Covid-19 has infected more than 275M people and killed over 5.3M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments for December 21:

The Health Ministry said there were at least 340 known cases of Omicron in Israel.
The Health Ministry said there were at least 340 known cases of Omicron in Israel. (AFP)

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Israel reports first known death from Omicron variant

Israel has recorded its first known death from the Omicron variant of Covid-19, according to Israeli news media which reported that an elderly man died in Beersheba.

The patient died at Soroka Medical Center and had pre-existing conditions, according to the Times of Israel and Ynet news reports on Tuesday.

The two news agencies both said he was over 60 and had received two vaccine doses but not a third booster shot.

The Health Ministry and Soroka did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation.

Earlier the Health Ministry said there were at least 340 known cases of Omicron in Israel. 

India tells states to be on alert as Omicron cases double

India has told state governments to be proactive and on the lookout for surges of the Omicron coronavirus variant after cases nearly doubled within a week across a dozen states.

India, whose already creaking health system became overwhelmed by Covid cases in the summer, has recorded 200 Omicron infections, mostly in the western state of Maharashtra and the nation's capital New Delhi, the health ministry said.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said states could take containment measures including night curfews and allow fewer people at offices and on public transport should there be a surge.

States were allowed to impose restrictions if the rate of new infections reached 10 percent or higher in a week or 40 percent of oxygen or ICU beds were occupied. 

But given the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, Bhushan told states to impose such measures even if the surge was not that high.

There have been no Omicron deaths reported so far. In less than 40 percent of cases, patients either fully recovered or were discharged, the data showed. 

India, which has the world's second largest number of confirmed Covid-19 infections after the United States, has been accelerating its vaccination campaign amid fears of potential surges in infections, with at least one dose given to 87 percent of the eligible 944 million adults.

India recorded 5,326 new Covid-19 infections in the past 24 hours, the lowest overnight tally in more than one and a half years. The country has reported 34.75 million cases.

EU drug regulator: Unclear if Covid shots need tweaking for Omicron

The European Union's drug regulator is prepared for the possibility that Covid-19 vaccines may be tweaked to fight the new Omicron variant, although there is no evidence yet that it will be necessary, the agency's chief said.

"There is no answer whether we will need to adapt vaccines," European Medicines Agency's (EMA) executive director Emer Cook said in a media briefing.

She said the European Union has capacity to make 300 million doses of vaccines per month as drugmakers have ramped up output to meet growing demand for the bloc's 450 million population. 

Omicron now dominant variant in Denmark

Omicron is now the predominant variant of coronavirus present in Denmark, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said on Twitter, citing the country's infectious disease authority.

Ireland to spend 200M euros on Covid supports

Ireland expects to spend around 200 million euros ($225 million) on a series of new supports for businesses and workers in January, spending minister Michael McGrath said.

The supports were introduced following the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and a series of new restrictions, including the closure of bars and restaurants at 8 p.m. until the end of January.

Scotland sets out Covid restrictions for large events post-Christmas

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday set out plans for further restrictions on large scale public events in Scotland after Christmas to try to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

Sturgeon said that from Dec. 26, for up to three weeks, there would be limits on the numbers of people who could attend events and social distancing would be required.

"This will of course make sports matches, including football, effectively spectator-free over this three week period," she said.

Sturgeon said there would no ch ange to the government's advice for Christmas, but public New Year's Eve celebrations would not go ahead. 

UK offers 1 billion pounds to firms hit hardest by Omicron

Britain has announced 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) of extra support for businesses hit hardest by the wave of Omicron variant coronavirus cases, which is hammering the country's hospitality sector and other businesses.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak said he was confident the measures would help hundreds of thousands of businesses.

But he added that he would "respond proportionately and appropriately" if the government were to impose further restrictions to slow Omicron.

For now, hospitality businesses in England are not subject to any new legal restrictions despite a 60 percent surge in Covid-19 cases over the past week which has taken the number of infections to around 90,000 a day.

Under the s upport announced on Tuesday, hospitality and leisure businesses in England will be eligible for grants of up to 6,000 pounds for each of their premises, accounting for almost 700 million pounds of the new package.

The grants were equivalent to those provided to hospitality businesses when they were fully closed this year, the finance ministry said.

Iran's Yemen envoy dies of Covid after evacuation from Sanaa

Iran's envoy to Yemen has died of Covid despite his evacuation from the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a rare exemption from a Saudi-led air blockade, the Foreign Ministry said.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh blamed the "slow cooperation of certain countries" in facilitating the Saturday evacuation for the death of envoy Hassan Eyrlou.

The diplomat served as ambassador to the Houthi-installed administration in Sanaa, which is recognised only by Tehran.

