Live updates: 1 in 15 people in London likely has COVID-19

LONDON — New figures from Britain’s official statistics body estimate that about 1 in 25 people in private households in England had COVID-19 in the week before Christmas, as the highly transmissible omicron variant spread rapidly across the country.

The number jumped from 1 in 45 in the previous week, the Office for National Statistics said Friday.

One in 25 is the equivalent of about 2 million people with coronavirus in England, the highest number since the statistics body began estimating infection levels in May 2020.

The figure was even higher in London, the British capital, where officials said around 1 in 15 people was likely to test positive for the coronavirus in the week to Dec. 23.



— Muted New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world as omicron rages on

— US children hospitalized with COVID in record numbers

— UK estimates 1 in 15 had virus in London before Christmas amid omicron surge

— New COVID-19 cases in US soar to highest levels on record

— Do at-home COVID-19 tests detect the omicron variant?

— Canadian provinces adopt restrictions amid daily case records


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SYDNEY — In many places, New Year’s Eve celebrations were muted or canceled for the second straight year due to a surge of coronavirus infections, this time driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Even before omicron hit, many people were happy to say goodbye to a second grinding year of the pandemic.

But so far, at least, the omicron surge hasn’t resulted in the same levels of hospitalizations and deaths as previous outbreaks — especially among vaccinated people — offering a glimmer of hope for 2022.

Australia went ahead with its celebrations despite an explosion in virus cases. Thousands of fireworks lit up the sky over Sydney’s Harbor Bridge and Opera House at midnight in a spectacular display.

Hours before the celebrations began, Australian health authorities reported a record 32,000 new virus cases, many of them in Sydney. Because of the surge, crowds were far smaller than in pre-pandemic years, when as many as 1 million revelers would crowd inner Sydney.

Neighboring New Zealand had earlier opted for a more low-key approach, replacing its fireworks show in Auckland with a lights display projected onto landmarks including the Sky Tower and Harbor Bridge.


PARIS — Paris region health authorities have instructed hospitals to cancel more non-urgent medical procedures to free up intensive care beds for the growing influx of people gravely sick with COVID-19.

The regional health authority said Friday that it expects within days to surge past the mark of 50% of intensive care beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. The Paris region normally has about 2,000 intensive care beds but can create more by cancelling non-urgent surgical procedures. Paris region hospitals had already started that process but have now been instructed to speed up cancellations.

The region’s hospitals had about 740 COVID-19 patients in intensive care on Friday, up from about 600 a week ago. The regional health authority said the decision to clear more beds for COVID-19 patients is also driven by skyrocketing infection rates in Paris, including the doubling in a week of the incidence rate among people aged 65 and above.


ISTANBUL — Turkey’s health ministry is allowing a fifth dose as a booster for people who’ve received two doses each of Sinovac and BioNTech vaccines.

Healthcare workers and people above 65 started off their inoculation early this year with China’s Sinovac’s inactivated vaccine. They became eligible for a third and fourth doses with Pfizer-BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine in response to the highly-contagious Delta variant.

The fifth “reminder” dose would be available for people who had their fourth shot three months prior and appointments were opened Friday. Turkey is offering the two vaccine brands and began administering its domestically-produced inactivated vaccine Turkovac this week.

Turkish health ministry statistics showed nearly 40,000 new COVID-19 infections Thursday, more than double the number of cases a week ago. More than 83% of Turkey’s adult population have received two doses of vaccines and nearly 18.7 million people received a third.


ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s planning minister says his country has achieved a goal of fully vaccinating 70 million people by the end of 2021.

The announcement Friday comes as Pakistan has recently stepped up its vaccination campaign as the new omicron variant spreads.

Planning Minister Asad Umar took to Twitter to thank the health workers who worked to meet the goal.

Since last year, Pakistan has administered 155 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, fully vaccinating over 70 million in the South Asian nation of about 220 million people. It brings the vaccination rate to 44%.

Pakistan so far has mostly relied on Chinese vaccines, though it also has received millions of doses of vaccines under the COVAX scheme.


LONDON — Officials have warned revellers in Scotland and Wales to think twice before travelling to England to ring in the new year, highlighting how the four parts of the U.K. were again taking starkly different approaches to coronavirus restrictions amid record-high infections and soaring hospitalizations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted tightening restrictions in England despite the rapid spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant, instead focusing on frequent self-testing and an expanded vaccine booster program to control the spread of infections.

