COVID news from January 4: The UK reports 218,724 cases as hospitals come under pressure due to staff shortages.
People walk past the site of a temporary field hospital in the grounds of St George's Hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London, UK, January 2, 2022 [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]
The United Kingdom’s coronavirus caseload has crossed 200,000 for the first time as hospitals come under increasing pressure due to staff shortages.
The government said on Tuesday it had logged 218,724 infections in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily total since the pandemic began – although it is a figure also was skewed by reporting lags during the holidays.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said that preliminary data from an Israeli study on the fourth coronavirus vaccine dose shows that it safely brings about a five-fold increase in antibodies that battle COVID-19.
More evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant is causing milder symptoms than previous strains, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Nearly 300 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 worldwide during the past two years, and more than five million deaths have been reported.
The live blog is now closed; thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for January 4:
4 Jan 2022 - 22:43 GMT
Meat processing industry in US weathering Omicron surge
The meat processing industry in the United States – which was hit hard by the spread of COVID-19 early in the pandemic – has weathered the recent surge in virus cases across the country without cutting production.
The latest numbers released by the US Department of Agriculture show beef and pork production running close to last year’s levels.
At the height of the outbreaks from March through June 2020, US meatpacking production fell to about 60 percent of its normal levels as several major plants were forced to temporarily close for deep cleaning and safety upgrades, or operated at slower speeds because so many workers became ill or had to quarantine.
4 Jan 2022 - 21:53 GMT
Coronavirus infections rising in Mexican tourist areas
COVID-19 infections are rising in Mexico, especially in two states that are prominent tourist destinations.
According to data from the federal government published on Tuesday, Quintana Roo, home to the beach resort areas of Cancun, Tulum and other spots along the Mayan Riviera, and Baja California Sur, which draws beachgoers to the twin Pacific resorts that make up Los Cabos – are experiencing some of their highest infection rates since the start of the pandemic.
4 Jan 2022 - 21:15 GMT
Omicron accounts for 95 percent of new infections in US
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data on Tuesday estimating that the Omicron variant accounted for 95 percent of new coronavirus infections last week.
This marks a dramatic reversal. Beginning in late June and through the end of November, more than 99.5 percent of coronavirus cases were delta variant infections.
The CDC’s estimates are based on coronavirus specimens collected each week through university and commercial laboratories and state and local health departments. More than 2.2 million cases were reported in the last week in the US.
4 Jan 2022 - 20:35 GMT
World cannot continue immunising every few months: vaccinologist
Speaking to Al Jazeera via Skype, vaccinologist Ali Fattom of the University of Michigan said he believes countries cannot continue to “immunise every three months” and have to allow the vaccines to work.
“The vaccine needs to build memory and that memory takes more than three months to build,” he told Al Jazeera.
“And therefore, each and every time that we have a little bit memory and we’re boosting, we’re not establishing memory that can be triggered upon exposure.”
4 Jan 2022 - 20:10 GMT
Biden pledges to improve testing capacity as US cases hit record high
US President Joe Biden has again urged Americans to get vaccinated – and pledged to tackle shortages for coronavirus tests as the spread of the Omicron variant intensifies.
Biden stressed that vaccines, booster shots and therapeutic drugs have mitigated the danger for most Americans who are fully vaccinated, and that the US government had enough vaccines and booster shots for all citizens.
“There’s no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated,” Biden said.
“This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”More than one million Americans tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, the highest daily total since the pandemic began. Given those numbers, Biden has faced serious criticism over a lack of testing capacity.
“We’re making improvements,” Biden said, acknowledging the situation is “frustrating”.
The White House has said that it would make 500 million rapid antigen tests available free, but it will be weeks, if not months, before those tests are widely available.
US President Joe Biden said that it would make 500 million rapid antigen tests available for free, but it could be weeks or even months before those tests are widely available. [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]
4 Jan 2022 - 19:45 GMT
US TV host Seth Meyers tests positive for COVID
This week’s remaining episodes of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” have been scrapped after the host tested positive for COVID-19.
Meyers tweeted Tuesday about his positive result but said he felt fine, thanking the vaccine and a booster shot. He hosted an original broadcast on Monday.
