MADRID — Spain is dealing with the highest ever number of coronavirus infections, with some regions considering further curbs on social life ahead of the end of the year.
Updating pandemic figures for the first time in four days, health authorities reported 214,619 new cases late on Monday, bringing the 14-day national caseload to a pandemic record level of 1,206 new infections per 100,000 residents. At the height of the January surge, which until now was the one that infected most people in Spain, the rate had surged to 900.
The explosive spike is largely blamed on the omicron variant, which scientists say spreads faster than previous strains although the number of infected patients who need hospital care is proportionally less than in previous surges. Official data shows that 7.5% of Spanish hospital beds and 18% of intensive care units are treating COVID-19 patients.
Authorities reported 120 new deaths since Dec. 23.
In response to the soaring caseload, some Spanish regions are now considering restrictions they resisted only a week ago, when authorities only imposed mandatory mask wearing outdoors.
The northern regions of Navarra, Aragón and Cantabria, among others, are now limiting nightlife, imposing curfews or considering caps on members of different households allowed to gather together.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
— Undertakers, rabbis join global fight promoting COVID shot
— US officials recommend shorter COVID isolation, quarantine
— Fauci: US should consider vaccine mandate for US air travel
— In eastern Germany, pastors push for shots despite protests
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
NEW DELHI — India has granted emergency use authorization for two vaccines and one COVID-19 pill, the health minister tweeted on Tuesday, as authorities warn about the spread of the omicron variant across the country.
The first is Covovax, the Serum Institute of India’s version of the Novavax vaccine, a two-dose shot made with lab-grown copies of the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. The second is Corbevax, made by Indian firm Biological-E, which the health minister said is the country’s first indigenously developed protein-based vaccine against COVID-19.
It also granted emergency use approval for Molnupiravir, an antiviral drug, that will be manufactured by 13 companies in India and will be used in emergency situations to treat COVID-19 patients at high risk.
Even though daily cases in India have remained low for months after the country saw a devastating surge earlier this year, concern over omicron has grown in recent weeks, sparking various states to enforce new restrictions. In the capital, New Delhi, a slew of new restrictions were announced Tuesday, including a night curfew, shutting down cinemas and gyms, and a ban on large public gatherings or events. India has so far confirmed over 650 omicron cases.
BEIJING — The Chinese city of Xi’an recorded 175 local coronavirus infections on Monday, as it grapples with a coronavirus outbreak that has pushed China’s daily cases to record highs since early last year.
The 175 infections reported in Xi’a, in the northwestern Shaanxi province, were up from 162 on Sunday, and 158 the day before, according to a government notice issued Tuesday. Authorities blame the outbreak on the Delta variant.
Authorities have locked down 13 million residents in Xi’an amid the rise in infections as they attempt to curb the spread. China is one of the few remaining countries with a “zero Covid” policy, with authorities implementing mass-testing when infections are found in the community.
Xi’an has so far conducted four mandatory rounds of testing as authorities sought to detect new infections. The city has also launched a disinfection campaign, spraying down roads and buildings.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Health Ministry says it will allow people with two doses of the coronavirus vaccine to get a booster shot after three months, rather than the five-month waiting period it previously allowed.
The government said in a statement Monday that it shortened the timeframe to boost immunity as the swiftly-moving omicron variant spreads around the globe.
The new rule would apply to vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
There was still no decision on whether to roll out a second tranche of booster shots to its population as the country grappled with rising infections.
Israel began trials of a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine on Monday in what is believed to be the first study of its kind.
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Public Health officials are urging people who suspect they might have mild cases of COVID-19 to stay out of the emergency room.
Department officials in a news release Monday said they’ve been hearing from emergency room doctors that they’re being overwhelmed by people seeking COVID-19 tests, many because of mild symptoms or known exposures.
“The number of people testing positive for COVID is now far higher than at any point in the last two years, and emergency departments are packed with people with COVID symptoms,” Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said in a news release Monday.
She urged people who are experiencing symptoms and having trouble finding COVID testing, to act like they are positive and quarantine.
The health department has recorded a two-week average of almost 1,500 new cases per day and a two-week positivity rate of 15.9%. The department gave out 24,000 free rapid testing kits before the holiday — close to 50,000 rapid tests —and was seeing record-breaking numbers of tests being submitted to the department in the days before Christmas.
CHICAGO — Illinois is helping local health departments with staffing at local health department mass vaccination sites. The move comes as the state is seeing its highest surge in COVID-19 cases during the entire pandemic.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Monday that Illinois is adding at least 100 people to help at local health department mass vaccination sites to meet growing demand.
Starting next week, the state will also open its community-based testing sites six days a week.
The state is averaging 500 new hospital admissions daily for COVID-19, which is double from about a month ago.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike says the majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated.
JACKSON, Miss. —The Mississippi State Department of Health is reporting more than 7,000 new COVID-19 cases over a five-day period.
The department posted new numbers Monday, covering cases confirmed from Wednesday through Sunday.
