France sets new daily record of over 200,000 new virus cases

Women wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, walk past City Hall, in Paris, Dec 26, 2021. (RAFAEL YAGHOBZADEH / AP)

THE HAGUE / OTTAWA / WASHINGTON / MADRID / LISBON / MILAN / ATHENS / NICOSIA / LONDON / PARIS / JOHANNESBURG / WARSAW / SARAJEVO – France is seeing a "tsunami" of COVID-19 infections, with 208,000 new cases recorded over the past 24 hours, a national and European record, Health Minister Olivier Veran told lawmakers on Wednesday.

This means that 24 hours a day, day and night, every second in our country, two French people are diagnosed positive for the coronavirus. We have never experienced such a situation.

  Olivier Veran, France's health minister

France has been breaking COVID-19 records repeatedly over the past few days, with Tuesday's 180,000 cases already the highest for a country in Europe, according to data on Covidtracker.fr.

"This means that 24 hours a day, day and night, every second in our country, two French people are diagnosed positive for the coronavirus," Veran said. "We have never experienced such a situation," he said, describing the increase in cases as "dizzying".

The situation in hospitals was already worrying because of the Delta variant, Veran said, with Omicron yet to have an impact, something he said would eventually happen. The flu will further complicate things for hospitals, he added.

"As for Omicron, I would no longer talk about a wave. This is a groundswell, where several waves combine to form one massive wave," he said.

Belgium

The Belgian government was set to reverse course on Wednesday by allowing theatres to reopen after a court suspended their closure ordered a week ago to try to stem the surge in infections from the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The ruling from the Council of State did not cover cinemas, but the government says they too can reopen because they operate like theatres, with audiences seated and obliged to wear masks and only allowed in with a COVID pass to prove vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery.

Georges Gilkinet, mobility minister, said in a tweet that the government had agreed to both opening. A final decision will be taken by ministers and regional chiefs later on Wednesday.

Other indoor venues, such as casinos and bowling alleys, will remain closed.

Bosnia

Bosnia has identified its first 10 Omicron infections and there are likely more, with the highly transmissible coronavirus variant expected to become dominant in the next couple of months, health officials said on Wednesday.

Goran Cerkez, the assistant health minister in Bosnia's autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation, said the 10 cases were discovered in tests by the Clinical Centre of Sarajevo University.

"We have no doubt that Omicron has been already circulating in Bosnia and that it will become the dominant variant in the next couple of months," Cerkez told Reuters.

Administratively fragmented Bosnia does not have a national health ministry but instead has 13 regional governments and ministries, each of which comes out with its own statistics.

Official statistics suggest only about 30 percent of Bosnians have been inoculated against COVID-19. However, Cerkez said he believed the number was far higher because the statistics did not take into account a mass exodus of Bosnians in recent years.

People enter a COVID-19 rapid testing business in Montreal on Dec 4, 2021. (GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)

Canada

Quebec, the second most populous Canadian province, has "no choice" but to allow some essential workers to continue working even after testing positive for COVID-19 to prevent staff shortages from impeding its healthcare services, Health Minister Christian Dube said Tuesday.

Quebec, which has been setting daily records since the Omicron variant started a new wave of rapidly rising infections, recorded 12,833 new cases on Monday – the highest one-day count of any region in Canada during the pandemic.

"Omicron's contagion is so exponential, that a huge number of personnel have to be withdrawn – and that poses a risk to the network capacity to treat Quebecers," Dube told reporters at a briefing.

"We made the decision that under a certain condition positive staff will be able to continue working according to a list of priority and risk management," he said, adding that more information would be provided in the coming days.

Dube said Quebec would also offer a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to everyone above the age of 18 from Jan 4.

Last week, Quebec ordered bars, gyms and casinos to shut and directed people to work only from home. It also limited the size of gatherings at private homes and restaurants to six people.

A rapid coronavirus test is taken in a temporary facility outside a pharmacy in Lakatamia a suburb of Nicosia, Cyprus on Dec 13, 2021. (PETROS KARADJIAS / AP)

Cyprus

Cyprus on Tuesday recorded a single-day record high of COVID-19 infections since the virus was first identified on the island in March 2020, data showed on Tuesday.

The island reported 2,241 infections on Tuesday, up from 1,925 a day before. To date, there have been 154,926 cases reported and 630 deaths.

"Possibly, without having more data, it is due to the Omicron variant which seems to trigger a milder infection," Karayiannis was quoted as telling the semi-official Cyprus News Agency (CNA).

Authorities were to review the situation on Wednesday. The number of people on the island who have taken both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine has exceeded 80 percent.

ALSO READ: South America is winning the global vaccination race

A couple holds each other at a COVID-19 intensive care unit of the la Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France on Dec 23, 2021. (DANIEL COLE / AP)

France

France reported a record high of 179,807 new confirmed coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period on Tuesday, one of the highest one-day tallies worldwide since the start of the pandemic.

