Singapore suspended quarantine-free travel and Australia renewed its vaccination push on Wednesday as rising cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant just days before Christmas forced authorities to impose new curbs and speed up booster shots.
Governments worldwide have tightened restrictions on social mobility and urged citizens to get vaccinated as Omicron emerges as the dominant strain of the virus, pushing reopening plans that many hoped would mark the beginning of a post-pandemic era. would usher in 2022 will be abolished.
In Asia-Pacific, Singapore is freezing all new ticket sales for flights and buses under its quarantine-free travel program to the city-state from Dec. 23 to Jan. 20, the government said on Wednesday, citing the risk of the fast-spreading Omicron .
“Our border measures will help us buy time to study and understand the Omicron variant, and to strengthen our defenses, including improving our health care capacity, and to vaccinate and encourage more people,” the Ministry of Health said. in a statement.
US President Joe Biden Tuesday promised half a billion free rapid COVID-19 tests and warned the quarter of unvaccinated American adults that their choices could mean the “difference between life and death.”
In response to the increase in the number of cases, countries are also trying to shorten the time between second vaccination shots and boosters. However, wary of fatigue from the public lockdown, there is reluctance to return to the strict curbs imposed earlier this year during the spread of the Delta variant.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced new vaccination funding for clinics and pharmacies on Wednesday. He also urged the country’s states to reopen hundreds of vaccination centers to accelerate the rollout of boosters, which were halted when the double-dose rate in adults reached 80%.
The country’s federal and state leaders held an emergency meeting of the national cabinet on Wednesday to discuss escalating cases, which severely strain testing facilities.
Australia reported more than 5,000 daily infections amid the pandemic for the first time on Wednesday, with the majority of cases in the most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria.
Despite Omicron’s surge, Morrison would not bring back repeated lockdowns on Wednesday and insisted that limiting the spread of the virus comes down to personal responsibility.
There was also resistance to new lockdowns in South Korea, where authorities announced restrictions on gatherings and opening hours for restaurants, cafes and bars.
While polls show widespread support for South Korea’s new curbs, one of the strictest yet, many small businesses have complained that the restrictions have left them overstocked and overstocked as they prepare for a holiday season with looser rules.
Small business and restaurant associations have issued statements protesting the decision and calling for compensation, with one of the groups vowing to hold a demonstration on Wednesday.
Hans Kluge, the European head of the World Health Organization, warned on Tuesday of a “storm” that would bring Omicron, “that would push already stretched health systems further to the brink”.
Germany, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and South Korea are among the countries that have implemented partial or full lockdowns or other social distancing measures in recent days.
Portugal ordered nightclubs and bars to close and told people to work from home for at least two weeks from Saturday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not introduce new COVID-19 thresholds in England before Christmas, but the situation remained extremely difficult and the government may need to act afterward.
Governments have stepped up vaccination and treatment efforts with the US Food and Drug Administration set to approve COVID-19 treatment pills from Pfizer Inc and Merck, Bloomberg News reported.
Israel will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people over 60.
Policymakers are struggling to address the economic blow that may come from new outbreaks, with Britain announcing additional £1 billion ($1.3 billion) in aid for companies hardest hit by Omicron.
With much still unknown about the severity of Omicron infections, companies are also concerned about a series of cancellations affecting major events in the new year.
Amazon Inc, Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc, Twitter Inc and Pinterest Inc will skip the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas next month due to concerns about Omicron.
The National Hockey League of North America will not send its players to participate in the men’s ice hockey tournament during the Beijing Winter Olympics due to concerns about COVID-19, ESPN reported Tuesday.
That would affect not only the competitive players of the American and Canadian ice hockey teams, but also those of the Olympic teams of Sweden, Finland and Germany.
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