Coronavirus

Covid news live: US airlines cancel more than 200 Christmas Eve flights; AstraZeneca booster protects against Omicron, study finds

covid-news-live:-us-airlines-cancel-more-than-200-christmas-eve-flights;-astrazeneca-booster-protects-against-omicron,-study-finds

Vietnam aims to vaccinate all of its adult population with a coronavirus booster shot by the end of the first quarter of next year, the health ministry said on Friday.

The Southeast Asian country has seen a surge in daily infections since it lifted most of its movement restrictions in October, but has not reported any cases of the Omicron variant.

Youths between the age of 12 to 17 wait to receive doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Hanoi, Vietnam, as the country aims to vaccinate all of its adult population with a coronavirus booster by March.
Youths between the age of 12 to 17 wait to receive doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Hanoi, Vietnam, as the country aims to vaccinate all of its adult population with a coronavirus booster by March. Photograph: Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

“The Covid-19 situation has been evolving in a complicated manner recently, with a rising trend in new infections,” the ministry said in a statement.

The country reported 16,377 infections on Thursday, raising its overall caseload to 1.6 million, with 30,500 deaths.

More than 62% of its population of 98 million have received at least two vaccine shots.

Updated

Australia cuts Covid booster interval to four months

Daniel Hurst

Australians will soon be able to access Covid-19 vaccine booster shots four months after their second dose, then the wait will be shortened again.

The government has said the minimum interval will be cut from five to four months on 4 January, and reduced to three months on 31 January.

Swimmers enjoy an afternoon on Bondi Beach in Sydney on 22 December as Australia cuts the Covid booster interval to four months.
Swimmers enjoy an afternoon on Bondi Beach in Sydney on 22 December as Australia cuts the Covid booster interval to four months. Photograph: Mohammad Farooq/AFP/Getty Images

The move, announced on Friday, follows calls from state premiers to speed up the shots to better protect against the more infectious Omicron variant.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation said maximising booster coverage – if combined with “enhanced public health and social measures” – may prevent a large surge in case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths.

Read the full story here.

South Korea has just released its daily Covid report.

The east Asian nation reported another 6,233 confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, according to data released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The figure is a slight drop on the 6,919 cases reported the day before.

Another 56 deaths were also recorded – a significant drop on yesterdays record high of 109 deaths.

A record number of 1,084 people have been admitted to hospital with serious symptoms and in critical condition.

A controversial New Zealand scheme that offers visas to wealthy foreign investors has resumed operating after a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic, prompting concern from overseas New Zealanders who fear it will place additional strain on the country’s overburdened managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system.

Martin Newell, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Grounded Kiwis, said the scheme’s resumption would prompt “disbelief” among New Zealanders overseas, who may lose out on MIQ spots to the investors.

“The government is abandoning the needs of its citizens in favour of those who have enough money to be able to buy their way into the country.”

Read the full story from our reporter Pete McKenzie in Wellington here.

Hundreds of US Christmas Eve flights cancelled

United Airlines and Delta Air Lines say they have been forced to cancel dozens of Christmas Eve flights due to Covid’s toll on its flight crews and other workers.

United cancelled 120 flights for Friday, while Atlanta-based Delta said it has cancelled about 90 flights, Reuters reports.

Both said they were working to contact passengers so they would not be stranded at airports.

United said:

The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.”

Delta said it has “exhausted all options and resources – including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying – before cancelling around 90 flights for Friday.

Travellers seen inside the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) as United Airlines and Delta Air Lines say they have been forced to cancel dozens of Christmas Eve flights.
Travellers seen inside the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) as United Airlines and Delta Air Lines say they have been forced to cancel dozens of Christmas Eve flights. Photograph: Bing Guan/Reuters

Delta cited potential inclement weather and the impact of the Omicron variant for the cancellations.

On Tuesday, Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian asked the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to shrink quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough Covid-19 infections, citing the impact on the carrier’s workforce. Bastian asked that the isolation period be cut to five days from the current 10.

That request was echoed both by Airlines for America, a trade group representing major cargo and passenger carriers, which wrote to the CDC on Thursday, and by JetBlue on Wednesday.

China is reporting 87 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Thursday, 23 December.

The figure is a slight decrease from 100 reported a day earlier, its health authority said on Friday.

Of the new infections, 55 were locally transmitted, including 49 in the northern city of Xi’an currently under lockdown, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 71 from a day earlier.

China reported 26 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, up from 19 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636. Mainland China had 100,731 confirmed cases as of 23 December.

Ecuador to make Covid vaccination mandatory

Ecuador has declared Covid vaccination will be mandatory after a marked rise of infections and the arrival of new variants of the disease.

The government said Thursday that only Ecuadorians with a medical condition that could be complicated by vaccination will be exempt. Those people must provide documentation.