It is the highest number of new daily infections in Europe, according to data on Covidtracker.fr. Since the start of the pandemic, only the United States and India have reported average daily new cases above 200,000.

France's previous record of 104,611 was set on Saturday, after the 86,852 high of Nov 11, 2020, was broken with two consecutive days of more than 90,000 new cases per day at the end of last week.

The seven-day moving average of new cases in France – which smoothes out daily reporting irregularities – rose to a new all-time high of 87,500. On Sunday and Monday, the health ministry reported only about 30,000 new cases per day.

On Monday, the government announced new measures to curb infections, including limits on the size of big gatherings, a ban on eating and drinking in transport systems and the mandatory wearing of masks again outdoors.

Despite the jump in new cases, the number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 remained well below record levels, with COVID-19 patients in intensive care up by 83 to 3,416 on Tuesday, well below the highs of more than 7,000 in early April 2020.

France also announced 290 new COVID-19 deaths, taking the total over 123,000, the highest one-day toll since early May but well below death tallies seen late last year.

About 77 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated, which has sharply reduced the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

A pedestrian wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus walks in front of a mural, at a metro station in Athens, Greece on Nov 15, 2021. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / FILE / AP)

Greece

Greece reported a new daily record of 21,657 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, more than double the level of the day before.

"Omicron prevails, so we should be prepared and this should not cause panic," Greek health minister Thanos Plevris told state TV ERT.

The country had reported 9,284 cases on Monday, when the government announced tighter curbs would be put in place from Jan. 3 to Jan. 16 to contain infections, targeting mainly night-time entertainment venues.

There have been a total of 1,105,885 COVID-19 infections in the country since the pandemic began, and the death toll stands at 20,557.

People wait at an Italian Red Cross anti COVID-19 vaccination hub, in Rome on Nov 29, 2021. (GREGORIO BORGIA / AP)

Italy

Italy reported 202 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday against 142 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 78,313 from 30,810, hitting a fresh record in terms of new cases since the start of the pandemic.

Italy has registered 136,955 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 5.76 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 10,089 on Tuesday, up from 9,723 a day earlier.

People walk past a sign outlining COVID-19 guidelines in the center of Amsterdam, the Netherlands on Dec 18, 2021. (PETER DEJONG / AP)

Netherlands

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 caused more than 50 percent of infections in the Netherlands over the past week, replacing Delta as the dominant variant, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) announced on Tuesday.

"The faster spread of this Omicron variant will lead to additional infections in the near future, which will also increase the number of hospital admissions," the RIVM said.

The Dutch government therefore imposed a lockdown on Dec 19.

With only essential shops remaining open, the government hopes the lockdown and the current booster campaign will reduce pressure on the country's healthcare system as much as possible.

From Dec 21 to Dec 28, the number of positive tests in the Netherlands fell by 11 percent to a total of 84,398, compared to a decrease of 19 percent during the previous seven days. Fewer people were hospitalized with COVID-19, specifically 1,063 patients, a decrease of 26 percent compared to the previous week.

A woman receives a vaccination certificate after receiving a booster shot against COVID-19, in Warsaw, Poland on Dec 7, 2021.  (CZAREK SOKOLOWSKI / AP)

Poland

Poland reported 794 COVID-related deaths on Wednesday, the highest number in the fourth wave of the pandemic, a deputy health minister said, adding the figure could be a result of delayed reporting due to the Christmas holidays.

More than 75 percent of those who died were unvaccinated, Waldemar Kraska said.

"I think we are currently experiencing a peak in the number of people who are dying," he told private television channel Polsat News.

Poland has been experiencing a persistently high rate of daily infections, though the Omicron variant has yet to gain a foothold there.

On Wednesday, Poland reported 15,571 new COVID-19 infections, 13 percent less than a week ago, Kraska said. As of Tuesday, the country only had 25 confirmed Omicron cases.

A woman wearing a face mask crosses a street in Lisbon on Nov 25, 2021. (ARMANDO FRANCA / AP)

Portugal

Portugal recorded on Tuesday 17,172 more cases of infection by COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, the highest number of new daily cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the epidemiological bulletin of the Directorate-General for Health (DGS).

With this update, the country has accumulated 1,303,291 infections since March 2020. In addition, another 19 deaths were reported due to COVID-19, leading the overall death toll of the pandemic to 18,909.

The main regions affected by the pandemic are still the capital Lisbon and the Tagus Valley, followed by the North region, the Algarve (in the south of the country), and the Alentejo.

Scientists at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, work on the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus on Dec 15, 2021. (JEROME DELAY / AP)

South Africa

South Africa has recalled rules that no longer required people without symptoms of COVID-19 to isolate or test if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government announced on Tuesday, saying an amended circular will be re-issued.

It had added that only those people who developed symptoms needed to get tested and that those with mild symptoms should isolate for eight days and severe cases for 10 days.