The state is seeing a significant increase in cases compared to just a few weeks ago. During the two weeks from Nov. 23 to Dec. 6, Mississippi confirmed 5,185 new cases of COVID-19.
In the Jackson area on Monday, parking lots were full at medical clinics that offer COVID-19 testing. A long line of cars waited at a north Jackson church with a mobile test site in the parking lot.
ATLANTA — COVID-19′s omicron wave is rapidly pushing up the number of patients infected with the virus in Georgia hospitals.
The biggest impacts in terms of infections and hospitalizations are being seen in the Atlanta area.
The number of patients hospitalized statewide with the virus has climbed by more than 50% in a week, nearing 1,900 on Monday. The state Department of Public Health says the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Georgia rose to nearly 8,700 a day on Monday. That’s nearing the peaks that Georgia saw in infection numbers in early January and in late August and early September.
The crush is being seen in Atlanta-area emergency rooms. At midafternoon Monday, of Atlanta-area hospitals that care for all adults, 18 emergency rooms were turning away ambulances, while only 10 were accepting ambulances, according to state data.
Katherine Watson, spokesperson for the five-hospital Northside system, said that COVID-19 patients accounted for 25% of the system’s total adult inpatient population as of Monday.
PARIS — France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex announced new COVID-19 measures in efforts to curb the spread of the virus, yet stopped short of imposing strict restrictions ahead of New Year’s Eve.
Starting from next week, big events will be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors. People will be requested to sit down during concerts and customers won’t be allowed to stand up in bars, Castex detailed.
Eating and drinking will be banned in cinemas, theatres, sport facilities and public transports, including on long-distance lines. Working from home will be mandatory at least three days per week for employees whose job makes it possible, he added.
Castex said that schools will open as scheduled on Jan. 3 and political rallies won’t be concerned by the new rules for democratic reasons ahead of April’s presidential election.
The measures come after France recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day for the first time in the pandemic.
Castex stressed that hospitals’ intensive care units are not saturated due to over 90% of France’s adults being fully vaccinated — in sharp contrast with the situation last year.
LONDON — British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Monday no further coronavirus restrictions will be introduced in England before the new year, but urged people to stay cautious and celebrate outside if possible.
COVID-19 data has been patchy over the Christmas holiday, but the latest official figures showed 98,515 new infections were recorded in England on Monday and 143 people died with the virus. The National Health Service in England reported that there were 1,281 coronavirus hospital admissions on Christmas Day, up more than 70% compared to the previous week.
The four parts of the U.K. have taken different approaches to coronavirus restrictions as the omicron variant spread rapidly in the country. While nightclubs were ordered closed and limits on gatherings were imposed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, officials have resisted tightening restrictions in England.
Javid said about 90% of cases across England were the omicron variant.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday pledged the full support of the federal government to states facing surges in COVID-19 cases from the more-transmissible omicron variant and a run on at-home tests.
Joining a regular meeting between his coronavirus response team and the National Governors Association, Biden said, “My message is: if you need something, say something, and we are going to have your back any way we can.”
Biden acknowledged long lines and chaotic scenes as Americans sought out testing amid the case surge and as they looked to safely gather with family and friends over the holiday.
He referenced his administration’s plan to make 500 million rapid tests available to Americans beginning next month through an as-yet-to-be-developed website.
A White House official said the new tests would come from new manufacturing capacity and wouldn’t interfere with existing supply chains.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said Monday that the U.S. should “seriously” consider a vaccination mandate for domestic travel.
Speaking to MSNBC, Fauci, who serves as President Joe Biden’s chief science adviser on the COVID-19 response, said “When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated.”
The U.S. currently mandates that most foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but has not instituted one for domestic travel.
The administration has at times considered a domestic vaccination requirement, or one requiring either vaccination or proof of negative test, but two officials said Biden’s science advisers have yet to formally make the recommendation to the president. The officials noted they have not been eager to mandate vaccination for domestic air travel because they expected it to immediately face legal challenges, mitigating its potential effectiveness as a tool to drive up vaccinations.
Biden’s employer vaccination requirements have been mired in legal wrangling, with the Supreme Court set to hear arguments in early January in cases seeking to overturn them.
ATHENS — In Greece, authorities announced additional restrictions after the highest number of daily confirmed infections, at 9,284, was announced since the start of the pandemic.
Health Minister Thanos Plevris announced that starting Jan. 3: the mandatory use of high-protection or double masks will be imposed at supermarkets and on public transport, entertainment venues will close at midnight, capacity will be cut to 10% at soccer stadiums, remote work and schedule changes will be expanded at the public sector and nursing home visits will only be permitted for people carrying a negative PCR test result.
“The omicron variant is now apparent across the country, especially in greater Athens where there has been a considerable rise in cases,” Plevris said.
He added that the new restrictions would take effect after the New Year due to concerns that if were imposed earlier, they would lead to an increase in private gatherings.