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A masks mandatory sign at a US Airport
The US has lifted its temporary travel ban on eight African countriesImage: Gregg Brekke/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

COVID: US lifts travel ban on 8 African countries

December 31, 2021

The White House said the restrictions, imposed due to the omicron variant, were no longer necessary. Elsewhere, omicron has become the main source of infections in France. DW has the latest.

https://p.dw.com/p/4519a

The United States is lifting restrictions on travelers from eight countries in southern Africa starting on 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.

WHO worried about spike in coronavirus cases

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:

Europe

The risk of hospitalization from the omicron variant is roughly one-third that of delta, according to UK health officials and researchers from Cambridge University who analyzed over one million COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

The UK Health Security Agency said vaccines were effective against the omicron variant.

Pfizer's COVID-19 pill Paxlovid was also approved for use in the UK in patients over 18 years of age with mild to moderate symptoms but at high risk of a worsening infection. 

Health expert Dr. Saad B. Omer

The UK regulator said Paxlovid is most effective taken within the first five days a patient experiences symptoms.

In France, the omicron variant of the coronavirus has become the main COVID strain, 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.

Omicron cases on the rise in Europe

Despite a vaccination rate of around 80%, Spain will end 2021 with one of the highest incidence rates in Europe. 

The number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within 24 hours has climbed to over 1,000 for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

COVID Christmas: DW correspondents report from Seville and London

At the Vatican, Pope Francis called off his traditional New Year's Eve visit to the life-sized Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square to prevent a mass of people gathering around. 

The Vatican has followed largely adhered to Italy's rules and restrictions on crowd size limitations.

Middle East

Israel began giving a fourth booster of the COVID-19 vaccine to the immunocompromised. The first recipients of the fourth booster received their jabs early Friday at the Shiba Hospital near Tel Aviv.

Nachman Ash, the Israeli health minister, also announced the general approval of a fourth booster for those who live and work at elder care facilities due to dramatic and devastating outbreaks in those facilities earlier in the pandemic.

Turkey counted 40,786 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number the country has seen since April.

Health minister Fahrettin Koca advised, "Although there are no restrictions, we recommend that you act as if there are," calling his message a "warning" on Twitter. 

Oceania

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.

Asia

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.

Pakistan said the country reached a milestone goal of vaccinating 70 million people in 2021. To achieve this, Pakistan relied mostly on Chinese-made vaccines as well as millions of doses received under the global vaccine COVAX program.

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.

India introduces restrictions on gatherings

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.

The Philippines will impose tighter restrictions, starting on January 3 after the confirmation of three domestic cases of the omicron variant. Acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said the curbs would last until January 15.

Africa

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. 

Can Europe learn from S. Africa's omicron experience?

"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.

jsi,see,ar/rt (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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