It had also revised protocols on quarantine, saying all quarantine facilities outside the home would be stopped, while contact tracing efforts would also be scrapped aside from in specific scenarios such as cluster outbreaks.

The reason for the revision was based on a number of scientific factors including the fact that, most people have vaccinated with at least one vaccine dose and developed some level of immunity. This has contributed to the current low hospitalization and high recovery rates, the department said.

Now all those protocols will be recalled after the Department of Health was inundated with media, stakeholders and public enquiries and comments following the release of the revised regulations.

"In line with the principles of transparency and openness, the department has decided to put the implementation of the revised policy changes on hold, while taking all additional comments and inputs received into consideration," it said in a statement.

"This means the status quo remains, and all prior existing regulations with regards to contact tracing, quarantine and isolation remain applicable."

ALSO READ: South Africa study suggests Omicron could displace Delta

A young girl watches as a boy receives a vaccine as children are administered the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Hospital de Henares in Coslada, Madrid on Dec 15, 2022.(BERNAT ARMANGUE / AP)

Spain

Spain's Ministry of Health Tuesday reported 99,671 new COVID-19 cases for the past 24 hours, bringing the country's total number of coronavirus cases to 6,032,297 since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, another 114 COVID-19-related deaths during the same period were confirmed by the ministry, taking the number of people who have lost their lives to 89,253 in the country.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Tuesday that 80 percent of Spaniards aged over 60 have received a third dose of the vaccine, while the regional government in the Basque Region of northern Spain confirmed that attendance at football grounds would be reduced to 50 percent capacity and that bars and restaurants will have to close at 1 am.

Tunisia

Tunisia's Ministry of Health has approved the Russian one-shot Sputnik Light COVID- 19 vaccine as a booster shot, Russia's RDIF sovereign fund said in a statement on Wednesday.

UK

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a COVID-19 vaccination center at the Rainbow Pharmacy in the Open University Campus, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Dec 29, 2021. (GEOFF PUGH / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Wednesday that the overwhelming majority of patients ending up in intensive care with COVID-19 had not received their booster vaccine, as he urged people to get their jabs.

Johnson, on a visit to a vaccine center, said he had been told by some doctors that up to 90 percent of patients with COVID-19 in intensive care had not received their booster vaccines.

"I'm sorry to say this, but the overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care in our hospitals are people who are not boosted," he said. "I've talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90 percent of people in intensive care."

Britain is currently reporting record COVID infections, with 129,471 registered on Tuesday, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus. There have also been anecdotal reports of people struggling to get tests.

Medical staff wears PPE on a ward for COVID-19 patients at King's College Hospital in south east London on Dec 21, 2021. (VICTORIA JONES / PA VIA AP)

While daily hospitalization figures have increased, they are still well below the crisis endured by hospitals earlier this year, with about 1,000 people currently being admitted daily compared to 4,000 in January.

"The Omicron variant continues to cause real problems, you're seeing cases rising in hospitals, but it is obviously milder than the Delta variant," Johnson said.

He added that people should celebrate New Year's Eve cautiously after he decided not to bring in tougher restrictions in England to limit the spread of the virus.

"I think everybody should enjoy new year but in a cautious and sensible way. Take a test, (think about) ventilation, think about others but above all, get a booster," he said.

Despite the high infection rates, the government has announced there would be no fresh restrictions in England. British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people should "remain cautious" when taking part in the new year's celebrations, and take a lateral flow test before attending events.

However, he did not rule out the possibility of any further restrictions being introduced in January.

A 6-year-old child is comforted by her mother as she receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by medical assistant Alli Shapiro at the Child Health Associates office in Novi, Michigan on Nov 3, 2021. (JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP)

US

Over 7.5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic in the United States, representing 1 in 10 American children, according to the latest report of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association.

A total of 7,565,416 child COVID-19 cases had been reported across the country as of Dec 23, and children represented 17.4 percent of all confirmed cases, according to the report published on Monday.

The overall rate was 10,052 cases per 100,000 children in the population. 

COVID-19 cases among US children are "extremely high and increasing," according to the report.

For the week ending Dec 23, almost 199,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported, a 50 percent increase over the weekly new cases the beginning of December. This marked the 20th consecutive week child COVID-19 cases are above 100,000.

Since the first week of September, there have been over 2.5 million additional child cases, according to the AAP.

Children accounted for 1.8 percent to 4.1 percent of total reported hospitalizations, and 0 to 0.27 percent of all COVID-19 deaths, according to the report.

The US registered a record high of over 510,000 daily COVID-19 cases on Monday, according to latest data of Johns Hopkins University.

A total of 512,553 new cases and 1,762 new deaths were reported across the nation on Monday. The single-day increase of cases has set a new record since the onset of the pandemic in the country.

Over the past week, nearly 1,660,000 new cases and over 10,000 new deaths were added to the tally, according to Johns Hopkins University.