Live updates: Spain shortens mandatory COVID isolation time

MADRID — Spain’s Health Ministry says that the mandatory isolation time for people who test positive for COVID-19 and for unvaccinated people who have been in close contact with an infected person will be shortened from 10 to seven days.

A public health commission representing experts and health chiefs from Spain’s central and regional governments approved the new rules “unanimously,” the ministry says in a statement. Spain doesn’t currently mandate quarantines for double-dose vaccinated people who have been in contact with a positive case.

The new rules follow similar moves by health authorities in the United States, the United Kingdom and some European countries.

Health Ministry data showed a new record of nearly 100,000 reported infections on Tuesday, bringing the closely-watched 14-day infection rate to 1,360 cases per 100,000 residents. That’s nearly twice the level from a week earlier and five times the incidence rate at the beginning of December.

Although primary care health services are now feeling the strain of people showing up with symptoms and requiring tests, hospitalizations are lower than during previous virus surges. Spanish experts are linking the milder affection to a vaccine uptake of more than 80% of Spain’s 47 million residents.



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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia has confirmed the presence of the omicron variant of the new coronavirus in the Balkan country.

Health officials on Wednesday said that the variant has been detected in 10 out of 100 samples tested at the main clinic in the capital Sarajevo. The fast-spreading virus variant earlier has been detected in other countries in the Balkan region as well.

Montenegro on Wednesday limited the work of bars and restaurants for New Year’s Eve to 1 a.m. in response. Montenegro has seen a sharp rise in new cases in the past days with around 1,500 infections reported on Wednesday in the country of 620,000 people.

In neighboring Serbia, authorities have decided this week to go ahead with planned outdoor concerts for New Year’s Eve despite the omicron fears and expert appeals for swift action. The state RTS television has reported that tens of thousands of visitors have flocked for the holidays to Belgrade which has relaxed virus restrictions.

Serbia has introduced COVID passes in the evening for bars, restaurants and night clubs while face masks are mandatory in shops and other indoor venues. Serbia and other countries in the region were hit hard in a major wave during the fall that swept through low-vaccination Central and Eastern Europe.


JACKSON, Miss. — The mayor of Mississippi’s capital city has ordered the closure of city hall and other city offices due to a surge in new confirmed coronavirus cases, particularly the highly contagious delta and omicron variants.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s new executive order closing offices went into effect Wednesday. He said only essential employees will continue to work in person. The order will stay in place until at least Jan. 5.

“The infectious spread of COVID-19 through both the Delta and Omicron variants has continued and dramatically increased in the City of Jackson, with a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and death rate,” the mayor said in a statement. “The City of Jackson does not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach to the continued threat.”

A total of 400 people were hospitalized with a confirmed coronavirus infection in Mississippi on Monday, compared with 239 people last Friday on Christmas Eve, the Department of Health reported.

Health officials said Tuesday 48% of Mississippi residents were fully vaccinated, and 29% had received a booster shot. Around 62% of people nationwide are fully vaccinated, and 32% had received a booster shot Tuesday, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fewer people are being hospitalized now in New Mexico due to COVID-19.

State health officials reported Tuesday there were just over 460 coronavirus patients in hospitals around the state. The Albuquerque Journal reports that the number marks a drop of more than one-third since Dec. 9. That’s when the state hit an 11-month peak that topped 700 patients.

New Mexico also ranks in the bottom half of states when it comes to cases per capita over the last week. The state also reported 22 additional deaths Tuesday. Just seven of them happened in the last 30 days and 13 were in their 70s or older.


PARIS — France’s Health Minister Olivier Veran announced that the country recorded a record high of 208,000 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours.

Speaking at the National Assembly on Wednesday, Veran said the new figure is equivalent to two French testing positive every second, a surge fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Veran warned those not vaccinated: “There is really little chance that this time you can escape (COVID-19). The virus is spreading too fast.”

France has vaccinated 77% of its population and is rushing out booster shots. But more than 4 million adults remain unvaccinated.

More than 3,400 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in intensive care units on Wednesday, an increase by 10% compared to last week.

Veran defended a government plan to allow only the fully vaccinated to enjoy continued access to places such as restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas.


PRAGUE — The Czech government is planning to test all employees for the coronavirus in effort to manage the expected new wave of infections caused by the omicron variant.

Health Minister Vlastimil Valek says the government is planning to make it mandatory for the employees, including those who have received a booster shot, to get tested, possibly once in three to five days. The details of the measure that is set to become effective on Jan. 17 will be worked out with the employers.

The government had ready approved a testing twice a week for all schoolchildren, teachers and other school staffers, starting in January.

Valek says he expects the omicron wave to peak on the turn of January and February. It is estimated by the Health Ministry the omicron variant is currently responsible for about 10% of all new cases in the country.

