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JOHANNESBURG – Tourism officials in South Africa have denounced new travel restrictions imposed by France because of the surge in omicron variant infections, saying the country feels discriminated against.

Steve Motale, a spokesman for South Africa’s Department of Tourism, said the French government restrictions appear to be aimed at discouraging people from traveling from France to South Africa, since they will face a long and costly quarantine after their return.

“It is unfortunate that once again South Africa seems to be discriminated against with no scientific basis,” Motale told the AP Thursday. Mandatory quarantine and additional resources for PCR tests make South Africa an unattractive travel destination, he said.



— European leaders discussing rise of infections, spread of omicron

— Vaccine skeptics in Eastern Europe having change of heart

— US sports leagues cope with COVID-19 outbreaks amid variants

— New California rules end distinction for vaccinated workers

— Israel to donate 1 million COVID vaccines to African nations

Go to for updates throughout the day.



DETROIT — Michigan is in a “crisis” due to COVID-19, according to Bob Riney, chief operating officer at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

Henry Ford hospitals in southeastern Michigan had about 500 COVID-19 patients Wednesday, 80% of them unvaccinated.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Riney said. “On any given day, our emergency departments are either at capacity or close to it, and often times serving as inpatient units because we don’t have beds available in our standard inpatient units or ICUs.”


JOHANNESBURG — Amid fast-rising numbers of new COVID-19 infections, South African officials are urging people to get vaccinated before traveling for the holidays and attending festive gatherings.

South Africa’s daily new confirmed cases climbed to more than 26,900 on Wednesday and 24,700 on Thursday, the highest yet in the new wave driven by the omicron variant — and reaching the peak of an earlier surge in June and July caused by delta.

South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen steeply over the past two weeks from 6.4 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 1 to 38.5 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 15, according to Johns Hopkins University.


ORLANDO, Fla. — Wastewater samples show that the new omicron variant is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the Florida county that is home to America’s largest theme park resorts, officials said this week.

The omicron variant has quickly surpassed the delta variant in collections taken from wastewater sampling sites in Orange County, officials said.

Even though the county has almost no confirmed cases involving omicron, a sampling this week showed the variant represented almost 100% of the coronavirus strains in the wastewater facility samples, Orange County Utilities spokesperson Sarah Lux said in an email.

However, it’s a different story when it comes to people seeking treatment for COVID-19, officials said.

“Those who are hospitalized are being primarily infected by the delta variant,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said Wednesday at a news conference held at the Orlando International Airport.


LONDON — Britain’s government says it recorded another record daily number of COVID-19 cases.

Authorities reported 88,376 new confirmed cases on Thursday, almost 10,000 more than the previous record set a day earlier. Officials said 146 people infected with the coronavirus died between Wednesday and Thursday.

U.K. officials have said the omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading at an “absolutely phenomenal pace,” with case numbers doubling every two to three days.

The U.K. Health Security Agency said another 1,691 omicron cases have been identified in the country, bringing the total to 11,708, though scientists warn the number is likely to be much higher.

England’s chief medical officer says it’s possible that daily hospital admissions from COVID-19 this winter will surpass the previous peak numbers, though he cautioned that “huge uncertainties” remain about the omicron variant.


LONDON — England’s chief medical officer says it’s possible that daily hospital admissions from COVID-19 this winter will surpass the previous peak numbers, though he cautioned that “huge uncertainties” remain about the omicron variant.

In testimony before the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Professor Chris Whitty said he expects the highly transmissible omicron variant to drive a rapid increase in infections, which could push hospitalizations above the daily record of 4,583 recorded on Jan. 12.

“We’re talking about huge uncertainties, so I don’t want this to be seen as saying this will happen; I’m just saying there’s a range of possibilities,” Whitty said. “You could have a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day. That is entirely possible. It may be less than that, but it’s certainly possible.”

The comment came in response to a question from former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said the general view is that the National Health Service will start to struggle if hospitalizations rise above 4,000 a day.

But Whitty stressed that even if the number of people hospitalized this winter exceeds the previous peak, the impact on the NHS may be mitigated by widespread vaccination.


BERLIN — Germany is scrambling to procure more vaccines to fuel what the new health minister on Thursday called a “very offensive” and fast booster strategy that would leave the country better prepared for the onslaught of the new omicron variant.

