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A vaccinator administers a Moderna booster vaccine to a man at the Antwerp Expo vaccine center in Antwerp, Belgium on Dec. 27.Virginia Mayo/The Associated Press

Bolivia’s main cities cancelled any public activities for New Year’s Eve after the country reached a record 4,939 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number for one day in all the pandemic in the South American nation.

The celebrations were called off for the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and El Alto after local authorities said it would be irresponsible to allow public festivities.

“The pandemic is escalating, and life is first,” said Ivan Arias, mayor of La Paz. “It’s preferable to be safe than sorry.”

Bolivia has not detected the omicron variant, but the health authorities have said that the surge in cases can be attributed to people not following some measures such as social distancing or wearing masks.

President Luis Arce issued a decree requiring people to show a vaccination certificate before entering some public places, like restaurants. The measure will take effect on Jan. 1.

Only a little bit more than 38% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to online research website Our World in Data. Bolivia, a country of 11.5 million people, has reported more than 585,000 infections and more than 19,600 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Here’s what you need to know today about the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Asia keeps Omicron at bay, but a surge may be inevitable
  • WHO: Global COVID-19 cases up 11 per cent last week, Omicron risk high
  • California 1st US state to top 5M cases amid Omicron surge
  • Stricter Canadian rules complicate NHL push through pandemic

Where do I book a COVID-19 booster or a vaccine appointment for my kids? Latest rules by province

Coronavirus tracker: How many COVID-19 cases are there in Canada and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

The Omicron COVID-19 variant has sparked global concern and prompted new travel restrictions. Here’s everything you need to know

Here’s what else is happening today

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas judge has struck down the state’s law prohibiting schools and other government entities from requiring masks.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued the ruling on Wednesday, months after he temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the ban.

More than 100 public charter schools and school districts imposed mask mandates following Fox’s ruling in August, though many have since eased or lifted them altogether.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the ban into law in April, though he has since said he regretted that decision.

Judge Fox found the law unconstitutional, including on grounds that it discriminates between children in public and private schools. Private schools were not barred from requiring masks under the law.

LONDON – The U.K. reported a record 183,037 confirmed new coronavirus infections on Wednesday – a jump of 32% per cent from the previous day.

Public health authorities hadn’t reported complete data from all parts of the country since Dec. 24, giving more attention to the numbers as the government weighs whether to impose further restrictions to stop the spread of the omicron variant. The figure reported Wednesday is somewhat inflated because it includes five days of data from Northern Ireland, the government said.

Britain has expanded its booster program this month, reopening sports stadiums and cathedrals as inoculation hubs, after research showed that two doses of the vaccine weren’t enough to protect against the highly transmissible omicron variant. While infections continue to rise, public health authorities are waiting to see whether those numbers result in a similar jump in hospitalizations and deaths.

The number of beds in English hospitals alone occupied by confirmed COVID-19 patients rose to 10,462 on Wednesday from 7,366 on Dec. 24.

Across the U.K., almost 58% of people 12 and over have received a booster dose after 325,087 received a third shot on Tuesday.

PHOENIX – Arizona on Wednesday reported 3,411 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 27 more virus deaths as several pandemic metrics showed decreases.

The state’s coronavirus dashboard reported that Arizona’s pandemic totals increased to over 1,368,000 cases and 24,171 deaths. Virus-related hospitalizations statewide dipped for the first time this week, with 2,280 COVID-19 patients occupying in-patient beds as of Tuesday.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, Arizona’s seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases and daily deaths both decreased over the past two weeks.

MILAN – Italy surged to a record 98,030 new cases of COVID-19 infections Wednesday, an increase of 25% in one day.

The government was meeting later to consider reducing the quarantine for vaccinated people, amid forecasts that the increasing number of infections could place more than 2 million people in quarantine after close contact with infected people.

The commuter train line in hard-hit Lombardy – which recorded one-third of all new cases – had to cancel about 100 trains Wednesday, due to lack of personnel.

Health Ministry statistics showed nearly 500 people have been hospitalized, with 126 new arrivals in intensive care units. Officials say 71% of those hospitalized are not vaccinated. The death toll rose by 136 to 137,091.

More than 1 million tests were performed in the last 24 hours, with long lines hundreds deep forming in centers around the country. Army teams are set to arrive in the coming days in two towns in Italy’s first red zone, Codogno and Lodi, to help with testing.

WASHINGTON – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that average coronavirus cases in the U.S. this week have increased 60% over the previous week, a reflection, she said, “of the exceptionally transmissible omicron variant.”

“This virus has proven its ability to adapt quickly and we must adapt with it,” Walensky said during the Biden administration’s COVID-19 task force briefing.

She pointed in particular to the CDC’s decision to reduce the quarantine time for individuals who test positive for coronavirus but don’t have symptoms to 5 days from 10 days. After five days, the risk of transmission “substantially decreases,” she said, and the reduced quarantine period reflected an effort to “provide updated recommendations using science to ease the burden of lengthy isolation and quarantine recommendations.”

Walensky also noted the decision to reduce the quarantine time for health care workers to seven days reflects in part a desire to address staffing shortages at overburdened hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. She emphasized the need for those who test positive to strictly adhere to masking guidelines.

“How well each of these prevention measures is implemented, as well as adherence to isolation and quarantine recommendations, will determine the outlook in the coming weeks,” Walensky said.

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s health minister received his booster jab with Turkey’s domestically made vaccine, Turkovac, live on camera on Wednesday – a day before it was scheduled to be made available for general use.