NBC has cancelled the four shows scheduled from Tuesday to Friday.
“Tune in next Monday to see what cool location we will try and pass off as a studio!” Meyers posted on Twitter.
4 Jan 2022 - 19:38 GMT
Spain reports record 14-day infection rate
Spain’s health ministry has reported a record in the national 14-day COVID-19 infection rate, as the figure climbed to 2,433.9 per 100,000 people, from 2,295.8 registered the previous day.
Intensive care occupancy reached 21.3 percent, a slight increase from 21.2 percent on Monday but still far below the peak of 45 percent recorded last February.
4 Jan 2022 - 19:17 GMT
No evidence Omicron wave has peaked in London: Scientific adviser
There is no evidence that a wave of Omicron COVID-19 cases in London has peaked, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said on Tuesday.
“It would be very wrong … to suggest that there’s a peak which means it’s all over in London,” Vallance told a news conference.
“It may well be flattening in some of the younger age groups, but it’s in the older age groups where we have the biggest risk of this turning into hospitalisation, and severe complications.”
4 Jan 2022 - 18:38 GMT
France reports 271,686 new COVID-19 infections
French health authorities said they registered 271,686 daily COVID-19 infections, the highest recorded tally.
France has reported more than 10.3 million cases to date [File: Christian Hartmann/Reuters]
4 Jan 2022 - 18:09 GMT
Fast-spreading Omicron could lead to more dangerous variants: WHO
Surging Omicron cases around the globe could increase the risk of a newer, more dangerous variant emerging, the World Health Organization in Europe warned.
While the variant is spreading like wildfire around the world, it appears to be less severe than initially feared and has raised hopes that the pandemic could be overcome and life return to more normality.
But WHO senior emergencies officer Catherine Smallwood sounded an ominous note of caution, telling the AFP news agency that the soaring infection rates could have the opposite effect.
“The more Omicron spreads, the more it transmits and the more it replicates, the more likely it is to throw out a new variant. Now, Omicron is lethal, it can cause death … maybe a little bit less than Delta, but who’s to say what the next variant might throw out,” Smallwood told AFP in an interview.
4 Jan 2022 - 17:47 GMT
Mauritanian president tests positive
Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani was displaying mild symptoms of COVID-19 after testing positive, the presidency said.
Ghazouani, who came to power in August 2019, was found to be infected after having a fever, it said in a statement posted on Facebook.
Mauritania recorded 490 new coronavirus cases on Monday, its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic.
President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould El-Ghazouani [File: Olivier Hoslet/Pool/Reuters]
4 Jan 2022 - 17:26 GMT
Britons face hospital crisis as COVID cases hit new high
The United Kingdom faced warnings of an impending hospital crisis due to staff shortages caused by a wave of Omicron infections, as the country’s daily COVID caseload breached 200,000 for the first time.
The 24-hour tally, after chalking up multiple records in the run-up to New Year, hit 218,724 and another 48 deaths were reported in the latest government data.
Hospital admissions have not hit anything like the peaks of previous waves of the pandemic and the number of people requiring ventilation has remained flat so far.
However, around 50,000 NHS staff were absent from work last week because they were ill or self-isolating, The Sunday Times has reported. At least six hospital trusts have declared critical incidents, which mean crucial services may be under threat.
4 Jan 2022 - 17:00 GMT
Cases of Omicron rising in Argentina: AJ correspondent
The Argentinian government has confirmed the amount of coronavirus cases, both Delta and Omicron, were rising sharply in the South American nation, Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo reported from Buenos Aires.
“The government confirmed that around 44,000 people tested positive on Monday,” she added.
“But experts are saying that that figure could be much higher – around 100,000 people mostly because people are not going in to test.”
Bo said one factor fuelling high infections Argentina could be that many people are going to the beaches or travelling across the country during summertime.
People wait in line to be tested for the coronavirus disease amid a spike in the cases, outside the Hospital Pirovano, in Buenos Aires, Argentina [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]
4 Jan 2022 - 16:42 GMT
Greece reports new high of 50,126 daily infections
Greece has reported a record 50,126 coronavirus infections, breaking a previous high of 40,560 registered on December 31.
