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Countries Consider Further Post-Christmas Omicron Curbs


The day after Christmas, people across Europe were set to face new restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron variant as infection rates hit new records in many areas, while the Biden administration said it was working to make sure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.

The disruptions have had an immediate effect on the travel sector with airlines continuing to cancel flights as pilots and flight attendants report infections. Airlines scrubbed around 900 flights on Saturday after canceling nearly 700 the day before. More cancellations are scheduled for Sunday, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.

An intensive care unit in France, which passed 100,000 new infections for the first time on Saturday.



Photo:

Daniel Cole/Associated Press

In the U.S., the seven-day average of Covid-19 cases has eclipsed the peak during Delta’s march through the country. The average reached 128,676 as of Dec. 25, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. A growing body of evidence suggests that Omicron can lead to less severe disease in people with high levels of immunity, either through vaccination or prior infection. Research is continuing.

Dr.

Anthony Fauci,

President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the administration was focused on ensuring “we don’t get an overrun on hospitals,” given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

“The president’s multipart component of the response is to make sure that we have adequate backup for hospitals with military personnel, doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers,” Dr. Fauci said in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that aired Sunday. That includes making sure there are adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and “enough ventilators in the national strategic stockpile,” Dr. Fauci said.

Dr.

Ashish Jha,

dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, praised the Biden administration’s focus on vaccine supply and boosters but said it hasn’t done enough to ensure adequate supply of Covid tests.

“The two places where I would say the administration needs to do a better job: communicating more effectively with the American people, and certainly making testing much, much more widely available,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

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Covid-19 testing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. The seven-day average of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. has eclipsed the peak during Delta’s march through the country.



Photo:

michael reynolds/epa/Shutterstock

He said he is hopeful that the president’s promise of the government distributing half a billion Covid-19 testing kits starting in January would help with meeting the demand.

Dr. Fauci, in his appearance on ABC, said that “there are still some issues now of people having trouble getting tested, but we’re addressing the testing problem” and it would be corrected soon.

Dr. Jha also said that he expects that in the next few weeks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will likely revise its definition of fully vaccinated from two shots to three.

“I do think we’re going to end up there,” he said, noting that the hepatitis B vaccine is a three-shot series and polio is four. “I don’t think the idea of a three-shot Covid vaccine series to be fully vaccinated is either unprecedented or unusual.”

In New York late Friday, public-health officials warned of a sharp increase in hospitalizations of unvaccinated children and issued an urgent call for childhood vaccination against Covid-19.

European airlines and rail operators are facing similar obstacles to their U.S. counterparts, demonstrating how quickly the more-transmissible Omicron variant can disrupt even highly-vaccinated countries.

France passed 100,000 new infections for the first time on Saturday, the third consecutive record. French President

Emmanuel Macron

is scheduled to hold a meeting with his cabinet Monday to discuss their response to the worsening outbreak, including modifying the country’s health pass used to access cafes, restaurants and other public spaces to require a third booster of the Covid-19 vaccine. Some parts of the country have already introduced new safeguards, including Savoie, in southeast France, which requires the compulsory wearing of face masks.

Italy, which is also seeing record infections as the Omicron variant spreads, has introduced a mandate for wearing face masks outside. The Netherlands also introduced strict measures before the holiday, closing nonessential retail and setting a 5 p.m. curfew for hospitality.

On Sunday, new restrictions came into force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, limiting the number of people who can gather in pubs and restaurants and effectively outlawing large New Year’s Eve events. England, the largest country in the U.K., hasn’t decided whether to impose new measures after another day of record infections on Saturday. British Prime Minister

Boris Johnson

is under pressure from lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party to hold off from announcing any further restrictions.

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Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which has set a 5 p.m. curfew for hospitality.



Photo:

Ddp/Zuma Press

New Covid-19 infections have risen sharply in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s most vaccinated nations. New cases surpassed 1,800 on Sunday, up from less than 50 about three weeks ago. The seven-day average is now the highest in more than three months.

Authorities haven’t disclosed how common the Omicron variant is in the country. They have imposed some restrictions in recent days, including an 80%-capacity cap on attendance at Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

The Persian Gulf country has remained relatively open since the early days of the pandemic, with business hub Dubai maintaining open-border policies and resisting quarantine requirements. With its high vaccination rates and low taxes, Dubai has emerged as a pandemic boomtown drawing in the ultrarich, entrepreneurs and tourists even as Omicron rattled global markets.

Most hotels in Dubai are fully booked through the holiday season as tourists from colder climes seek a reprieve on its sun-soaked beaches. The government banned travelers from southern Africa last month after the Omicron variant emerged but it has remained open to the rest of the world.

Worshipers marked Christmas Eve at Dubai’s Expo 2020 world fair with a prayer service, live musical performances and a Mass streamed live from Bethlehem.

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Mass Friday at a church in Dubai, which has maintained open-border policies and resisted quarantine requirements, though Covid-19 infections have risen sharply in the United Arab Emirates.



Photo:

ali haider/Shutterstock

Tennis star

Rafael Nadal,

meanwhile, tested positive after arriving in Spain from a tournament in Abu Dhabi, the capital, 10 days ago, as did a passenger on Israeli Prime Minister

Naftali Bennett’s

flight home from the U.A.E. earlier in the month. Israel subsequently banned travel from the U.A.E.

The Emirati government said last month it had delivered at least one shot to the entire eligible population, with 93% receiving two doses and a third getting an additional shot.

A government spokeswoman said last week that 55% of hospital and ICU beds in the U.A.E. were vacant and only about 3% of patients at hospitals were being treated for Covid-19.

India will begin rolling out booster shots to healthcare workers from Jan. 10, Prime Minister

Narendra Modi

said on Saturday. Over-15s will be eligible for vaccination from Jan. 3, while people over 60 with other illnesses will be offered boosters.

China, meanwhile, reported its largest number of new infections in 21 months as infections spread in the northwestern city of Xian—155 new domestically transmitted cases were reported Sunday, more than doubling the previous day’s figures.

Scientists are using automation, real-time analysis and pooling data from around the world to rapidly identify and understand new coronavirus variants before the next one spreads widely. Photo Illustration: Sharon Shi

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com, Stephen Kalin at stephen.kalin@wsj.com and Chad Day at Chad.Day@wsj.com

Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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