Germany recorded 22,214 new cases, compared with 35,431 the day before, officials said. A further 157 deaths were recorded.
The latest figures came after health authorities admitted they are struggling to trace the contacts of people infected with Covid. In an interview published yesterday, Ute Teichert, chair of the Federal Association of Doctors in the Public Health Service, said “comprehensive followup [of Covid cases] is almost no longer taking place at the moment.”
In some German states including Baden-Württemberg, Berlin and Hamburg, contact tracing has been completely suspended as officials focus on recording the “numerous coronavirus infections”, she added.
Thousands of people across England will receive a Christmas Day booster jab as the vaccination effort continues in the face of record case rates.
Queues have been spotted at pharmacies as people wait for their “jingle jabs” with appointments available in locations in London, Manchester, Swindon and Eastbourne. Vaccination clinics in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are closed today.
NHS England has thanked staff who are working or volunteering on Christmas Day. In a tweet, it said: “From vaccinators to volunteers, porters to paramedics, midwives to mental health practitioners, and all other essential workers — thank you to everyone who is working over the festive period!”
Meanwhile, the government says it will be sending millions of text messages on Boxing Day urging people to “get boosted now”.
The message will say: “Every adult needs a Covid-19 booster vaccine to protect against Omicron. Get your Covid-19 vaccine or booster.”
Malaysia has detected its first local case of the Omicron variant, officials have said. In a briefing today, the country’s health minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, said the case was reported in the Borneo state of Sarawak on Christmas Eve.
The individual, a 38-year-old Chinese national, is fully vaccinated and has not travelled abroad recently, he added. The cause of the infection is not known and investigations are ongoing.
Malaysia has a total of 62 Omicron cases, about half of which are from Saudi Arabia, followed by five from the UK, four from Qatar and three from the US.
New Covid measures in England could be in place until late March under measures examined by the UK government’s scientific advisers, Press Association reports.
The modelling by experts from Warwick University considered a package of measures including a ban on socialising with another household indoors and a return to the rule of six outdoors, in line with the Step 2 restrictions in place in England earlier this year.
The research, published on Christmas Eve by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (Spi-M-O), looked at imposing Step 2 restrictions on either 28 December or New Year’s Day and keeping them in place until 15 or 18 January or 28 March 28. A summary read:
A reduction in mixing equivalent to half that of Step 2 results in only a very small reduction in severe outcomes compared to Plan B alone.
Step 2 has a much larger effect, reducing the number of deaths up to 31st May by 39% (24-54%) if kept in place from 28 December until 28 March , and 18% (12-27%) if kept in place until 15 January.
The work was completed before the latest data suggesting the Omicron variant may produce less severe illness than the Delta strain.
Australia’s most populous state records highest ever daily cases
New South Wales has recorded its highest ever Covid daily caseload, with 6,288 new infections announced today – by far the highest number of cases in any Australian state since the pandemic began.
Record Covid cases were reported across Australia on Christmas Day as overwhelmed testing clinics were forced to close and tens of thousands of people spent the holiday in isolation.
Covid transmission also continued to surge in Victoria, where authorities announced 2,108 new Covid-19 infections and six deaths from the virus.
Queensland announced a daily record of 765 new cases, with the state’s health minister, Yvette D’Ath, declaring “this virus is everywhere now”. D’Ath confirmed 151 of those cases had the Omicron variant.
The leading Catholic in England and Wales, the archbishop of Westminster, has urged the government not to reintroduce restrictions on churches amid record Covid-19 infection rates.
Data published on Thursday, suggesting the Omicron strain might cause less severe illness than the previously dominant Delta variant, has fuelled speculation in Westminster that Boris Johnson will resist imposing further restrictions in England after Christmas.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols said it was clear that large spaces such as churches were “not places where we spread the virus”. He told the BBC prior to midnight mass at Westminster Cathedral:
I would sincerely appeal that they do not again consider closing churches and places of worship.
I think this country has shown that people can make good judgements themselves.
We’re at that point of saying we understand the risk. We know what we should do. Most people are sensible and cautious. We don’t need stronger impositions to teach us what to do.
It comes after a further 122,186 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Christmas Eve, another record daily figure, while 137 people died within 28 days of testing positive.
Read the full article here:
In Bethlehem, the city where Christians believe Jesus was born, thousands usually pack the streets during the Christmas period. On average, Bethlehem welcomed 3 million visitors a year before the pandemic, with Christmas alone drawing 10,000 people to the city’s hotels, around half from abroad.
But Israel, which controls all entrances to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, has barred its borders to foreigners in an effort to rein in infections from Omicron. In Manger Square, numbers were noticeably lower as Covid fears overshadowed celebrations for a second straight year.
“It’s very strange,” said Kristel Elayyan, a Dutchwoman married to a Palestinian, who came to Bethlehem from Jerusalem told Agence-France-Presse, adding:
Before (the pandemic), you had a bunch of people coming in from different countries to celebrate Christmas, and now you know that everybody who is here is probably not a tourist.
Last year, Bethlehem curtailed celebrations sharply with a virtual tree lighting and just a handful of visiting scouts. This year, the celebrations were more vibrant – but still a fraction of their usual size.
One shop owner, Victor Epiphane Tabash, said it was his 57th Christmas behind the counter. For him, as for many shopkeepers around Manger Square, “there is nothing to say about Christmas”.
