The number of people in hospital with coronavirus is at its highest in Britain since February last year, new figures show, amid increasing pressure on health services.
Governments across the world are tightening restrictions as the Omicron variant continues to drive up COVID-19 cases globally.
Election rallies have been cancelled in India as its megacities experience a surge in cases.
China is pressing ahead with its “zero-COVID” policy and tightening rules in the attempt to stamp out new clusters.
Here are the latest updates:
Chinese official apologises after woman miscarries outside lockdown hospital
A top health official in China’s locked-down Xi’an has apologised over the miscarriage of an eight-month pregnant woman, after footage went viral of a hospital refusing her entry without a COVID test.
“I deeply apologise to this patient on behalf of the city’s health commission,” Xi’an health commission director Liu Shunzhi told reporters, before standing and bowing to the audience.
Liu said the hospital had been told to “compensate” the woman and said he apologised that the “access to medical care was not smooth during the epidemic.”
The hospital’s general manager has been suspended over the incident, as have “responsible persons” at the outpatient department.
Thailand reports biggest spike in virus cases in weeks
Thailand has reported its biggest spike in coronavirus cases in weeks after the holiday season, amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Officials recorded 5,775 new cases, prompting the Ministry of Public Health to raise the official warning level to 4 on a scale of 5, permanent secretary Kiatiphume Wongrajit said.
The warning level had been at 3 since the end of December.
Under level 4, the ministry recommends closing high-risk venues, including those with poor ventilation, increasing restrictions on interprovincial travel, limiting group sizes in public places and lengthening quarantine requirements for travellers entering Thailand.
Africa CDC says severe lockdowns no longer tool to contain coronavirus
Africa’s top public health official said severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain the virus, citing South Africa as an example.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a news conference that “the period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over.”
“We should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way as the vaccination increases,” he said.
Nkengasong added South Africa experienced a steep rise of the more infectious Omicron variant from late November, but also a sharp decrease. “I think that is a lesson that we all should learn from what the South Africans have done to manage this,” he said.
Britain’s COVID hospitalisation highest since last February
A total of 17,276 people were in hospital in the UK with COVID-19 as of January 4, government figures show, the highest number since February 19.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country is seeing its fastest growth in cases, as more than 20 hospital trusts declared a critical incident.
Johnson said hospital admissions were “doubling around every nine days” and the country was “experiencing the fastest growth in COVID cases we’ve ever known.”
Survey: 85pc of Indonesians have antibodies
More than 85 percent of Indonesia’s population has antibodies against COVID-19, a government-commissioned survey showed.
The study, which covered some 22,000 respondents and was conducted by researchers at the University of Indonesia, found Indonesians had developed antibodies from a combination of COVID-19 infections and vaccinations.
Epidemiologists have warned it was not clear whether this immunity could help contain a fresh wave of coronavirus infections.
Nadal scores first win after COVID recovery
Tennis star Rafael Nadal has won his first singles match after being “very sick” with the coronavirus.
The Spaniard beat Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament. The 35-year-old had tested positive last month after an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.
Nadal had also been also recovering from a foot injury last year and sat out Wimbledon and the US Open.
Speaking of long-time rival Novak Djokovic, whose visa to Australia was cancelled for failing to meet vaccine-entry requirements, Nadal said Djokovic must face the consequences for not being vaccinated against coronavirus.
Pharmaceutical companies asked to promote vaccine access
A group of institutional investors representing $3.5 trillion in assets under management has called on pharmaceutical companies to adopt the World Health Organisation’s roadmap for achieving equitable vaccine access.
Sixty-five asset managers, pension funds and insurance companies signed a letter dated January 4 asking the boards of Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca PLC to link their executives’ pay to making COVID-19 vaccines available around the globe.
They have also called for the licensing and sharing of technology so countries can produce vaccines locally.
Omicron spreads in India’s big cities
Indian megacities Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, although without a corresponding rise in hospitalisations.
India reported 90,928 new daily cases, up nearly four-fold since the start of the year, mostly from cities where health officials say the Omicron variant has overtaken Delta.
The federal health ministry has identified Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru as some of the main regions of concern, although state officials worry the disease will soon spread to the countryside where health facilities are weaker.
New cases nearly doubled in a day in Delhi to 10,665 on Wednesday, but the state said only 7 percent of its COVID beds were occupied. Federal health officials have warned even a large number of mild cases could put pressure on the health system.
Election rallies for next month’s poll in Uttar Pradesh have been cancelled.
Read more here.
China’s Henan imposes new restrictions as cases spike
More cities in central China have resorted to tough curbs as new coronavirus infections in Henan province rose sharply.
Although the numbers are tiny compared with many places in the world, and no cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant have been reported so far, several cities have imposed new limits as part of China’s national policy of stamping out clusters as they appear.
Gushi, a county in Henan of 1 million residents, has stopped people from leaving town and dissuade others from coming. In Yuzhou city, 1 million residents are already under lockdown, with people in some areas unable to leave their homes.
The city of Xuchang has rolled out mass testing on its more than 4 million residents.
Henan reported 64 domestically transmitted local infections with confirmed symptoms for Wednesday, up from just four a day earlier, official data showed.
French parliament approves vaccine pass
The French parliament has approved the government’s latest measures to tackle the coronavirus, including a controversial vaccine pass.
