France today reported 501,635 new cases of coronavirus, a new daily record and the first time the global number has exceeded half a million.
The country is currently recording the highest daily infection rates of any major European country, averaging over 360,000 over the past week.
More than 30,000 people are hospitalized with coronavirus across France in the highest count since November 2020, according to official figures.
But just over 3,700 were in intensive care, fewer than in previous periods of high infection.
The highly contagious variant of Omicron that powers the latest wave is believed to be less dangerous than the previous dominant Delta strain.
Some 364 people have died from the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of Covid deaths in France to 129,489.
The latest figures came after new Covid rules came into effect in France yesterday.
People must now be vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter bars, restaurants, trains and planes.
A negative coronavirus test will no longer suffice to access leisure activities, certain professional events and long-distance travel.
More than 77% of the French population has received two injections of a Covid vaccine.
How France emerges from the current wave is seen as crucial in April’s presidential elections, in which President Emmanuel Macron is widely expected to run, although he has yet to declare his candidacy.
Despite the heavy workload, Prime Minister Jean Castex last week announced a timetable for lifting Covid restrictions in France from February 2.
Pubs source from the Netherlands as restrictions ease
Dutch bars and restaurants rushed to stock up today as the government confirmed it would lift some of Europe’s toughest Covid restrictions.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said hotel businesses and museums will be allowed to reopen from tomorrow.
‘Today we are taking a big step to further unlock the Netherlands,’ he told a press conference this evening, while conceding it was a ‘risk’ as coronavirus infections hit record highs.
Mr Rutte’s decision follows advice from his panel of health experts published yesterday supporting the limited reopening of bars, restaurants and theaters closed since mid-December.
Schools were reopened under an earlier easing decision and non-essential shops reopened on January 15.
Health experts said the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is now dominant in the Netherlands, “has a less severe clinical picture” than the Delta variant, which caused an earlier wave.
Local government advisers have said bars, restaurants and theaters should be allowed to open until 10 p.m. with reduced capacity to accommodate social distancing rules.
Customers will also need to present proof of vaccination or recovery from infection.
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Australia records another high number of Covid deaths
Australia has recorded one of its highest single-day death tolls from Covid-19 as an outbreak of the Omicron variant has spread across the country, marking two years since its first coronavirus cases.
Although Australian states and territories are refraining from returning to the lockdowns that have defined the country’s response to the pandemic, the most populous state, New South Wales, has extended the mask mandate by one month, an example of the continued disruption brought by the virus.
The same state, which emerged from more than three months of harsh confinement in October, had sworn never to return to social distancing measures since its population had reached a target of more than 90% vaccinated.
Omicron has since seen the country’s Covid-19 death and infection rates double within weeks.
The country recorded 75 deaths yesterday, below its highest daily total of 80 the previous week, but among its worst of the pandemic.
Most of the deaths have been in New South Wales and neighboring Victoria, home to the cities of Sydney and Melbourne and two-thirds of Australia’s population.
Authorities said Omicron’s push appeared to have peaked. The number of daily cases was up the day before, but hospitalizations appear to have leveled off as more Australians receive their boosters, they said.
The South Australian state has recorded five deaths but its lowest number of daily infections since the start of the year and “we are absolutely delighted with this figure”, Premier Steven Marshall told reporters.
“We are following extraordinarily well.”
Israel plans to offer 4th dose of Covid vaccine to all adults
An Israeli government advisory committee has recommended offering a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to all adults, provided that at least five months have passed since they received the third or have recovered from the disease , said the Ministry of Health.
Implementation of the measure, which would significantly expand eligibility now limited to over-60s and other high-risk groups, is subject to approval by the ministry’s chief executive.
It wasn’t immediately clear when that might happen.
The ministry statement said the recommendation was made in light of findings that those who received a fourth vaccine were three to five times more protected against serious illnesses and twice as protected against infections, compared to those who received a fourth vaccine. been triply vaccinated.
Japan to double the number of restricted regions
Japan is expected to more than double the number of regions under heightened coronavirus restrictions, even as it seeks to change its strategies to deal with the infectious variant of Omicron that has fueled a record number of cases.
A government health panel has approved the expansion of stricter countermeasures to 18 additional regions, including the western prefectures of Osaka and Kyoto.
The measures came in response to an increase in infections and hospital admissions driven by Omicron. Japan recorded more than 44,000 new cases yesterday, according to a tally by public broadcaster NHK.
The restrictions will apply from Thursday until February 20, allowing regional governors to ask restaurants and bars to shorten opening hours and stop serving alcohol.
Already declared in 16 prefectures, the expansion means the measures will soon cover more than 70% of Japan’s regions until the middle of next month.
The advisory committee also approved an extension until February 20 of the so-called quasi-emergency measures in three regions.
A government task force led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to formally endorse the decisions later today.
The Department of Health also announced yesterday that it will allow doctors to diagnose those who have had close contact with a Covid patient and show symptoms of Covid as being infected without testing if deemed necessary by local governments.
The new policy will allow patients to get prompt testing and treatment under community guidance depending on the infection situation there, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.
Lockdowns hit Pacific islands as Covid-19 defenses falter
Lockdowns in Samoa and the Solomon Islands were extended as Covid-19 outbreaks worsened in remote Pacific island nations that had previously kept the pandemic at bay.
Pacific countries successfully used their isolation as a buffer against the pandemic when they closed their borders in early 2020.
But two years later, the Omicron variant broke those defenses.
Solomon Islands has reported a tenfold increase in infections since its first community case was detected in mid-January.
Authorities in Kiribati have declared a state of disaster after airline passengers brought the virus in from Fiji.
The number of cases in Palau has doubled to almost 600 in three days.
Solomon’s Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the capital Honiara had become a coronavirus hotspot and extended its lockdown for four days in hopes of stopping infections from spreading nationwide.
“Covid-19 is now being exported from Honiara to the provinces through ships leaving from our capital,” Sogavare said in a nationwide address on Monday evening.
“I ask all residents living in the emergency zone to respect the lockdown and stay at home so that we can reduce virus transmission and control the current outbreak.”
Until last week the nation of 700,000 had recorded no deaths and just 31 cases, but confirmed infections are now close to 300, with actual numbers likely much higher amid limited testing capacity. .
Vaccination rates in the region vary widely. As of January 13, 264,085 doses had been administered in the Solomons, while Palau – with a population of just over 18,000 – had an inoculation rate of nearly 100%.
Samoa has extended the nationwide lockdown until Thursday evening after cases linked to a repatriation flight from Australia last week continued to climb.
Kiribati President Taneti Maamau declared a state of disaster after 23 residents were infected when dozens of virus-infected passengers arrived on a flight from Fiji last week – the first to arrive in the countries since the reopening of the borders.