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir to be discharged from hospital within days

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 96, has completed all necessary investigations for a medical check-up and will be ready to be discharged from hospital within the next few days, the National Heart Institute said.

Mahathir, who has a history of heart troubles, was admitted to the hospital last Thursday for a full medical checkup and observation. The hospital and spokespeople for Mahathir did not say why he had been admitted.

"The team of doctors treating Dr Mahathir is satisfied with results of the investigations done over the last few days," the institute said in a statement.

Thailand reinstates mandatory Covid-19 quarantine over Omicron concerns

Thailand will reinstate its mandatory Covid-19 quarantine for foreign visitors and is scrapping a quarantine waiver due to concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The decision to halt Thailand's "Test and Go" waiver means visitors will have to undergo hotel quarantine, which ranges between 7 to 10 days.

Meanwhile, a so-called "sandbox" programme, which requires visitors to remain in a specific location but allows them free movement outside of their accommodation, will also be suspended in all places except for the tourist resort island of Phuket.

New Zealand delays border re-opening over Omicron concerns

New Zealand has postponed its phased border re-opening plans until the end of February over concerns of the rapid global spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The South Pacific nation had just started easing some of the world's toughest pandemic measures and its international border restrictions were to progressively loosen from January, with all foreign tourists allowed into the country from April.

Non-quarantine travel, which was to have opened for New Zealanders in Australia from January 16, would be pushed back until the end of February, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said at a press conference in Wellington.

Moderna says could be ready to develop Omicron booster in weeks 

Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna does not expect any problems in developing a booster shot to protect against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and could begin work in a few weeks, Chief Executive Stephane Bancel said in an interview.

Moderna hopes to start clinical trials early next year on a vaccine to protect against the fast-spreading Omicron variant but for now is focussing on a booster dose of its current mRNA-1273 vaccine.

"It only needs minor adjustments for Omicron. I don't expect any problems," Bancel said in an interview with the Swiss newspaper TagesAnzeiger published.

Hungary rejoins EU’s vaccine procurement system due to Omicron variant

Hungary has decided to rejoin the European Union's Covid-19 vaccine procurement process to shield its population from the Omicron variant, ordering 9.5 million doses of the jab developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban also told a news conference that he expected the European Commission would publish a clear stance before the end of the year including nuclear energy in its "sustainable finance taxonomy", a rulebook that will restrict which activities can be labelled as climate friendly investments.

UK reports new 91,743 Covid-19 cases

Britain has reported 91,743 new Covid-19 cases, the second-highest figure since the start of the pandemic, as the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly.

The number of deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test was 44.

Daily case rates have repeatedly broken records over the last week as the country –– one of Europe's worst-hit by the virus, with more than 147,000 deaths during the pandemic –– struggles to contain Omicron.

US President Biden tests negative 

US President Joe Biden has tested negative for Covid-19 after he was notified that a mid-level White House staff member who spent about 30 minutes near him on Air Force One on Friday tested positive, the White House said.

A PCR test Biden received on Monday after being notified of the case came back negative, as did an antigen test he received on Sunday as part of his regular testing, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The staff member is fully vaccinated and boosted, had tested negative before boarding Air Force One, and did not begin to experience symptoms until Sunday, she said.

Morocco bans new year's parties

Morocco has announced a ban on New Year's Eve celebrations as part of stepped-up measures against rising coronavirus cases.

The government ordered a ban on all forms of celebration on the evening of New Year's eve, including parties in hotels and tourist sites.

It ordered restaurants and cafes to close at 11.30 pm and said a curfew would be in place from midnight until 6:00 AM on January 1.

Morocco on December 15 detected its first case of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

London cancels New Year event

A major New year celebration in London will be cancelled, the British capital's mayor has said, as worries mount over a surge in virus cases sparked by the Omicron variant. 

Sadiq Khan said infections were at record levels in the city and he needed to do everything possible to slow the spread of the new variant.

The city authorities said there would be a "live broadcast spectacular" on the BBC instead that would celebrate the city. 

Paris has already announced that its annual fireworks show and other events will be cancelled and Germany is expected to follow suit, with plans on the table to close nightclubs and limit the size of private parties.

South Africa's Ramaphosa back to work

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has returned to work after finishing a week of self-isolation due to testing positive for Covid-19, his office said in a statement.

It said he would chair the final cabinet meeting of the year on Wednesday.

New Zealand delays its re-opening

New Zealand has said it would delay its re-opening plans until the end of February fearing a rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

New Zealand had previously announced that non-quarantine travel would reopen by mid-January for New Zealand citizens and residents in Australia, and to foreign tourists by April.

"There's no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it's important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans," Covid- 19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies