German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the impact of COVID-19 in the country had reached a "critical" level after the number of infections rose to a record high this week.
"We are in a situation that I would like to describe as critical,'' Lauterbach said at the weekly coronavirus press briefing in Berlin on Friday. "We have strongly rising case figures again. [...] I keep reading that the omicron variant is a milder variant but that's only true to a limited extent."
Despite planning to further relax COVID-19 rules, Germany logged a record high number of coronavirus infections in 24 hours on Thursday, and a figure almost as high, 252,836 cases, on Friday.
"The situation is objectively worse than the public mood," the health minister said.
He said that some people's belief in Germany, including politicians, that the pandemic was now over, was an "error of judgement."
"We can not be satisfied with a situation in which 250 people are dying every day and the prospect is that in a few weeks more people will die,'' he said.
Germany will lift most coronavirus restrictions on March 20 after a period of easing them. From then on, state governments will be allowed to require measures such as wearing masks, testing and other measures in virus "hot spots" at their own discretion.
Masks will remain mandatory on long-distance trains and flights.
Here are the latest major developments on coronavirus from around the world:
The government in Kenya announced on Friday that it would scrap wearing of masks in public to ease COVID-19 restrictions that had been in place for two years.
"The mandatory wearing of face masks in open public spaces is now lifted," Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said in a statement on Friday.
It comes as rates of COVID infection in Kenya had dropped to one percent or less over the past month, the minister explained.
Double vaccinated people will also be allowed into sporting events and all in-person worship services can resume at full capacity so long as the attendees are fully jabbed, he said.
But he also added: "This, however, is not to say that we are already completely out of the woods."
Kagwe encouraged the continued use of masks indoors and social distancing in public places.
China ordered the lockdown the northeastern city of Changchun following a new spike in local COVID-19 cases attributed to the omicron variant.
Mainland China reported over 1,000 new COVID-19 infections, spread across dozens of cities, its highest daily count in about two years, according to the latest daily official count released on Friday.
Residents living in the city of 9 million must stay at home, with one family member allowed to leave the house to buy food and other essentials every two days.
All residents also have to undergo three rounds of mass testing, meanwhile non-essential businesses have been closed and transport links suspended.
In Hong Kong, leader Carrie Lam called for more vaccinations as rising infections raise alarm bells. Lam said on Friday that the city's COVID-19 vaccination program will focus on its elderly and children while authorities battle to curb climbing infections and death rates.
Health authorities reported 29,381 new infections and 196 deaths on Friday. Since early 2020, Hong Kong had recorded almost 650,000 COVID-19 infections and about 3,500 deaths, most of which are from the past two weeks.
A World Health Organization (WHO) official on Friday had urged the Philippines to remain vigilant against Covid-19, warning that another surge was "inevitable."
As cases continue to drop to less than 1,000 per day, authorities in the Philippines had been looking to ease restrictions. Since the start of the month, 40 areas in the country, including the capital, had remained under Level 1 of a five-tier alert system.
This meant businesses have been allowed to operate at full capacity but face masks and social distancing are still required.
Rajendra Prasav Yadav, WHO's acting country representative, said it was "too early to declare victory against the virus."
"When we start lowering our guards and masks, this is a disaster because we're seeing the vaccination pace slow down considerably in the past few days," he said in a television interview. "We have to be actively careful, stay alert and get ready for the next wave, which I think is inevitable."
The United States is extending the requirement of wearing masks on planes and public transport for one more month, federal officials said.
It announced the decision while also deliberating on steps that could lead to lifting the rule entirely.
The mandate to wear masks was scheduled to expire March 18, but now has been extended to April 18, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said.
More to follow...
fh/msh (Reuters, AP, DPA, AFP)