New Zealand police on Wednesday clashed with hundreds of protesters who have been camped outside the Parliament in Wellington for about three weeks.
Violence broke out in the afternoon as police tried to clear up the protest camp. Protesters set fire to a number of tents, sending thick black smoke into the air. They also hurled objects such as tent poles at the police.
Forces used pepper spray on some of the demonstrators, and began towing some of the cars, vans and trucks that protesters have used to block streets in the area. Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said 36 protesters had been arrested for trespassing, obstruction and other offences.
It was the most significant use of force to date by authorities against the protesters, who oppose coronavirus vaccine mandates.
"We've become concerned that those with good intentions are now outnumbered by those with a willingness to use violence to effect their means," he said, adding that de-escalation was the preferred option.
New Zealand imposed tough anti-virus curbs since the beginning of the pandemic and has had low infection and death rates. But cases of the omicron variant have been on the rise. About 95% of eligible people are vaccinated with two doses.
Here are the latest coronavirus developments from around the world:
Germany would remove all countries from its list of COVID-19 high-risk areas, starting on Thursday.
The Robert Koch Institute said only countries that record high infection rates linked to a variant other than omicron would be categorized as high-risk. It said omicron is not as life-threatening as the previously predominant variants.
Travelers to Germany still have to present either a negative coronavirus test result, proof of vaccination, or documentation proving their recovery from COVID-19.
Italy has registered 178,000 excess deaths, mostly linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in 2020.
The excess death figure, measured to the end of January 2022, calculates the difference between the total deaths from all causes since the pandemic started and the expected trend based on the 2015-2019 average.
Some 145,334 deaths were attributed to COVID-19 infections.
"As the vaccination campaign progressed, mortality decreased significantly from week 20 onwards last year," Italy' National Statistics Office and National Health Institute said in a joint report.
President Joe Biden said the United States will "never just accept living with COVID," during his State of the Union address.
Biden said the country would continue fighting the virus. "Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, COVID-19 need no longer control our lives," he said, but asked people not to let their guard down yet, as there could be more variants.
The White House said it will announce a COVID preparedness plan on Wednesday. The plan will be unveiled by Anthony Fauci and other top White House advisers, and map out how "to move forward safely and get back to our more normal routines."
Hawaii will soon lift its quarantine requirement for travelers this month. From March 26, those arriving from other places in the US will not have to show a vaccine certificate or negative test.
International travelers would still require proof of vaccination or a negative test result.
It is the only American state to implement a program of this kind. Hawaii has one of the lowest infection rates in the country.
Governor David Ige said the indoor mask mandate would still be in action, at least till March 25. The state department of health would then take a call after reviewing CDC recommendations, he added.
Thousands of Filipinos celebrated Ash Wednesday at churches this year, as the Philippines lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions. Low infection rates and high vaccination numbers in the past weeks allowed people to resume social contact and gatherings.
Devotees came to receive the ash cross on their foreheads, a ritual that marks the beginning of Lent. During the past two years, churches have sprinkled it in people's hair, due to COVID restrictions amid its ongoing omicron surge.
The government of Hong Kong asked its citizens not to "panic nor scramble or stockpile the relevant supplies," as it decides whether to impose restrictions.
Authorities said any decision about a lockdown would keep in mind the financial hub's status and ensure basic needs of residents were met. The government was still deliberating on a compulsory universal testing scheme, sometimes referred to as CUT.
"The experience of implementing a CUT initiative in other parts of the world shows that the basic needs of citizens such as food, necessities and the seeking of medical attention outside home should be addressed," said the government.
Infections in Hong Kong have soared to around 30,000 per day. Experts are expecting the wave to peak in the coming week.
tg/jsi (dpa, AP, Reuters)