Germany on Wednesday administered nearly 1.5 million shots, its highest one-day total so far. As its vaccination campaign has revved back up, an average of some 988,000 people per day have been vaccinated over the past week.

The proportion of Germany’s population of 83 million that has been fully vaccinated now stands at 70% — a number that officials, who had set a minimum target of 75%, aren’t satisfied with. And 27.6% also have received a booster shot, a figure that is rising quickly.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that “we will try with a very offensive, fast booster strategy to keep the omicron variant as small as possible to avoid overloading the health system and possibly society as a whole.”

But Lauterbach told reporters he wasn’t satisfied with an inventory of vaccine delivery plans for the rest of December and next year’s first quarter after he took office last week ivernment of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, because “it simply isn’t enough for such a vaccination strategy.”


PARIS — Wealthy countries will have a surplus of nearly 1.4 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine by March 2022, according to predictions by the analysis firm Airfinity.

It wasn’t clear how much of the estimated surplus would be absorbed if all the countries decided to give booster shots to protect their populations against the omicron variant.

Airfinity prepared the forecast for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, which denied Thursday that there was a lack of vaccines for the developing world.

The Geneva-based industry group said the problem was a combination of hoarding by wealthy nations and an inability to carry out vaccinations in poorer countries.

The head of vaccine alliance Gavi, which is leading a U.N.-backed push to get COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries, said this week he’s seen early signs of rich countries withholding donations due to fears about omicron. He warned any new hoarding could lead to “Inequity 2.0.”

Of the roughly 10 billion doses that have been delivered worldwide, the vast majority have gone to rich countries. COVAX has delivered just over 720 million.

The World Health Organization has said the problem in Africa is more about vaccine access and less about hesitation or inability to deliver doses.

Airfinity’s forecast found that production would slow if new vaccines are needed against the omicron variant. The analysis didn’t not specifically say how availability would be affected by near universal adoption of booster doses, as is being urged in Europe and the United States.


ST. PAUL, Minn. — A coronavirus pandemic wave caused by the fast-spreading delta variant has quickened the death toll in Minnesota, where more than 10,000 have died of COVID-19.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 54 more COVID-19 deaths confirmed by testing, raising Minnesota’s total to 10,018.

“There is a heaviness, for sure, hitting this sort of a marker and the fact that we have had so many deaths this year even after we have more tools available to protect against it,” state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “Every death is a terrible loss. The more tools we have and the more preventable these things truly are, the more heartbreaking it is that we still are losing people.”

State health data showed that it took 188 days from March to September for Minnesota to go from 7,000 to 8,000 deaths, but then 58 days to reach 9,000 and 35 days to reach 10,000, the Star Tribune reported.

More than half the COVID-19 deaths have happened in inpatient wards or emergency rooms.

Even as the death toll climbed, Minnesota has the 38th lowest rate of COVID-19 mortality among states since the start of the pandemic.


MADRID — Health workers in Spain’s Balearic Islands will need to show a certificate proving they are vaccinated against the coronavirus or provide three negative COVID-19 tests per week if they don’t want to lose their jobs or salary.

The Balearic Islands’ High Court on Thursday greenlighted the new regulation by the regional government of the Mediterranean archipelago — a popular tourist destination that includes Mallorca and Ibiza.

Forcing the unvaccinated to take periodical tests amounted to limiting their fundamental rights, but the measure was necessary because health workers are legally obliged to prevent illnesses, the judges said in their decision.

Spaniards have displayed strong vaccination acceptance, leading to nearly 90% of residents aged 12 or older being double-vaccinated.

This week, the country started rolling out vaccine shots for 3.3 million children aged between 5 and 11.

On Thursday authorities also agreed to start giving out booster shots to people aged 40 and older, from 60 and older previously.


LONDON — England’s chief medical officer says the U.K. government may have to consider a tougher response to the wave of COVID-19 sweeping the country if vaccines prove less effective than anticipated against the new omicron variant.

In testimony to a parliamentary committee Thursday, Professor Chris Whitty said scientists won’t fully understand how well vaccines work against omicron until they’ve conducted clinical studies on patients infected with the variant. Data from those studies aren’t expected until the last week of December at the earliest.

Whitty’s comments came in response to questions about whether the government was considering more restrictions on personal and business interactions after the U.K. reported 78,610 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number since the pandemic began.

The government this week rolled out an accelerated vaccine program that aims to offer everyone over the age of 18 a booster shot by the end of the year.