The legislation comes after French President Emmanuel Macron was criticised for saying he wanted to “piss off” unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex said making vaccination compulsory would not be very helpful, as that move would bring more problems than solutions.
The measures still need to be approved by the Senate.
Thailand raises alert level due to Omicron spread
Thailand is raising its COVID-19 alert level amid rising infections driven by the Omicron variant, giving officials the authority to close high-risk areas and place curbs on travel.
“Thailand has entered a new wave of infections, where new cases will be rising fast,” said Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary of the health ministry.
The change from level three to four “means we may close high-risk places and announce more measures,” he said.
Thailand reported 5,775 new cases on Thursday, a 48 percent rise on the previous day and nearly double the number on January 1.
California to extend indoor mask mandate
The US state of California is extending its indoor mask mandate into mid-February amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases that officials say could overwhelm hospitals.
California’s confirmed cases have shot up nearly 500 percent in the last two weeks, and hospitalisations have doubled since Christmas to more than 8,000.
State models forecast hospitalisations could top 20,000 by early next month, a level nearly as high as last January, when California experienced its deadliest surge.
Anger in China after woman miscarries outside lockdown hospital in Xi’an
Chinese authorities are under fire after footage went viral of an eight months’ pregnant woman miscarrying in the locked-down city of Xi’an when a hospital refused her entry without a coronavirus test.
The city’s government says the hospital’s general manager has been suspended and added that the local health bureau has launched an investigation.
US Forces Japan announces ‘more stringent measures’ amid virus surge
United States Forces Japan says it is establishing “more stringent mitigation measures” to prevent COVID-19 transmissions at its bases in the country.
The measures include requiring US military personnel to wear masks while off base and stricter testing mandates.
U.S. Forces Japan Increases to Health Protection Bravo
Please find the Press Release below for more details. pic.twitter.com/LmAUory7Hs
— U.S. Forces Japan (@USForcesJapan) January 6, 2022
Moves come amid a surge in infections in Okinawa, which is host to 70 percent of US military facilities in Japan. The prefecture leads the country in new infections and is considering imposing quasi-emergency measures.
The US military in Okinawa reported six new cases on Wednesday, down from a high of 235 on Sunday. A total of 3,868 cases have been reported by US Forces Japan, according to local media.
Macau bans international flights
Following Hong Kong’s lead, the Chinese territory of Macau has also announced a ban, albeit stricter, on inbound international passenger flights.
Macau’s Health Bureau said it will ban “civil aircraft from carrying passengers from places outside China to Macau” for two weeks starting from midnight on Sunday.
Sebastian Korda tests positive for COVID-19 in Australia
US tennis player Sebastian Korda has tested positive for COVID-19 after landing in Australia.
Korda had already withdrawn from the Adelaide International, a warm-up event, but the world number 41 is in the main draw for the Australian Open.
“No symptoms and two negative results since testing positive,” he wrote on Twitter alongside a video of him hitting a ball against the hotel room wall.
“Thank you Tennis Australia for all the equipment!”
Landed in Adelaide and tested positive. No symptoms and two negative results since testing positive. Respecting all the local covid protocols and training in my room but I have to work on my ball control, literally😂🥜 Thank you Tennis Australia for all the equipment! #badbounce pic.twitter.com/9ePxb2l6oc
— Sebastian Korda (@SebiKorda) January 6, 2022
‘Stop counting cases’: Expert says focus needs to change
The world should stop focusing on the daily case count and turning to lockdowns to limit the spread of what is now a highly transmissible virus, Lawrence Gostin, professor of medicine at Georgetown University in the US, has told Al Jazeera.
Governments should instead look to implement the measures that will keep people out of hospital should they catch COVID-19.
“Lockdowns and school closures are rapidly becoming a thing of the past – at least I think they should be,” Gostin said. “I have no objection to them as a temporary emergency measure, but I would be dismayed if went well into 2022 seeing countries locking down. That’s not the way to live with COVID-19. The best way is to vaccinate, get enough anti-viral medicines and therapeutics and just keep people out of hospital because we are not going to stop COVID from spreading. We have got to stop counting cases and start preventing hospitalisation.”
CDC in United States recommends boosters for young people
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending young people between the ages of 12 and 17 get an additional shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“It is critical that we protect our children and teens from COVID-19 infection and the complications of severe disease,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “I encourage all parents to keep their children up to date with CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.”
The initiative covers about 10 million adolescents and teens.
Morrison says Djokovic did not have evidence for medical exemption
Scott Morrison has been talking about Australia’s move to bar entry to tennis star Novak Djokovic.
He told reporters at a press conference in Canberra that the Serb failed to provide enough evidence to secure a medical exemption to COVID-19 vaccination.
“All I can say is that the evidence [for] medical exemption that was provided was found to be insufficient,” Morrison said, adding Djokovic had not been “singled out” for scrutiny.
Djokovic has been taken to a quarantine hotel pending his deportation.
Japan asks US to tighten COVID rules for bases
Japan has asked the United States to strengthen COVID-19 measures at its military sites, including restrictions on people leaving US bases, according to the Kyodo news agency.
Kyodo said the request was made during a phone call between Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Japan has been keeping COVID-19 in check, but the southern island of Okinawa, where there is a large US base, has emerged as a new hotspot.
Read all the updates from January 5 here.