As recently as December 27, only 9,284 new infections were recorded in a day. The number of deaths recorded in a day dropped to 61 from 78 on Monday.
4 Jan 2022 - 16:08 GMT
Djokovic given medical exemption to play at Australian Open
Novak Djokovic has ended speculation over his Australian Open title defence by announcing that he will compete at the season’s opening Grand Slam event after receiving a medical exemption from getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
The world number one, who had declined to reveal his vaccination status, said previously that he was unsure whether he would compete at the January 17-30 tournament in Melbourne due to concerns over Australia’s quarantine rules.
Tougher restrictions in England not needed for now: UK minister
The UK’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid believes there was nothing in the data to suggest the government needed to toughen coronavirus restrictions in England, but that it was still too early to know how hospitals would cope.
Javid said it was an incredibly challenging time for hospitals as the Omicron variant rises, including among older people, and around six hospital trusts have declared a critical incident due to a shortage of workers.
“There’s nothing in the data at this point that suggests we need to move away from Plan B,” he told reporters, adding that it was too early to say yet about hospitalisations. “The infection rate is very, very high.”
“Sadly, we are seeing hospitalisations rise, particularly in older age groups,” the minister added.
4 Jan 2022 - 15:39 GMT
CDC signs off on Pfizer extra dose measures
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed off on two measures to increase access to additional doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 jab.
The CDC has recommended shortening the recommended interval of time between when people who had an initial series of Pfizer vaccinations and when they receive a Pfizer booster shot, from six months to five months.
The agency also recommended that kids ages five to 11 with moderately or severely weakened immune systems receive an additional dose 28 days after their second Pfizer shot.
Currentl, only the Pfizer vaccine is recommended for the five -11 age group in the US [File: Tami Chappell/Reuters]
4 Jan 2022 - 15:17 GMT
Greece sets new price limits for COVID tests
Authorities in Greece have introduced new price limits for COVID-19 testing following a surge in demand due to a steep rise in infections blamed on the Omicron variant.
The country’s trade ministry said PCR tests at private facilities will be priced at a maximum of 47 euros ($53), including a 12-euro handling fee. The previous cap had been set at 60 euros ($68).
4 Jan 2022 - 14:51 GMT
Florida hospital’s maternity ward closes
A South Florida hospital has temporarily closed its maternity ward due to staff shortages related to recent outbreaks of COVID-19.
Mothers-to-be who had planned on giving birth at Holy Cross Health in Fort Lauderdale will have to find another option.
Holy Cross spokeswoman Christine Walker says in a statement: “In the best interest of patient safety, the Labor and Delivery unit is on diversion until further notice.”
Florida has recorded more than 4.1 million cases to date [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]
4 Jan 2022 - 14:26 GMT
Swedish king and queen test positive
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the palace said in a statement.
“The King and Queen, who are fully vaccinated with three injections, have mild symptoms and are feeling well, given the circumstances,” the palace said.
4 Jan 2022 - 14:08 GMT
CDC to clarify testing guidance for ending quarantine: US surgeon general
United States government health officials will issue a clarification on the role of COVID-19 testing related to a shortened five-day quarantine period for those testing positive for the virus, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said.
Murthy told CNN he expected the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue the clarification in the next couple of days but did not elaborate.
As the super-spreading Omicron variant raged across the country, the CDC last week shortened the recommended isolation time for Americans with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.
A healthcare worker reaches out to give a person a nasal swab to test for the coronavirus disease [Cheney Orr/Reuters]
4 Jan 2022 - 13:40 GMT
Israeli study finds fourth vaccine dose boosts antibodies five-fold: PM
A fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine boosts antibodies five-fold a week after the shot is administered, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, citing preliminary findings of an Israeli study.
“A week into the fourth dose we know to a higher degree of certainty that the fourth dose is safe,” Bennett said at Sheba Medical Center, which is giving second booster shots in a trial among its staff.
4 Jan 2022 - 13:18 GMT
Sweden sets new daily case record
Sweden set a new daily record for coronavirus infections, registering 11,507 cases on December 30, health agency data showed.
The daily infection figures are typically revised somewhat as any delayed records of additional cases are added to the national total for a given day. The previous record of 11,376 cases was set in late December 2020.