It has also implemented new rules ordering masks to be worn in most indoor settings in England and requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter nightclubs and large events.


BRUSSELS — European Union leaders have agreed that administering booster shots is “urgent” and “crucial” to tackle the surge of coronavirus infections across the continent and the emergence of the new omicron variant.

With the festive season looming, the bloc’s leaders also stressed Thursday the importance of coordinated action to avoid a confusing cacophony of rules in the 27 member states, and ensure that COVID-19 certificates continue to guarantee unrestricted travel.

In their summit’s conclusions, leaders gathered in Brussels insisted on the need for a harmonized approach to avoid limitations to free movement between member countries or hamper travel into the region.


THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The European Union’s drug regulator has recommended authorizing two drugs to treat patients with COVID-19.

The European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee said Thursday it is recommending authorization for Xevudy, developed by U.S. company Vir Biotechnology Inc. and Britain-based GlaxoSmithKline. It is a so-called monoclonal antibody treatment — a laboratory-made version of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight off infections.

Antibody treatments are one of a handful of therapies that can blunt the worst effects of COVID-19, and the only option available to people with mild-to-moderate cases who aren’t yet in the hospital.

The EMA says it also is extending the authorization of an immunosuppressive medicine used to treat inflammatory conditions to also cover COVID-19 patients with pneumonia who need extra oxygen and are at risk of developing severe respiratory failure.

The drug, Kineret, is marketed by Swedish company Orphan Biovitrum.

The recommendations will be sent to the European Commission for a final decision.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — European soccer teams are experiencing the symptoms of the coronavirus in their schedules.

The Swedish soccer federation said Thursday that it had decided to cancel the national team’s training camps scheduled abroad in January “due to the increased spread of infection in Sweden and Europe.”

The federation said in a statement, “The infection situation is judged to be extremely unstable and difficult to predict.”

The move means a Jan. 9 friendly match against neighboring Finland that was set to take place in southern Portugal with 16 newcomers on the Swedish side has been scrapped.

In England, meanwhile, a Premier League match was canceled for the fourth time in five days due to team COVID-19 infections.


LONDON — Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is rejecting accusations that new government warnings meant to curb the omicron variant of the coronavirus will essentially put Britain into another lockdown by stealth.

Johnson insisted on Thursday that despite fears about the rapidly spreading variant, the situation in the U.K. is different from last year because of the widespread use of vaccines and virus tests.

Johnson says if people want to attend public events, “the sensible thing to do is to get a test and to make sure that you’re being cautious.’’

“But we’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff, we’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted” with another vaccine dose, he said.


TOKYO — Tokyo has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a traveler from the United States. The infected individual’s friend, whom she saw immediately after arrival, has since tested positive after going to a soccer game.

Separately, the Health Ministry announced Thursday that one of its quarantine officials also tested positive for the omicron variant. The new findings bring Japan’s confirmed omicron cases to 34.

Tokyo’s omicron patient tested negative for COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport on Dec. 8 but developed a fever the next day during her self-isolation at home and tested positive for the virus. Her samples were confirmed Thursday as the omicron variant.

The man she met immediately after returning also developed a fever and other symptoms. He attended a soccer game with 10 people, including his family and colleagues, before testing positive.

The ministry urged spectators who attended the packed Sunday soccer game in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, to get tested.


LONDON — Travel industry officials have expressed dismay at French restrictions on arrivals from Britain, describing the new rules to prevent the spread of the omicron variant as a hammer blow to the industry.

The comments by Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel and trade association Abta, came after medical officials expressed alarm at what they described as the phenomenal speed at which the variant is spreading. Travel officials demanded government help to help battered businesses.

“The winter sports and school travel markets are particularly exposed, and the government must now bring forward a support package if we are not to see company failures and job losses,” Tanzer said.


WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Health Ministry has confirmed the country’s first case of infection with the omicron coronavirus variant in a woman from Lesotho.

The case was found in a sample examined in Katowice. The ministry tweeted Thursday that the 30-year Lesotho citizen feels well but has been put in hospital isolation.


LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s prime minister says he intends to keep tighter COVID-19 border controls in place beyond their planned end on Jan. 9 because of the threat from the highly infectious new omicron variant.

He says Portugal is also likely to provide another booster shot next year for already vaccinated vulnerable people who are receiving a booster after having the COVID-19 jab earlier this year.

