Virus Outbreak India

A health worker collects a swab sample of a passenger to test for COVID-19 as others wait for their turn at a train station in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. In India, which has been getting back to normal after a devastating COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, omicron is once again raising fears, with more than 700 cases reported in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people. The capital, New Delhi, banned large gatherings for Christmas and New Year's, and many other states have announced new restrictions, including curfews and vaccination requirements at stores and restaurants. 

NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio says New York City will ring in 2022 in Times Square as planned despite record numbers of COVID-19 infections in the city and around the nation.

De Blasio said on NBC's "Today" show on Thursday that he wants to show the world that the city is "fighting our way through this."

After banning revelers from Times Square a year ago due to the pandemic, city officials announced plans previously for a scaled-back New Year's bash with smaller crowds and vaccinations required.

The city's next mayor, Eric Adams, will take the oath of office in Times Square shortly after the ball drop

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HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

JERUSALEM — Israel has received its first shipment of pills that treat the worst effects of COVID-19.

It's among of the first countries to receive Pfizer's Paxlovid, a pill that can be taken at home to ward off the most severe symptoms of the coronavirus. All the previously authorized drugs require an IV or injection.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the shipment would help Israel to "successfully overcome the peak of the approaching omicron wave."

Israel was among the first countries to roll out Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine a year ago and began freely offering boosters over the summer. But it still saw a wave of infections blamed on the delta variant, and officials have warned of another driven by the fast-spreading omicron.

Israeli media reported that the first shipment consists of 20,000 doses, with more expected as Pfizer ramps up production.

Israel currently has more than 20,000 active patients, including 94 who are seriously ill. At least 8,243 people have died from COVID-19 in Israel since the start of the pandemic.

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BERLIN — Germany plans to relax restrictions on travel from the U.K., South Africa and seven other southern African nations next week, though it says that "short-term changes" to the plan are possible.

The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Thursday that it intends to remove the nine countries on Tuesday from its list of "virus variant areas," the top risk category.

Airlines and others currently are restricted largely to transporting German citizens and residents from those countries, and all arriving must self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of vaccination status.

The disease control center plans to move the countries to its list of "high-risk areas," the lower risk category. People arriving from such areas who haven't either recovered recently or been fully vaccinated have to self-isolate for 10 days, which can be cut to five with a negative test.

Italy, San Marino, Malta and Canada, which aren't currently listed, are to become "high-risk areas" starting Saturday.

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NEW DELHI — India is going ahead with a legislative election in its most populous state despite daily COVID-19 infections more than doubling nationwide within a week.

India reported 13,154 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a jump from 6,000 daily cases on Dec. 24.

Thousands of people without masks have been crowding the election rallies of top politicians across Uttar Pradesh state.

Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra says all political parties in the northern state of 200 million want the election held by March.

Chandra rejected a state High Court's suggestion to postpone the election in light of an expected surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Dr. K.K Paul, a top government official, said the World Health Organization's warning of a COVID-19 tsunami was not India-specific and referred to the global situation.

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MIAMI — University of Miami officials say the school's spring semester will start with remote-only classes.

The private university's president, Julio Frenk, said late Wednesday that in-person classes are expected to resume on Jan. 31, Frenk said in an email to students and faculty that courses will take place online from the Jan. 18 start of the semester until then.

Staff members who have been on campus during winter break should return to on-site work as planned next week, Frenk said in the email. Those who had been working remotely will be expected to return Jan. 31.

Students returning to campus must have proof of a negative COVID test, and all residential students will be tested again upon their arrival on campus, Frenk said.

He said all indoor activities will be postponed until on-campus instruction begins, and indoor masking will continue for the foreseeable future.

The decision came the same day that leaders of Florida's public university system urged students and employees to wear masks and to get vaccinated with a booster shot when they return to campus next month.

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HELSINKI — Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari has been hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus for his second time of the pandemic.

Finland's government did not say when or where the 84-year-old Ahtisaari was thought to have gotten infected. Ahtisaari served as the Nordic country's head of state for one term during 1994-2000.

The former diplomat and peace broker for the Finnish government won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his work to resolve international conflicts.

"President Ahtisaari is doing well under the circumstances but stays at the hospital for the time being. He tested positive for coronavirus also in March 2020," the office of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement late Wednesday.

In September, it was announced that Ahtisaari had Alzheimer's disease and was withdrawing from all public activities.

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LONDON — England's National Health Service is building temporary structures at hospitals around the country to prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients as the highly transmissible omicron variant fuels a new wave of infections.

The U.K. reported a record 183,037 confirmed new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, 32% more than the previous day. While early data suggests omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than earlier variants, public health officials think the sheer number of infections could lead to a jump in hospitalizations and deaths.

In response, the NHS will begin setting up "surge hubs" this week at eight hospitals around England, each with the capacity to treat about 100 patients. Staff are preparing plans to create as many as 4,000 "super surge" beds should they be needed, the NHS said Thursday.

"We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act, and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place," NHS England medical director Stephen Powis said in a statement.