Officials say the order comes because of an increase in coronavirus infections and the circulation of new variants such as omicron.

A woman gets her shot of the Covid-19 vaccine, in Quito, Ecuador, 23 December as the government of Ecuador declares Covid vaccination mandatory.
A woman gets her shot of the Covid-19 vaccine, in Quito, Ecuador, 23 December as the government of Ecuador declares Covid vaccination mandatory. Photograph: Carlos Noriega/AP

Ecuador says it has enough vaccines to immunise the entire population.

As of Tuesday, about 77% of Ecuador’s 17.3 million people had been vaccinated. About 33,600 people in Ecuador have died from Covid.

Earlier this week, the body overseeing health policies to combat the pandemic decreed that vaccination certificates must be shown to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public areas.

New York City scales back New Year’s Eve celebrations

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has announced new restrictions for the city’s planned New Year’s Eve event in Times Square.

Viewing areas that normally accommodate about 58,000 people will be limited to about 15,000 to allow for more distancing, and everyone in attendance must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask.

“There is a lot to celebrate and these additional safety measures will keep the fully vaccinated crowd safe and healthy as we ring in the New Year,” de Blasio said.

On Wednesday, the city set another record with 22,808 new Covid cases, though a true comparison is difficult due to discrepancies in tests available.

Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor)

New Yorkers have stepped up tremendously over the past year. There’s a lot to celebrate and the additional safety measures we’re announcing today will keep the fully vaccinated crowd at Times Square safe and healthy as we ring in the New Year. pic.twitter.com/SbStmLmfxQ

December 23, 2021

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog this Christmas Eve.

I’ll be bringing you all the latest Covid developments from across the world.

Let’s start with the news that New Year’s Eve plans in New York will be scaled back amid fears of a surge in Covid cases. The annual celebration will still go ahead as planned although the number of attendees has been slashed. Several countries including Greece, Italy and Malta have also scrapped planned New Year’s Eve events.

An Oxford University lab study on AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Vaxzevria, showed that after a three-dose course of the vaccine, neutralising levels against Omicron were broadly similar to those against the Delta variant after two doses.

“As we better understand Omicron, we believe we will find that T-cell response provides durable protection against severe disease and hospitalisations,” Mene Pangalos, the head of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceuticals R&D said, referring to a critical component of the immune system that respond to fight infection.

Here’s a run-down of all the Covid news you may have missed:

Europe

  • In England around 1.2 million people were infected with Covid last week, or 1 in 45 of the population – a pandemic record. London estimated 1 in 30 people were infected last week.
  • UK health secretary Sajid Javid says there will be no further announcements on Covid restrictions in England before Christmas.
  • Germany’s health minister said he expects a surge in coronavirus cases around new year and people will probably need a fourth vaccine shot.
  • Germany also confirmed the country’s first death due to the Omicron variant.
  • Greece banned public Christmas and New Year’s Eve festivities and mandated mask-wearing in open spaces. The measures will come into effect on Friday morning.
  • Italy is planning to tighten restrictions including making mask wearing mandatory outdoors. The country has also banned public New Year’s Eve celebrations.

  • Malta will ban all events where attendees are standing not seated, except weddings and funerals, from 27 December.

  • Nightclubs in Scotland are to close from 27 December for three weeks.
  • Denmark will require foreigners entering the country to provide a negative Covid-19 test from 27 December, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Montenegro’s president, Milo Djukanović, tested positive for Covid-19 after being in contact with an infected person.
  • The Spanish region of Catalonia will introduce a night curfew on Thursday.

United States

  • Emergency Covid testing sites are being set up in hard-hit areas across the US.
  • The US Supreme court will hold a special session on Biden’s nationwide vaccine-or-testing Covid mandate for large businesses and a separate vaccine requirement for healthcare workers.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration authorised Merck’s antiviral pill, molnupiravir, for Covid-19, after giving the go-ahead to a similar treatment from Pfizer a day earlier.

Asia

  • China locks down 13 million people in Xi’an after detecting 127 Covid cases. All residents are barred from leaving their houses except to buy living necessities every other day or for emergencies.
  • Organisers of the Beijing Winter Olympics said they expect a “certain number” of Covid-19 cases in China due to foreigners arriving for the Games.
  • South Korea set a new record for Covid deaths on Thursday.
  • Australia reintroduced Covid curbs such as mandated mask wearing indoors, capacity limits and QR code check-ins to cover most of the population on Thursday as daily infections hit a fresh record.
  • Australia will also shorten the interval for people to receive their booster shots to four months from five from 4 January.

South America:

  • Ecuador is making vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory.

Middle East

  • Covid infections are rising again across the six Gulf Arab states after months of low or falling figures.

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