Hundreds of far-right protesters gathered Bucharest, Romania on Tuesday to oppose a bill that would introduce a COVID pass or “green certificates” in workplaces to curb the spread of coronavirus infections.
Dozens forced their way into the parliament building’s courtyard and some tried to access the building but were stopped by riot police.
The United States is providing the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund and five other global aid groups an additional $580m to fight COVID-19, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Meanwhile, the WHO has said the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading faster than the Delta strain and is causing infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19.
Here are the latest updates:
UK’s Johnson to announce in 48 hours whether more restriction required: The Sun
Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make an announcement in the next 48 hours on whether to impose “circuit-breaker” restrictions in England to stem the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, The Sun newspaper reported.
It said Johnson is considering a return to “Step 2” curbs that would limit pubs and restaurants to outdoor service only and ban indoor mixing between households.
People who get booster will receive $100: NYC mayor
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday that residents who get a COVID-19 vaccine booster by the end of the year will receive $100 from the city.
Virus remains ‘extremely worrying’ across Europe: health agency
The director of the European Union’s drug regulator says that the COVID-19 situation “remains extremely worrying across Europe” with the continuing high levels of transmission of the delta variant and the swift spread of the omicron mutation.
European Medicines Agency director Emer Cooke said that “there’s no answer yet on whether we will need an adapted vaccine with a different composition to tackle this or any other emerging variants.”
Romanian crowd tries to storm parliament in protest at COVID-19 pass
Romanian protesters tried to force their way into parliament, blocking traffic and vandalising some cars in the capital Bucharest in an attempt to prevent lawmakers from making a COVID-19 health pass mandatory for workers.
Riot police were caught off guard when hundreds of protesters poured in through a yard gate, spray painting cars and forcing security staff to block the building’s entryways. The protesters later left. Police did not use force.
An estimated 2,000-2,500 people from across the country gathered outside parliament in the morning waving Romanian flags and chanting “Freedom,” in a protest organised by the opposition ultra-nationalist Alliance for Uniting Romanians (AUR).
UK offers $1.3 billion to businesses hurt by Omicron
Britain announced 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in grants and other aid to help the hospitality industry survive the onslaught of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, bowing to days of pressure from pubs, restaurants and other businesses that have seen their income plunge following public health warnings.
Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-time grants of up to 6,000 pounds ($7,954) each.
An additional 100 million pounds ($133 million) will be given to local governments to support businesses in their areas hit by the sudden spike in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly transmissible new variant.
Sweden tightens COVID restrictions as cases mount
Sweden will urge all employees to work from home if possible and impose tighter rules for social distancing, the government said on Tuesday, as it ratchets up restrictions aimed at fighting a surge in new infections of the COVID-19 virus.
The new rules also will also require seated-only service at bars and restaurants as well as at larger public events.
“We must now take joint responsibility and we need to adapt to the new reality,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told a news conference. “I understand that many are tired of this – so am I – but we now have a new virus variant, which means we are in a new situation.”
Swedish COVID cases could hit new peak in worst scenario: health agency
Sweden could see a more than 15,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in a worst-case scenario in mid-January, a record number, fresh projections from the Health Agency showed.
In previous waves of the pandemic, daily infections have peaked at just over 11,000 cases.
The new model projection factored in the spread of the more contagious Omicron variant, assuming it is 25 percent more contagious than the Delta variant and factored in varying degrees of protection offered by vaccines.
German committee recommends booster after three months
Germany’s STIKO vaccine authority shortened the recommended period between a second coronavirus shot and a booster to three months from six, reflecting the increasing presence of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
The authority said anyone over age 18 should have a booster using an mRNA vaccine three months after completing a two-shot course of COVID-19 vaccines.
STIKO previously recommended anyone fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine should wait six months after their last shot. For the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, that period remains four weeks.
Israel legislators approve US travel ban
Israeli legislators have approved a ban on citizens and residents from US travel, adding it to a list of more than 50 countries declared off-limits.
A parliamentary committee voted to approve a health ministry recommendation putting the US on Israel’s “red list” along with Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, and Turkey, committee spokeswoman Ronit Gal said in a statement.
Britain, France and Spain were among the countries already on the red list.
US to give additional $580m in international aid
The US will give $580m in additional aid to international organisations to fight COVID-19, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant reinforces that we must all continue to accelerate our efforts to end this pandemic and that none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” Blinken said in a statement.
The additional funds to seven multilateral agencies bring overall US assistance to $19.6bn, according to the State Department.
Read more here.
EU sets 9-month validity of vaccinations for COVID travel pass
The European Commission has adopted rules that will make the European Union COVID-19 certificate valid for travel nine months after the completion of the primary vaccination schedule, an EU official told Reuters.
The new rules will be binding on the 27 EU states from February 1, the official said. The rule can be blocked by a qualified majority of EU governments or a simple majority of European Parliament members, but officials have said there is sufficient support for it.
Swedish agency recommends shots for some 5- to 11-year-olds
Swedish children aged five to 11 who are sensitive to upper respiratory tract infections should be vaccinated against COVID-19, the country’s Public Health Agency has said.