The number of people in England hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 10,462 on Wednesday from 7,366 on Dec. 24, government figures show. Wednesday's number was the highest since March 1. The figure is still well below the peak of 34,336 recorded on Jan. 18.

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PARIS — Residents and tourists in Paris will be required to wear face masks outdoors starting Friday as France sees a surge of COVID-19 infections fueled by the omicron variant.

The Paris police prefecture said the mask rule will apply to people ages 12 and over, although individuals will be exempt while riding bicycles or motorcycles, traveling in vehicles and doing exercise.

Those who do not comply face fines of 135 euros ($153).

Masks already are mandatory in shops, public facilities and office buildings and on public transportation in France.

The French government announced measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus this week, when France reported a daily record of 208,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Chinese officials promised steady deliveries of groceries to residents of Xi'an, an ancient capital with 13 million people that is under the strictest lockdown of a major Chinese city since Wuhan was shut early last year at the start of the pandemic.

China's Commerce Ministry has contacted nearby provinces to help ensure adequate supplies of everyday necessities, a ministry spokesperson said Thursday.

State broadcaster CCTV aired a story Thursday showing building staff assembling free grocery deliveries for the residents of an apartment complex in Xi'an.

The deliveries included a box of 15 eggs, a 2.5-kilogram (5.5-pound) bag of rice and some green vegetables. Residents could also expect either some chicken or pork, it said.

Still, some people complained in comments below the segment shared on Weibo, a social media platform, that they have not received the same deliveries in their communities. Many worried if they will be able to obtain fresh vegetables and meat.

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PODGORICA, Montenegro — Montenegro has tightened virus rules amid a surge in infections and fears of fast-spreading omicron variant.

Starting Thursday, all gatherings are banned indoors or outdoors in the European country, including weddings, parties and conferences. Bars and restaurants were ordered to close at 1 a.m. on New Year's Eve and 10 p.m. after the holidays.

Authorities also limited the number of people allowed into shopping malls and religious objects to one per 10 square meters (108 square feet) and said COVID passes are required for cinemas, museums and theatres.

For sports events, spectators are banned indoors and outdoor venues are limited to one-fourth capacity. Face masks are obligatory everywhere.

Authorities have said that numbers of new infections have risen and the tightened rules are needed to prevent them from spiraling out of control. Some 1,500 new infections were reported on Wednesday in the nation of 620,000 people.

Montenegro has also tightened entry rules for visitors and urged people to spend the upcoming holidays just with their immediate family.

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MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's health safety council has approved the use of Cuba's three-dose Abdala coronavirus vaccine.

The council said Wednesday that it has sufficient evidence the vaccine is safe and effective.

The approval for emergency use does not necessarily mean the Mexican government will acquire or administer the Abdala vaccine in Mexico. Mexico has approved 10 vaccines for use, but has made little use of some, like China's Sinopharm.

Cuba has approved Abdala for use domestically and begun commercial exports of the three-dose vaccine to Vietnam and Venezuela.

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LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas isn't canceling or scaling back plans for New Year's Eve gatherings.

More than 300,000 visitors are expected in town for events including a New Year's Eve fireworks show on the Las Vegas Strip that was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic

Thousands of ticketholders also are expected at a multi-stage outdoor music event beneath a canopy light show at the downtown casino pedestrian mall.

In announcing Wednesday that the show will go on, Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft said: "If you're sick, stay at home. If you're indoors, wear a mask."

Las Vegas regional health officials reported 2,201 new coronavirus cases — the most in one day since last Jan. 11. New cases and deaths in Las Vegas have been trending up.

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TORONTO — Coronavirus infections are continuing to climb across Canada, prompting several provinces to impose more pandemic restrictions.

Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba provinces all reported record one-day highs for new cases Wednesday. Quebec had more than 13,000 infections in the previous 24 hours, Ontario listed 10,436 and Manitoba reported 947.

Officials in Newfoundland and Labrador province, meanwhile, say schools will shift to remote learning after the Christmas break.

And in Nunavut territory, officials are extending a lockdown as a rise in infections strains its health care system. Premier P.J. Akeeagok says the ban on indoor gatherings that began before Christmas is being extended to Jan. 17. Libraries, gyms, arenas and churches must also remain closed and restaurants are limited to takeout service only.

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NEW YORK — A surge of coronavirus cases in New York has forced the postponement of another signature event, the Westminster Kennel Club's annual dog show.

The show announced Wednesday it has postponed its 146th annual event to have been contested in late January. The announcement didn't give a new date for the show but said it would be later in 2022.

The dog show normally is held in February at Madison Square Garden but was moved to June last year and held at the Lyndhurst estate in suburban Tarrytown. Spectators weren't allowed, and human participants had to be vaccinated or newly tested.

e-time activities available to the unvaccinated. Starting Jan. 10, the jab will be required to access public transportation of any kind, hotels, ski lifts, conventions and fairs, swimming pools and wellness areas. Until then, a negative 10 within 48 hours will remain sufficient.