Sweden has recorded more than 1.35 million cases to date [File: Claudio Bresciani/TT news agency via Reuters]
4 Jan 2022 - 12:12 GMT
Romania’s daily infections double after holiday
The number of daily COVID-19 infections has more than doubled in Romania following an easing of restrictions during the winter holidays.
New infections stood at 3,900, more than double Monday’s number, but still far off a record high of 18,863 daily cases seen in October, official data showed. Some 47 people died of the virus within the last 24 hours.
The Health Ministry said it was expecting numbers to peak around January 15.
Romania is the European Union’s second-least vaccinated state, with roughly 40 percent of the population fully inoculated amid distrust in state institutions and poor vaccine education.
4 Jan 2022 - 12:03 GMT
US sets global record number of daily cases
The United States recorded more than one million COVID-19 cases on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
There were 1,080,211 new cases in the country, a global record, with the number of cases doubling on the previous week.
US pandemic adviser Anthony Fauci said the country was experiencing “almost a vertical increase” in cases, adding the peak may be only weeks away.
Rates of death and hospitalisation in the US have been far lower in recent weeks than during previous surges.
The World Health Organization’s Incident Manager, Abdi Mahamud, told a news conference more evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant is affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous strains.
However, he added that Omicron’s high transmissibility means it will become dominant within weeks in many places, posing a threat in countries where a high portion of the population remains unvaccinated.
Asked by media representatives in Geneva about whether an Omicron-specific vaccine was needed, Mahamud said it was too early to say but stressed that the decision required global coordination and should not be left to the commercial sector.
4 Jan 2022 - 10:39 GMT
South Korea court blocks vaccine pass requirement in private schools
A South Korean court has ordered that private educational facilities be temporarily excluded from government plans for COVID-19 vaccine pass mandates, the Yonhap news agency reported.
The injunction is one of the first legal blocks to rules requiring passes or testing for entry to a wide range of facilities including restaurants, cafes, gyms, and bars.
A Seoul administrative court ruled that the mandate for children at private facilities be blocked while it considers a legal challenge filed against the Ministry of Health by federations of private education and parents’ groups.
4 Jan 2022 - 10:14 GMT
French TV twins die within a week of each other
Two French TV star twin brothers have died within a week of each other after contracting the coronavirus.
The death of Igor Bogdanoff, 72, was confirmed on Monday evening, just six days after his brother Grichka Bogdanoff passed away in a Parisian hospital.
Instantly recognisable in France and a fixture of glossy celebrity magazines, they made their name on a science programme in the 1980s.
4 Jan 2022 - 09:42 GMT
Japan’s new daily cases highest in 3 months
The number of new infections in Japan has risen above 1,000 for the first time in three months, the Jiji news agency reported.
Japan had seen fewer cases in recent months, but experts had warned of a potential sixth wave of infections during the winter.
4 Jan 2022 - 09:14 GMT
Liner carrying infected passengers docked in Italy
Passengers have begun disembarking from the MCS Grandiosa liner carrying dozens of people who tested positive for the coronavirus.
State TV’s RaiNews24 on Monday reported that passengers testing positive numbered 150 and that most of them were Italian.
The Genoa daily newspaper Il Secolo XIX reported about 40 of those who tested positive got off the cruise ship in Genoa on Monday. Others would be disembarked in Civitavecchia, a port that serves Rome, or in Palermo, Sicily, it added.
Some 4,000 passengers in all on board the ship, which reached Genoa after sailing from Marseille, France.
4 Jan 2022 - 08:33 GMT
Beijing seals off its Olympic ‘bubble’
Beijing has sealed up its Winter Olympic “bubble”, preparing the stage for the world’s strictest mass sporting event since the global pandemic.
Thousands of Games-related staff, volunteers, cleaners, cooks and coach drivers entered the so-called “closed loop” with no direct physical access to the outside world.
That contrasts with the delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics, which allowed some movement in and out for volunteers and other personnel.
Roughly 3,000 athletes are expected to start arriving in the Chinese capital in the weeks ahead and will remain in the bubble from the moment they land until they leave the country.
A weekend curfew to try and curb the spread of the Omicron variant will come into force in India’s capital New Delhi, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told a news conference.