Meanwhile Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which set their own public health rules, imposed new restrictions this week that closed all nightclubs and limited social gatherings. Bars and pubs have had to return to table service only. In Edinburgh, which traditionally hosts one of Europe’s largest New Year’s Eve parties, people have been urged to stay at home.

While no formal travel ban is in place to stop Scottish party-goers from making their way to England on Friday, Scotland’s deputy leader John Swinney said travelling would be the “wrong course of action.”

Opinions have been divided on whether Johnson’s Conservative government was taking a risky gamble in not enforcing tougher coronavirus measures in England as the omicron variant drives infections to record high numbers.


MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday wished Russians positive changes in the new year, hailing their solidarity and strength in the face of tough challenges like the coronavirus pandemic.

In a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones, Putin said the nation of nearly 146 million has faced “colossal challenges but has learned to live in those harsh conditions and solve difficult tasks thanks to our solidarity.”

“We have continued to battle the dangerous pandemic that has engulfed all continents and isn’t retreating yet,” Putin said. “The treacherous disease has claimed tens of thousands of lives. I would like to express words of sincere support to all those who lost their dear ones.”

Russia’s state coronavirus task force has registered a total of about 10.5 million confirmed infections and 308,860 deaths, but the state statistics agency that uses broader criteria in its tallying system has reported nearly 626,000 virus-linked deaths in Russia since the start of the pandemic.

Russia has seen a drop in contagion in recent weeks with new daily infections currently just above 20,000 after peaking at more than 40,000 in early November. The government so far has reported only about 100 infections with the new omicron variant, but it is bracing up for a new wave of contagion after the holidays.


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis cancelled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the life-sized Nativity scene set up in St. Peter’s Square to discourage large crowds from forming.

Meanwhile, major Italian cities scrapped their traditional Dec. 31 open-air concerts as Italy battles a record-setting surge in coronavirus cases.

Francis is going ahead with his traditional Dec. 31 vespers service inside the basilica and will celebrate New Year’s Day Mass as scheduled.

The Vatican has largely followed Italy’s lead in imposing restrictions on crowds. Many Italian cities are opting for streamed concerts or theatrical productions where access by the public can be controlled to check for health passes.

In addition, the city of Naples banned the use of fireworks outright in a bid to keep crowds from forming in a city known for its explosive Dec. 31 festivities.


HONG KONG — Hong Kong has confirmed the first cases of community transmission of the omicron variant of COVID-19, tied to an airline crew member who had returned from the United States and lunched at a restaurant two days later.

Two other people eating at the Moon Palace restaurant on Monday were infected. One was the father of the Cathay Pacific crew member and the other was a construction worker dining 10 meters (30 feet) away.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan said at a news conference Friday that city leader Carrie Lam had expressed her strong dissatisfaction to the airline’s chairman and its CEO that some staff had violated a 3-day self-isolation rule after their return. The health secretary called their actions “irresponsible.”

Cathay Pacific said that five crew members had tested positive for omicron recently, and some had not followed regulations. It apologized and said they would be disciplined.

Hong Kong has recorded 81 omicron cases. The others were among people who had arrived from overseas.


SYDNEY — New coronavirus infections soared again in Australia on Friday to a record of more than 32,000, just days after surpassing 10,000 for the first time.

Experts say the explosion is being driven by the highly contagious omicron variant and a recent relaxation of restrictions in Sydney and other areas.

More than 15,000 of the new cases were reported in Sydney. Another 5,000 cases came from elsewhere in New South Wales state, while almost 6,000 were confirmed in Victoria state, home to Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne.

While hospitalizations and deaths have been increasing from the surge, so far they haven’t reached comparative levels seen in previous outbreaks. And many cities are planning to go ahead with New Year’s Eve celebrations, including the famous fireworks display from the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House.


JERUSALEM — Israel has begun delivering a fourth vaccine dose for people most vulnerable to coronavirus, becoming one of the first countries to do so as it prepares for a wave of infections driven by the omicron variant.

Israel, which led a world beating vaccination program in 2020, will administer a fourth dose of the vaccine to individuals with weakened immune systems along with elderly residents and employees in care homes.

The rollout of the fourth dose began at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center Friday morning and was administered to heart and lung transplant patients.

The country is currently experiencing a new wave of infections fueled by the transmissible omicron variant. There were 4,085 new cases recorded on Thursday, the highest daily count of infections Israel has seen since late September.

