COVID digest: US travel ban on 8 African countries lifted
Washington, Dec 31: The United States has lifted restrictions on travelers from eight countries in southern Africa starting Friday. The temporary curbs were imposed in late November after the omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected by South African scientists.
The White House said the restrictions were no longer necessary and that measures affecting South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Malawi will be lifted.
"The restrictions gave us time to understand omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against omicron, esp boosted," a White House spokesman said.
However, the restrictions haven't prevented omicron from rapidly becoming the dominant strain in the US.
According to latest figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country saw an average 316,000 infections every day for the past seven days.
This is a jump from last year when the seven-day average of infections in December and January only rose to around 250,000 per day.
Here's a look at coronavirus-related news in other parts of the world:
The omicron variant of the coronavirus has become the main COVID strain in France, authorities announced.
"62.4% of tests showed a profile compatible with the omicron variant" at the start of this week, compared to 15% last week, the country's public health agency said in its latest weekly survey.
A New Zealand order enforcing compulsory vaccines for school and early learning staff is set to come into force on Saturday. The rules, passed in October, require all teaching staff to get their two doses by Jan 1.
The Serum Institute of India has applied for full approval of its coronavirus vaccine in the country, the company"s chief executive said. It produces the AstraZeneca vaccine under the name Covishield.
Supplies of the COVISHIELD vaccine in India, have exceeded 1.25 billion doses. The government of India now has enough data for full market authorisation, and therefore @SerumInstIndia has applied to the @CDSCO_INDIA_INF (DCGI) and @MoHFW_INDIA for this permission.— Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) December 31, 2021
South Korea is set to extend its strict social distancing rules for two more weeks over concerns linked to the omicron variant. After six weeks of limited restrictions under a "living with COVID-19" scheme, the curbs were reinstated on December 18 amid record-breaking new infections.
Hong Kong has discovered its first omicron infections in the community after reporting no local cases in nearly three months, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said.
Chan said one member of an air crew breached home quarantine rules and passed the virus to his father and another person.
As the number of cases rises across the world, Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airlines is suspending cargo flights for a week, potentially straining global supply chains further. The suspension has been attributed to stricter quarantine requirements for air crews.
The airline's workforce was impacted when the hotel quarantine for Cathay Pacific flight crews returning from abroad was extended from three days to one week.
Authorities in South Africa said the country has passed the peak of its latest COVID-19 wave that began after the omicron variant was detected in November.
"All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave," the South African presidency said in a statement, announcing the end of the nightly curfew.
Last week, infections dropped by nearly 30% compared to the preceding seven days, while hospitalizations declined in eight of the nine provinces. In the latest wave, only a marginal increase in COVID-related deaths was reported, authorities said.
see/rt (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)