Portugal requires a negative test for all passengers on arriving flights.

Prime Minister António Costa told reporters Thursday that border controls will continue beyond Jan. 9 and could even be tightened. He didn’t elaborate.

The government had previously announced a “contention week” from Jan. 2-9, when working from home is mandatory and schools will be closed.


LONDON — British restaurants and pubs demanded government help as the omicron variant threatened businesses with closure at the height of the crucial and lucrative Christmas season.

U.K. hospitality appealed to the government for business rates relief and value-added tax discounts, warning that fears about the new variant have already had an impact on the sector, with sales already having plunged by a third in the last 10 days — reflecting 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) in lost trade.

Jonathan Neame, the chief executive of pub and brewery Shepherd Neame, said the government comments and concerns will throw his business back to the start of the pandemic.


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is offering COVID-19 booster shots for people who received their second shots at least three months ago as a measure to fight the omicron variant.

The measure, announced late Wednesday, cuts by three months the previous six-month interval between the second shot and the booster vaccine.

The country of nearly 84 million has so far reported six cases of the omicron variant.


PARIS — France will restrict arrivals from Britain because of fast-spreading cases of the omicron virus variant.

The government spokesman said Thursday that France will impose limits on reasons for traveling and a new requirement of a 48-hour isolation upon arrival. The new measures are taking effect first thing Saturday.

The government is holding a special virus security meeting Friday that will address growing pressure on hospitals in France from rising infections in recent weeks.

Delta remains the dominant variant in France. But omicron is spreading so fast in Britain that it is raising concerns across the Channel.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Swedish authorities say citizens from fellow Nordic countries will have to show a valid COVID-19 vaccination certificate when entering Sweden starting next week.

As of Dec. 21, people from Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland no long will have an exemption to the certificate requirement and must also show their passes to enter Sweden.

The country’s social affairs minister also encouraged all travelers to be tested for the coronavirus upon entry due what she called a “deteriorating” public health situation. Sweden has previously stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the coronavirus.


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Some former vaccine skeptics in Eastern Europe are shifting over to the other side.

Fata Keco was afraid of possible adverse side effects when she rolled up her sleeve in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to take her first COVID-19 vaccine shot. but the worst she had to contend with was “moderately discomforting pain” in her left arm.

Bosnia and Romania are seeing their vaccination rates rise amid tighter COVID-19 restrictions.


JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has detected its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a cleaning worker at a hospital in Jakarta.

The patient has no symptoms and is being quarantined at the Athlete’s Village emergency hospital, where the patient worked.

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the case was found on Wednesday.


DENVER — U.S. sports leagues are seeing rapidly increasing COVID-19 outbreaks with dozens of players in health and safety protocols, amid an ongoing surge by the delta variant of the coronavirus and rising cases of the highly transmissible omicron mutation.

Both the NBA and NHL have postponed games over the last month with so many players sidelined, and the men’s basketball teams at Tulane and the University of Washington have had cancellations.

Experts say managing outbreaks is easier with highly vaccinated rosters, and there’s too much at stake to cut back seasons.


SACRAMENTO, California — Workplace regulators are poised to extend California’s coronavirus pandemic regulations into next year with revisions that businesses say could worsen the labor shortage.

The main change in the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised rule Thursday is that it would erase current distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees.

Both would be barred from the workplace if they come in close contact with someone with the virus. Exposed, vaccinated but asymptomatic workers would have to stay home for 14 days even if they test negative. If they return to work, they would have to wear masks and stay six feet (about two meters) from anyone else during those two weeks.


JERUSALEM — The Israeli government says it is donating 1 million coronavirus vaccines to the U.N.-backed COVAX program.

The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the AstraZeneca vaccines would be transferred to African countries in the coming weeks. It says the decision is part of Israel’s strengthening ties with African countries.

COVAX is a global initiative that aims to provide coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations. Wealthier countries have acquired the most of the world’s vaccine supplies, causing vast inequality in access to jabs. Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate its population. Early this year, it came under criticism for not sharing enough of its supplies with the Palestinians.


NEW YORK — U.S. health officials say pets and another animals can get the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But the risk of them spreading it to people is low.

Dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, otters, hyenas and white-tailed deer are among the animals that have tested positive, in most cases after contracting it from infected people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets, farm animals and wildlife, as well as with other people. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading among animals is to control it among people.