He said he kept his business alive during the pandemic by exporting because no customers came to buy in person. He compared the pandemic to two previous Palestinian uprisings, or intifadas, adding:
We have lived through the intifadas, wars. But the coronavirus is worse.
Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture has confirmed its first infection with the Omicron variant, officials said. The case was a result of possible community transmission as the infection route was unclear, its governor Seitaro Hattori said.
New Omicron infections were also detected in the Kyoto prefecture and came a day after community transmissions of the variant were found in another western city of Osaka on Friday.
In Tokyo, 38 new cases were recorded today, marking the eighth consecutive day for the number of new cases to exceed that of the previous week.
The number of people getting their first jab of a Covid vaccine in England rose by around 46% in the week up to 21 December, figures by the UK’s Department for Health and Social Care show.
In total, 221,564 first doses were administered in England in the week of 15-21 December, a 46% increase from the previous week. The total number of people getting a second dose was 279,112, a 39% jump from the week before.
The largest increase was seen among young people, with an 85% increase in first doses for those aged 18 and 24 and a 71% increase in first doses for those aged 25 to 30, PA reports. In the week up to 21 December, more over 60s had had a first dose than during any seven-day period since early June.
China reports highest number of cases in four months
Officials in China are rushing to contain outbreaks in several regions, including the north-western city of Xi’an where 13 million residents have been under lockdown since Thursday.
Of the 140 new infections reported today, 87 were locally transmitted, according to officials, compared with 55 a day earlier.
In Xi’an, households have only been permitted to send one member outside every two days to purchase necessities. The city has recorded 330 locally transmitted symptomatic cases since the first case was reported on 9 December.
Cases from Xi’an have so far spread to five other cities including Beijing, according to state media. China is on high alert for new infections as it prepares to hold the Winter Olympics in February in Beijing.
The first doctor to alert South African authorities about the Omicron variant says India will see a surge in cases driven by the strain but the infection may be mild in most people as in South Africa.
The Times of India quotes Dr Angelique Coetzee as saying existing vaccines will definitely control the contagion but unvaccinated people “will potentially spread the virus 100%”, adding:
I believe it will be difficult [for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to end soon]. I presume it will become endemic.
India will see a surge in Omicron-driven Covid-19 cases and simultaneously there will be a high-positivity rate. But hopefully the majority of the cases will be as mild as what we are seeing here in South Africa.
Christmas travel chaos as airlines cancel more than 4,500 flights
Passengers travelling over the Christmas holiday have been hit with disruption worldwide after airline companies cancelled more than 4,500 flights, according to a flight tracking website.
A surge of cancellations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day came as the rapidly spreading Omicron coronavirus variant meant carriers were unable to staff their flights.
The website of the flight tracking firm FlightAware showed that 2,175 flights around the world had been scrapped on Christmas Eve, a typically heavy day for travel. Around a quarter of those were in the US. Another 1,779 flights were scrapped worldwide on Christmas Day, along with 402 more that had been scheduled for Sunday.
The bulk of the cancellations came from five firms, with China Eastern cancelling 474 journeys, while Air China scrapped 188. United cancelled 177 flights, Air India 160 and Delta called off 150.
Read the full article by my colleague Clea Skopeliti here:
A United States Navy warship has delayed its deployment to South America because of a Covid outbreak among its crew, officials said.
The USS Milwaukee, which deployed from Mayport, Florida, on 15 December will remain in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, where it had stopped for a scheduled visit, Associated Press reports.
In a statement, the Navy said the ship’s crew is “100% immunised” and that all of those who tested positive for Covid-19 have been isolated on the ship away from other crew members.
Early last year a major military outbreak of the virus saw the USS Theodore Roosevelt sidelined in Guam for nearly two months, and more than 1,000 of the 4,800 crew members tested positive. One sailor died, and the entire crew went through weeks of quarantine in a rotation that kept enough sailors on the ship to keep it safe and running.
Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Léonie Chao-Fong. Here’s a rundown of everything you might have missed.
- Passengers travelling over the Christmas holiday have been hit with disruption worldwide after airline companies cancelled more than 4,500 flights, as the rapidly spreading Omicron variant meant carriers were unable to staff their flights. Around a quarter of those were in the United States.
- The Chinese city of Xi’an, home to 13 million people, reported an increase in daily Covid-19 infections as the country’s latest hotspot entered its third day of lockdown. China as a whole reported 140 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Friday, an increase of 62% from 87 cases the day before, its health authority said.
- One in 35 people in England had Covid last week, new figures show, with 1.7 million people testing positive across the UK – the highest number on record so far. In London, hospital admissions due to Covid have nearly doubled week-on-week, the latest figures show. Across England, 1,246 admissions were recorded on December 22, up 55% week-on-week and the highest number for a single day since February 16.
- Ministers could meet as soon as Monday to determine whether new restrictions are needed in England over the new year amid growing concerns that soaring Covid cases could hit public services.
- France reported a record 94,124 new daily Covid-19 infections on Friday while the number of people hospitalised for the disease reached a seven-month high at close to 16,200, according to official data. The seven-day moving average of new cases also reached a new record of 66,417, a total that has tripled in just one month.
- People in South Africa without Covid symptoms will no longer have to test or self-isolate if a contact tests positive, the government announced on Friday. Additionally, South Africans will be offered a booster dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine from Friday after the health regulator approved its use for the general public.
- The US will next week lift the travel ban imposed on several southern African nations when the Omicron variant of Covid was first detected, AFP reports. The ban applied to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.