The vaccine, which uses the “inactivated virus” technology, was granted emergency use approval last week, becoming the third vaccine on offer in Turkey after jabs developed by China’s Sinovac and by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Fahrettin Koca, the health minister, said Turkey was dedicating the vaccine to all who have died of COVID-19 in the country. Members of Turkey’s coronavirus advisory council also took turns to receive their Turkovac booster jabs.

Turkey has so far administered close to 130 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines – including nearly 19 million booster shots. Around 82% of the adult population has received two doses.

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s Interior Minister says police forces will begin implementing strict measures ahead of New Year’s Eve to limit the spread of coronavirus in the small country.

Bassam Mawlawi’s comments on Wednesday came as the daily cases of the virus reached 3,153, a figure not seen in Lebanon in months.

After last year’s New Year’s Eve, Lebanon witnessed a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and deaths that overwhelmed hospitals. The medical sector has been hit hard by the country’s economic meltdown that began two years ago.

Mawlawi told reporters that police will be present in hotels, night clubs and restaurants to make sure they are working at 50% capacity and all clients present are either vaccinated or have a PCR test that was taken in less than 48 hours. He added that staff will either have to be vaccinated or undergo a PCR test twice a week.

Health Minister Firass Abiad said there has been no decision yet for a nationwide lockdown.

Lebanon, a nation of 6 million people including a million Syrian refugees, has registered 715,000 cases and more than 9,000 deaths since the first case was reported in February last year.

THESSALONIKI, Greece – Authorities in northern Greece say a 47-year-old woman is facing criminal charges of fraud and impersonating a doctor after she allegedly received 3,000 euros ($3,400) from a couple trying to get two sick parents into an ICU ward for COVID-19 treatment.

Police said Wednesday the woman has been identified by authorities but not yet formally arrested. They said, despite having no medical qualifications, she posed as an anesthesiologist who offered personalized treatment in the ICU of a Greek state hospital in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The woman claimed she had been given a government civil mobilization order as a private doctor to cover staff shortages but a hospital investigation found that she had no connection with the institution.

The alleged incident occurred in November. The two patients, fathers of the couple, were eventually moved to ICU wards and both died earlier this month.

Greece is currently battling an unprecedented spike in infections, which authorities say is caused by the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

CAIRO – Libyan health authorities said they have identified Wednesday the country’s first cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The National Center for Disease Control did not provide further details including the number of those who were found to have the variant.

The centre, which tracks the virus spread, urged people across Libya to urgently receive vaccines.

The centre reported Wednesday 665 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nine deaths in the past 24 hours. That has brought the country’s tally to more than 387,540 cases including 5,685 fatalities.

UNITED NATIONS – Days before its start date, an international conference on a landmark Cold War-era nuclear treaty is poised to be postponed because coronavirus cases are surging in the host city of New York.

Already delayed multiple times because of the pandemic, the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was supposed to start Jan. 4 at the United Nations’ headquarters, bringing delegations from around the world together to discuss the state of the 1970 pact. It’s considered a cornerstone of arms control.

But after the U.N. expressed concerns Monday about the resurgent virus and said the world body couldn’t staff an in-person conference, participants were reluctant to proceed with the Jan. 4 date, conference President-designate Gustavo Zlauvinen said in a letter Tuesday to the group.

He said the event would be put off if participants didn’t tell him otherwise by Wednesday evening.

“This is a regrettable decision, but the present circumstances do not leave us any other choice,” wrote Zlauvinen, an Argentine diplomat and former International Atomic Energy Agency official.

It’s not yet clear how long the gathering would be delayed, or whether all or some of the events might be held virtually. Participants are due Thursday to discuss what to do.

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Health officials in one of Kansas’ most populous counties are talking again about the possibility of imposing a local mask mandate over COVID-19 only days after one for children expired.

The interest in a new mask mandate in Douglas County, home to the main University of Kansas campus, comes as the state continues to see relatively high numbers of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The delta variant has spread across the state, and 25 cases of the omicron variant have been reported in 10 of the state’s 105 counties, including a case in Douglas County.

Local health department Director Dan Partridge told the Lawrence Journal-World that he, the county administrator and the CEO of the local health system plan to meet next week to hear from the county’s public health officer and other health professionals. He said the question of imposing a new mask mandate is sure to come up.

The elected Douglas County Commission would decide whether to impose the mandate. A requirement that children aged 2 through 11 wear masks in public places expired Dec. 22.

ATHENS, Greece – Greece has announced a record number of new daily coronavirus cases for the third consecutive day Wednesday, with 28,828 infections in the country of 11 million people.

On Tuesday, the number of daily infections had rocketed to nearly 22,000, more than double the record number of the previous day. Authorities have attributed the spike to the omicron variant and announced Wednesday they were moving up restrictions meant to go into place in the new year to Thursday, in an effort to limit its spread.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said music will be banned at all commercial venues for New Year’s Eve celebrations, while seating limits in restaurants will also be in effect. The restrictions, which limit service at restaurants, cafes and bars to seated customers only, ban music and impose a maximum of six people per table, had originally been planned to take effect on Jan. 3.

The measures include mandatory use of high-protection or double masks at supermarkets and on public transport, capacity limits at sporting venues and schedule changes and work-from-home orders for civil servants.

Greece now has more than 1.1 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, and more than 20,600 deaths.

U.S. health authorities on Dec. 27 shortened the recommended time for isolation for asymptomatic Americans with COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10. Tamara Lindstrom reports.


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