The nation of 10.7 million has registered about 2.5 million cases with almost 36,000 deaths. The new coronavirus cases have still been on a decline after reaching a record high in late November.


MILAN — Milan’s La Scala theater has canceled all scheduled performances of its season-opening ballet “Bayadere” after new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the ballet corps, the theater announced Wednesday.

Theater management was working to see if new dates could be scheduled, and ticketholders will be advised in the coming days of any new dates or reimbursement instructions.

The seven performances had already been delayed after four dancers tested positive in early December.

Scheduled performances of the season-opening opera “Macbeth,” which is also heavy on dance, are going ahead as planned. Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov has dropped out of Thursday night’s performance in the role of Banquo due to “personal reasons,’’ La Scala said. The role will be sung by Jongmin Park.


ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s health minister says music will be banned at all commercial venues for New Year’s celebrations as part of new restrictions announced in response to a surge in COVID-19 infections fueled by the omicron variant.

The restrictions, originally planned to take effect on Jan. 3, will start early Thursday after the daily number of infections rocketed to nearly 22,000 on Tuesday, more than double the record number reported the previous day.

“Omicron is now the dominant variant in terms of new infections,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said during a livestreamed briefing.

Included in the measures are the mandatory use of high-protection masks at supermarkets and on public transport, schedule changes and additional work-from-home orders for government employees, and strict capacity limits at sporting venues.

Entertainment venues will close at midnight starting Thursday, but they will be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. for New Year’s Eve.


BERLIN — Germany’s health minister is urging his compatriots to be cautious during New Year’s celebrations, warning that the coronavirus infection rate is likely two to three times higher than current statistics show.

Germany’s statistics have continued to show the infection rate drifting downward from a spike caused by the delta variant. But officials have cautioned repeatedly that the numbers are incomplete during the holiday period because fewer tests are being performed and there are delays in reporting tests that are carried out.

On Wednesday, official data showed 40,043 reported new cases over the past 24 hours and an infection rate, or incidence, of 205.5 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that “the underreporting is probably of the order that the actual incidence is currently two or three times as high as the incidence we are measuring.”

He said that “we are also seeing a significant increase in omicron cases that causes us concern.”

Lauterbach advised Germans to spend the New Year period “very cautiously” and celebrate only in very small groups. Restrictions that took effect over recent days included limiting private gatherings to 10 people. Large-scale New Year’s celebrations have been canceled.


WARSAW, Poland — Poland reported a new daily toll of 794 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, a record high in the latest wave of infection — though a number that also reflects some delayed reporting due to Christmas.

The deputy health minister, Waldemar Kraska, said that the number of new infections had declined by about 13% over the last week but that another wave fuelled by the omicron variant is still expected to hit the country next month.

The previous record for deaths during what is widely referred to as the fourth wave was 775 on Dec. 22, while the highest daily rate came in at 954 deaths on April 8, when central Europe was a global hot spot of infection.

To date, the nation of 38 million people has recorded over 4 million infections and a total of 95,707 deaths.


MADRID — Spain’s prime minister has ruled out any immediate national restrictions in response to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said official data shows that even though omicron spreads more quickly, it has generally caused milder symptoms and therefore put less pressure on Spain’s hospitals than previous strains. He also cited the country’s high vaccination rate of over 80%.

“It’s clear that we are in a situation radically different,” Sánchez told reporters during his year-end press conference. “We are better and more prepared to confront the omicron variant.”

Sánchez confirmed that a panel of regional chiefs and central health authorities would debate a proposal to shorten the mandatory isolation period for individuals who test positive but display no COVID-19 symptoms.

Spanish authorities are considering reducing the period from 10 to five days, following the United States, Greece and other countries. Staff absences due to the virus have canceled trains and led to other service disruptions in Spain.

Health Ministry data showed Spain confirmed 100,000 new infections on Tuesday, bringing the 14-day infection rate to 1,360 cases per 100,000 residents, nearly twice the level from a week earlier.


PARIS — France’s government is forging ahead with efforts to increase pressure on unvaccinated people to get coronavirus jabs, as the omicron variant fuels a record surge in infections.

At a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday afternoon, the health minister plans to defend a French government plan to allow only fully vaccinated individuals access to places such as restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums, and sports arenas.

Speeding up the introduction of the so-called “vaccine pass” forms part of a government strategy to use vaccinations, rather than new lockdowns, to try to soften the impact of the fast-spreading omicron variant on already overburdened hospitals.

France reported nearly 180,000 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a daily record, and is bracing for the number to keep increasing, with forecasts warning of more than 250,000 daily infections likely by January.

France has vaccinated more than 75% of its population and is rushing out booster shots, but more than 4 million adults in the country remain unvaccinated.

The government wants the vaccine pass requirement to be in place by mid-January. If approved by parliament, the plan would mean that unvaccinated people will no longer be able to use negative test results to visit places where the pass is required.

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