Live updates: India finds omicron cases in vaccinated people

NEW DELHI — India’s Health Ministry says an analysis of 183 omicron variant infections showed that 87 were in fully vaccinated people and three involved individuals who had booster doses.

India has confirmed a total of 358 COVID-19 cases involving the omicron variant since Dec. 2, and 114 of the infected individuals already have recovered , from the infection, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told reporters Friday.

He says Asian countries are seeing COVID-19 cases decline overall, unlike in North America and Europe.

India was overwhelmed by two massive outbreaks in September 2020 and in May of this year. It recorded more than 400,00 new cases in 24 hours at the peak of its second surge in May. In the past two weeks, the country has averaged around 7,000 new cases a day.

Bhushan says 89% of India’s over-18 population has received one vaccine dose and 61% has received two doses. Despite being home to some of the world’s largest vaccine makers, India has relied largely on two vaccines: the Astra Zeneca vaccine made by Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech’s domestically developed vaccine.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

— Hospitals, police departments struggle to stay staffed as omicron infects workforces

— Fear of infection takes back seat to food insecurity as pandemic pummels African economies

— Coronavirus dampens Christmas joy in biblical Bethlehem

Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the country’s proportion of coronavirus infections with the new omicron variant will increase sharply in the days ahead.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach acknowledged there would be delays in local health offices reporting figures over the holidays, but he appealed on Twitter for people to take steps to avoid infection during Christmas festivities.

According to the national disease control center, Germany had 3,198 COVID-19 cases attributed to omicron as of Wednesday, a 25% increase from the previous day. The disease control center said Thursday that of those cases, 48 people were hospitalized and one person had died.

So far, the delta variant remains the dominant form of the coronavirus in Germany.

Authorities are introducing new contact restrictions, while most regions are shutting nightclubs and putting other measures in place. In most cases, the curbs are set to take effect just after Christmas, though a few will go into force starting Friday.

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TOKYO — Japan has approved the COVID-19 pill developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. for use beginning next week, the Japanese health minister said Friday.

Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters that a ministry drug panel authorized Merck’s molnupiravir under a fast-track process and the drug will be shipped to hospitals and pharmacies beginning next week.

It’s one of two medications for treating COVID-19 that Japan has secured. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country is procuring 1.6 million doses from Merck.

Japan has also arranged for a shipment of 2 million doses of a COVID-19 pill made by Pfizer that hasn’t yet received approval for use in the country.

Until recently, Japan largely kept out coronavirus infections involving the new omicron variant by enforcing stringent border controls. The first known locally transmitted cases were reported in Osaka on Wednesday.

More cases were reported Friday in Osaka and neighboring Kyoto, while Tokyo reported its first community-acquired omicron case.

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank — The biblical town of Bethlehem is marking its second straight Christmas Eve under the shadow of the coronavirus.

Small crowds and gray, gloomy weather dampened celebrations on Friday in the traditional birthplace of Jesus. A ban on nearly all incoming air traffic by Israel — the main entry point for foreign visitors heading to the occupied West Bank — kept international tourists away for a second consecutive year.

Instead, local authorities are counting on the Holy Land’s small Christian community to lift spirits. It is a theme seen around the world as revelers, weary from nearly two years of lockdowns and safety restrictions, search for ways to celebrate safely.

Before the pandemic, Bethlehem would host thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world, bringing a strong dose of holiday spirit to the town and a huge jolt to the local economy.

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PARIS — Protesters angry over virus and vaccine rules have occupied Guadeloupe’s regional legislature because of stalled negotiations over their grievances about management of the French Caribbean island.

Officials in Guadeloupe and Paris denounced Thursday’s incursion as unacceptable and a threat to the democratically elected Regional Council.

Officials posted images online that showed a Christmas tree knocked over and a banner reading “No to Obligatory Vaccination, No to the Health Pass.”

Vaccinations are mandatory for all French health workers and a “health pass” is required to enter many venues. The measures have met the stiffest opposition in Guadeloupe and Martinique, reflecting long-running frustrations over inequality between the islands and the French mainland.

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SYDNEY — Australia’s New South Wales state is reporting more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours for the second straight day as the state and federal governments roll out measures meant to curb the spread of the virus.

The Federal health minister also said experts have recommended the gap between second vaccine doses and boosters be shortened from five months to four starting Jan. 4 and down to three beginning Jan. 31.

State Premier Dominic Perrottet had resisted mandating mask-wearing indoors until Thursday’s record caseload led him to reconsider.

Testing centers have been swamped by people seeking tests before traveling for family Christmas gatherings. People are now being advised to seek tests only if they are symptomatic or are close contacts of existing cases.

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QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador is making vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory.

The government said Thursday that only Ecuadorians with a medical condition that could be complicated by vaccination will be exempt. Those people must provide documentation.

Officials say the order comes because of an increase in coronavirus infections and the circulation of new variants such as omicron.

Ecuador says it has enough vaccine to immunize the entire population. As of Tuesday, about 77% of Ecuador’s 17.3 million people had been vaccinated. About 33,600 people in Ecuador have died from COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the body overseeing health policies to combat the pandemic decreed that vaccination certificates must be shown to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public areas.

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SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile plans to offer a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine to its citizens.

President Sebastián Piñera said Thursday that the fourth dose is expected to start in February.

Health Secretary Enrique París says the shot will be different than the one people got previously.

Chile has reported almost 86% of its population fully vaccinated. That makes it the country with the highest level of immunization against the coronavirus in Latin America, and puts it among the best ones in the world, according to online research website Our World in Data.

Piñera says 10,2 million out of Chile’s 19 million people have received a third dose as a booster.

Almost 39,000 people in Chile are confirmed to have died from COVID-19.

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LONDON — Britain’s public health agency says preliminary data suggest that people with the omicron variant of the coronavirus are between 50% and 70% less likely to need hospitalization than those with the delta strain.

The U.K. Health Security Agency findings add to emerging evidence that omicron produces milder illness than other variants — but also spreads faster and better evades vaccines.

The agency said Thursday that, based on cases in the U.K., an individual with omicron is estimated to be between 31% and 45% less likely to attend a hospital emergency department compared to delta, “and 50 to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital.”

It cautioned that the analysis is “preliminary and highly uncertain” because of the small number of omicron patients in hospitals and the fact that most were in younger age groups. As of Dec. 20, 132 people had been admitted to U.K. hospitals with confirmed omicron, of whom 14 — aged between 52 and 96 — died.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarians aged over 65 are being offered a one-off payment of 75 levs ($43) in addition to their monthly pensions if they get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said Thursday that pensioners who have not received a jab will get the payment after the first dose. Those who have had one dose will get the money after receiving a second dose and those getting a booster dose when the program kicks off.

The program, scheduled to begin in January and to last until the end of June, is part of the new government’s campaign to encourage the vaccination process

The Balkan country of 7 million remains the least vaccinated in the 27-nation European Union, with less than one-third of its adults fully vaccinated.

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