In response, Israel introduced new restrictions late Thursday in a bid to curb rising infection rates ahead of new year’s eve celebrations. These include a Green Pass, given to fully vaccinated individuals or those who have recently recovered from coronavirus, for outdoor events of more than 100 people and mandatory mask-wearing in outdoor events of more than 50 people.

Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has reported 8,243 deaths from coronavirus. Most of its population — more than 6.5 million people — has received at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and more than 4.2 million Israelis have received two doses and a booster.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it’ll extend the toughest social distancing rules for another two weeks to try to lower critical cases and guard against the omicron variant.

The government said Friday the current restrictions such as a four-person limit on private gatherings and a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and cafes will continue until Jan. 16.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol says South Korea’s daily caseload has recently dropped to the 5,000s from the previous 8,000s thanks to the current distancing guidelines enforced two weeks ago.

But he says the number of critically or seriously ill patients remains above 1,000. Kwon says the omicron variant also continues to spread throughout South Korea.

On Friday, South Korea added 4,875 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the national tally to 630,838. Health authorities said they’ve also confirmed 269 new cases of the omicron variant, taking the country’s total to 894.


NEW YORK — A coronavirus surge has upended plans to hold a major nuclear treaty conference at the United Nations next month, with participants agreeing Thursday to postpone the meeting days before its scheduled start.

After nearly two years of pandemic delays, delegations from around the world were due to converge Tuesday on U.N. headquarters to take stock of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, a pillar of nuclear arms control.

But organizers are now penciling in an Aug. 1 start date, according to an email Thursday from the U.N. disarmament office to entities involved. The conference was initially scheduled for spring 2020.

As coronavirus cases spike again in the U.N.’s host city of New York and a growing number of staffers are sick or or quarantined, the world body told the conference leader Monday that it couldn’t accommodate a big gathering now.

The NPT is the world’s most widely ratified nuclear arms control agreement, with 191 participating countries. Nations without atomic weapons committed not to acquire them and to allow verification that nuclear energy programs weren’t morphing into weaponry. Countries that had nukes when the treaty was signed — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — agreed to move toward eliminating them.


TORONTO — Quebec is reimposing a nighttime curfew beginning New Year’s Eve, and Ontario has delayed the resumption of school by two days as several Canadian provinces report new highs for COVID-19 infections.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault says the curfew will be in effect 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. as of Friday night and will run for an indefinite period.

Quebec imposed a pandemic-related nightly curfew last Jan. 9 and did not lift the measure until May 28. It has been the only Canadian province to order a curfew over the coronavirus.

In Ontario, classes had been scheduled to resume Monday but that has been pushed back to Wednesday. Officials say that will give schools time to provide N95 masks to staff and deploy more HEPA filter units.


HONOLULU — Hawaii set an all-time record for new coronavirus cases on Thursday as the state of about 1.5 million people reported nearly 3,500 new infections.

The daily total of new cases reported by health officials was 3,484, topping the record of 2,205 cases set the day after Christmas. The state was averaging just over 100 new cases a day at the beginning of the month.

The latest surge came about two weeks after the first omicron variant case was confirmed in Hawaii.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said there would be no new restrictions on Oahu over the New Year holiday. He said people should take personal responsibility to curb the disease.


NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana is setting records for new COVID-19 diagnoses, and the state’s omicron variant surge is just beginning, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

Thursday’s 24-hour total of 12,467 new cases was more than a third above Wednesday’s 9,378, Edwards said during a news conference livestreamed on Zoom.

He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday’s figure was itself a state record, topping 7,548 set in August, during the delta variant surge.

Edwards says the number of people hospitalized with the virus has risen 268% since Dec. 17, to 762.

The governor said he would not mandate masks but said people should heed masking recommendations from both the CDC and the state Department of Health.

Wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience “compared to being in a hospital struggling to get oxygen or watching a loved one struggling to get oxygen,” he said.


JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s Supreme Court chief justice issued an emergency order Thursday allowing judges to postpone jury trials through mid-January because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph’s order also allows courts to use teleconferencing, videoconferencing and electronic filing to limit in-person contact in courts. Felony plea, felony sentencing and probation violation hearings can be conducted remotely.

The order is an extension of safety regulations that were already in place.

In his most recent order, Randolph cited the recent uptick in cases — especially the highly contagious omicron variant.

As of Dec. 14, there were 575 new COVID-19 confirmed infections in Mississippi. Approximately two weeks later, the number of confirmed cases increased more than eightfold, to 4,885 cases, Randolph said.