“Based on the current situation, evidence and discussions with the Swedish Pediatric Association and the Medical Products Agency, the Health Agency recommends vaccination against COVID-19 to certain groups of children who are generally extra sensitive to upper respiratory tract infections,” the agency said in a statement.
Sweden had previously recommended vaccination from the age of 12, while the EU has recommended children aged five to 11 be vaccinated.
US to distribute 500 million COVID-19 tests
Faced with a surging Omicron variant, US authorities will distribute 500 million free COVID-19 tests, mobilise military medical personnel if needed and increase vaccination capacity, a senior White House official said.
“We have the tools to get through this wave,” he said, noting there are no plans to impose new restrictions. If Americans “are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, especially masking when travelling, they should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays”.
Hungary rejoins EU’s vaccine procurement system
Hungary decided to rejoin the EU’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement process to shield its population from the Omicron variant, ordering 9.5 million doses of the jab developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said during a news conference.
‘Cancel now, celebrate later’
NHL shuts down Wednesday through Saturday; 5 games postponed
The NHL is beginning a leaguewide shutdown Wednesday amid a rise of infections among players, and with 10 of the league’s 32 teams’ schedules already paused and their facilities closed.
The league announced that it will open its annual holiday break two days earlier than scheduled and have it run through Saturday. The decision, reached in coordination with the NHL Players’ Association, means five additional games scheduled for Thursday will be postponed, bringing the total this season to 49.
Thailand reinstates mandatory quarantine
Thailand will reinstate its mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for foreign visitors and scrap a quarantine waiver from Tuesday, a government spokeswoman said, due to concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant.
The decision to halt Thailand’s “Test and Go” waiver means visitors will have to undergo hotel quarantine, which ranges between seven to 10 days.
Moderna could be ready to develop Omicron booster in weeks: CEO
COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna does not expect any problems in developing a booster shot to protect against the Omicron variant and could begin work in a few weeks, Chief Executive Stephane Bancel said in an interview.
Moderna hopes to start clinical trials early next year on a vaccine to protect against the fast-spreading variant but for now is focusing on a booster dose of its current mRNA-1273 vaccine.
India reports 200 Omicron cases in 12 states
India has so far recorded 200 cases of the Omicron variant across 12 states, mostly in the western state of Maharashtra and the nation’s capital New Delhi, said the health ministry.
The country’s tally of Omicron cases has nearly doubled within a week, but there have been no deaths reported so far. In less than 40 percent of cases, patients either fully recovered or were discharged, the data showed.
India has been accelerating its vaccination campaign amid fears of potential surges in infections, with at least one dose given to 87 percent of the eligible 944 million adults.
Kuwait to make jab booster compulsory
Kuwait will require travellers arriving in the country to have the COVID-19 vaccine booster shot if more than nine months have passed since their vaccination, the government communication centre tweeted.
Kuwait will also require incoming travellers to quarantine at home for 10 days unless they receive a negative PCR test for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their arrival.
Australia PM rules out lockdowns despite Omicron surge
Australia must move past “the heavy hand of government” and authorities must stop shutting down people’s lives with COVID-19 lockdowns, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as daily infections in the country shot up to a new pandemic high.
“We have got to get past the heavy hand of government and we have got to treat Australians like adults,” Morrison told reporters, urging authorities to shift from “a culture of mandates” when it comes to masks and social distancing rules.
“We’re not going back to lockdowns. We’re going forward to live with this virus with common sense and responsibility.”
First Omicron-linked death reported in Texas
Texas’ Harris County has reported its first death related to the Omicron variant, a man who was unvaccinated, the county health department said in a statement.
It is believed to be the first known recorded Omicron death in the United States, broadcaster ABC News reported.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not immediately respond to a Reuters news agency request for comment on the issue.
The victim, aged between 50-60 years old, was at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 as he was unvaccinated, the health department said in a statement.
BREAKING—First #Omicron US death in Texas—in an unvaccinated man **reinfected** after previously having #COVID19. New convalescent blood? studies of survivors (of Alpha, Beta, or Delta variants) show little to no neutralization defense against Omicron. Please #Vaccinate& Boost? pic.twitter.com/SjB39XxjNU
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 21, 2021
New Zealand delays reopening plans
New Zealand said on Tuesday that it would delay its reopening plans until the end of February, fearing a rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
New Zealand had previously announced that non-quarantine travel would reopen by mid-January for New Zealand citizens and residents in Australia, and to foreign tourists by April.
“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans,” COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement.
Singapore finds suspected Omicron cluster in gym
Singapore’s Ministry of Health has announced that it has detected a cluster of three COVID-19 cases linked to a gym, of which two have tested preliminarily positive for the Omicron variant. The result for the remaining case is pending.
All three people were fully vaccinated and have mild symptoms.
The health ministry is ring-fencing the cases through contact tracing, it added.
Omicron now dominant strain in US
The fast-spreading Omicron variant is now the main coronavirus strain in the US, accounting for 73.2 percent of new cases over the past week for which data is available, according to health authorities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the spike for the week ending on Saturday.
Over the same time period in the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, Omicron accounted for 96.3 percent of new cases.