Sisodia said most offices will be mandated to have half their employees work from home.
4 Jan 2022 - 08:11 GMT
Japan promises new measures against Omicron
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to speed up coronavirus vaccine booster shots, secure imported supplies of drugs to treat COVID-19 and reorganise medical facilities, in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
Speaking to reporters after praying at the Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Kishida said the response will include making free coronavirus tests more readily available, while border controls will continue, he said.
Japan has shut out incoming travel except for returning residents and Japanese nationals since November.
4 Jan 2022 - 07:43 GMT
UK patients showing less severe symptoms
People being hospitalised with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom are broadly showing less severe symptoms than before, Britain’s vaccine minister said on Tuesday.
“At the moment, if you look at the people who have been hospitalised, they are going in with less severe conditions than before,” Minister for Vaccines and Public Health Maggie Throup told broadcaster Sky News.
“The numbers that are in hospital beds is about half what it was a year ago – and that just shows the power of the vaccine.”
Coronavirus cases in the UK were up 50 percent in the week from December 28 and January 3 compared with the week before, with the government advising people to work from home.
France’s lower house of parliament has suspended debates over a bill to make it mandatory for people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to go to a restaurant or cinema or take the train.
Tense discussions of the new law, which would remove the option of showing a negative test result instead of having the inoculations, were halted after midnight on Monday after a majority of deputies voted to suspend the session.
The heads of the various parliamentary groups must now set a new date for debates to resume.
The proposed tightening of the rules has angered anti-vaccination activists and some legislators say they have been subject to aggression including vandalism and violent threats.
4 Jan 2022 - 07:27 GMT
China locks down city of 1.2 million after 3 cases
More than one million people in a city in central China were being confined to their homes after three asymptomatic coronavirus cases were recorded.
Yuzhou, a city with a population of around 1.17 million people in Henan province, announced that from Monday night all citizens were required to stay home to control the spread of the virus.
Beijing has pursued a “zero-COVID” approach with tight border restrictions and targeted lockdowns since the virus first emerged. The strategy has come under pressure with a series of recent local outbreaks and with just a month to go until the Winter Olympics.
In Xi’an, a city of 13 million people that has been under lockdown for nearly two weeks, registered 95 fresh cases on Tuesday.
4 Jan 2022 - 07:24 GMT
Philippines widens curbs outside capital
The Philippines will expand coronavirus restrictions in Manila from Wednesday to include more than 11 million people living near the capital, the government said.
The provinces of Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal surrounding Manila have been placed under the third-highest alert “due to a sharp increase of COVID-19 cases”, presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said in a statement on Tuesday.
Under the tighter restrictions, which will be in place until mid-January, unvaccinated residents have to stay at home unless buying essentials or exercising. Restaurants, parks, churches and beauty salons will operate at lower capacity while in-person classes and contact sports are suspended.
Daily infections have spiked to a two-month high in January and the health department warned of higher caseloads in the coming days.
4 Jan 2022 - 06:18 GMT
India: Highest daily cases since September
India has reported the highest number of COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours since early September, bringing the total number of infections to 34.9 million.
Deaths rose by 124 to reach a total of 482,017, as Omicron overtook Delta in places such as the capital, New Delhi.
One of the newly infected people was Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal, who spoke at an election rally on Monday without wearing a mask.
Kejriwal said in a Twitter post he was quarantined at home and urged those who came in touch with him in recent days to be tested for COVID-19.
4 Jan 2022 - 06:15 GMT
Australia COVID-19 cases surge, hospitalisations rise
Australian officials reported a record of new daily 47,799 infections, a figure that eclipsed the previous high of 37,212 on Monday.
In New South Wales state, home to Sydney, hospital admissions rose to 1,344, a new pandemic peak, topping the 1,266 reached in September during the Delta wave. Numbers have more than doubled in a week, straining the health system.
New South Wales officials said 74 percent of patients in the state’s intensive care units since December 16 were infected with the Delta variant.
Australia’s antitrust regulator, meanwhile, said it had contacted suppliers of rapid antigen test kits to examine pricing pressures in the market, as calls grow louder for the government to make the tests free amid a severe shortage of kits.