero-Covid” strategy as Beijing prepares to welcome thousands of overseas visitors to February’s Winter Olympics.
But authorities have faced a resurgent virus in recent weeks, reporting 209 infections on Tuesday – the highest single-day tally since March last year, when the virus was only beginning to spread around the world from the city of Wuhan.
Indonesia detects first Omicron case
Reuters reports that Indonesian health authorities were conducting contact tracing on Tuesday after detecting the Southeast Asian country’s first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the community, health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi said.
It says: The first confirmed case was a 37-year-old male who was from the city of Medan and had visited a restaurant in Jakarta’s central business district earlier this month, Tarmizi told a news conference. The man had no recent history of overseas travel or contacts with international travellers, Tarmizi said, adding he was asymptomatic and was in isolation at a Jakarta hospital.
Daily new coronavirus cases in Turkey surged 30%
Reuters reports that daily new coronavirus cases in Turkey surged 30% on Monday to 26,099, health ministry data showed, the highest percentage rise this year, as the health minister warned about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant:
Turkey’s daily case levels have been below or about 20,000 in December, down from about 30,000 in October. The number of deaths due to coronavirus fell to 157 on Monday from 173 a day earlier.
“The Omicron variant is spreading more quickly than the other variants,” health minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter late on Monday. “You must be careful and get your booster shot done.”
Agence France-Presse reports that Delta Air Lines on Monday cited new Chinese cleaning requirements after it rerouted a China-bound flight back to the United States, drawing criticism from Chinese authorities.
The report states:
The December 21 flight was supposed to land in Shanghai after disembarking from Seattle, but instead returned to the US city midair. Delta said the reason for the reversal was new Chinese requirements issued earlier that day in the wake of the latest Covid-19 surge.
“The new cleaning procedures require significantly extended ground time and are not operationally viable for Delta,” a Delta spokesman said. “We apologize for any inconvenience this is causing for customers as we continue to work on rebooking on alternate flights.”
The Chinese consulate in San Francisco complained that several Chinese citizens were stranded on board with expired visas and Covid-19 tests that no longer met time requirements, according to Chinese state media.
Airlines, including Delta and other leading US carriers, have canceled thousands of flights in recent days as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 hits airline workers and roils travel plans for many consumers.
In three days time, on 31 December, it will be the second anniversary of the day that health authorities in Wuhan reported an unknown pneumonia outbreak to World Health Organization (WHO) colleagues in Beijing.
This time last year, Michael Standaert visited Wuhan to report on how the city had changed since the emergence of the coronavirus.
Our colleagues in Australia report that 486 people who were initially told by a Sydney clinic that their Covid test had a negative result were actually positive.
That is a total of 886 people to whom St Vincent’s hospital mistakenly gave the all clear. First, 400 people were told on Christmas Day that their result was negative, only to be told later they were positive.
Yesterday the hospital’s pathology department (SydPath) said another 950 people who were tested in the days before Christmas were “prematurely” sent a text message saying they were negative when their actual results had not yet been confirmed.
Of those 950 people, 486 were eventually found to be positive.
All of the Covid developments in Australia are wrapped up at their live blog:
Local authorities in Shaanxi province are cracking down on food hoarding and price gouging as 13 million people in its capital Xi’an entered a sixth day of strict lockdown and mandatory testing, writes our correspondent in Taipei, Rhoda Kwan.
The new rules, introduced on Sunday, introduced a reporting hotline and strengthened the monitoring of shops and markets. The hotline has received over 300 complaints in two days, most over an increase in the prices of daily necessities including eggs, meat and vegetables.
Authorities say they have investigated 33 illegal cases and have closed five by Tuesday.
The measures come as China is battling its worst community outbreak of the Delta variant since 2020 little over a month before Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympic games.