Live updates: France reports 1st omicron case on mainland

PARIS – French health authorities say they have detected the first confirmed case of the new COVID-19 variant on the country’s mainland.

The Ile-de-France Regional Health Agency said Thursday a man in his 50s who lives in the Paris city area tested positive for the omicron variant after returning from a trip to Nigeria.

He showed no symptoms when he and his wife tested positive Nov. 25 on their return to France. The wife’s test is being screened for omicron. They have been quarantined at their home since the positive test.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.

A third person living in the same home with the couple was tested on Thursday to determine if they were infected and, if so, if they are carrying the new variant.

None of the three people are vaccinated, the statement said.

France reported its first omicron case on Tuesday in the island territory of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The patient was identified as a man who had returned to Reunion from South Africa and Mozambique on Nov. 20.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

Omicron and delta spell return of unpopular restrictions

— What’s the status of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the US?

— Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms

— Biden launching new winter COVID-19 booster, testing campaign

Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

LISBON, Portugal – Health authorities in Portugal say they have confirmed five more cases of the new omicron variant, making a total of 19, all of them linked to a Lisbon soccer club.

The country’s Director-General of Health, Graça Feitas, said other suspected omicron cases are being investigated across the country.

Freitas told public broadcaster RTP the number of new daily COVID-19 infections in Portugal could double by the end of the month, to around 9,000.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, with almost 87% of its 10.3 million people inoculated, Portugal is scaling up its pandemic response amid the emergence of the omicron variant.

It administered some 117,000 COVID-19 tests on Tuesday – the highest number in a single day since the pandemic began.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — More than half of a group of airline passengers who flew to the Netherlands from South Africa and were ordered into isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 are being released from quarantine.

The local health authority said Thursday that more than half of the remaining 44 people who are in isolation at a hotel near the airport are being allowed out after testing negative.

Local health authority director Bert van de Velden paid tribute to the travelers who arrived last week at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for their “good cooperation in what was for them a difficult situation of isolation.”

More than 600 passengers underwent testing last week on the last two flights to arrive in the Netherlands after the government imposed a flight ban prompted by the discovery of the omicron variant in southern Africa.

Those who tested positive to the coronavirus had to go into isolation. Sequencing later established that at least 14 of them had the new variant.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has broken its daily record for coronavirus infections for a second straight day, with more than 5,200 new cases.

The rapid delta-driven spread comes amid the emergence of the new omicron variant.

South Korea confirmed its first five omicron cases Wednesday night linked to arrivals from Nigeria, prompting the government to tighten its border controls.

The country will require all passengers arriving from abroad over the next two weeks to quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status.

Health experts have called for the government to reimpose strict social distancing rules that were eased in November to improve the economy, raising concerns that hospital systems could become overwhelmed.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary – The number of daily COVID-19 deaths in Hungary has reached a high not seen since a devastating wave last spring, with 218 reported Thursday.

Hungary now has the highest number of daily deaths per million inhabitants in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, with 17.7 deaths per million in the country of fewer than 10 million people.

Just under 60% of Hungary’s total population is fully vaccinated, below the European Union average of 66.2%.

As many of the Central European country’s neighbors have instituted lockdowns, nighttime curfews and other measures, Hungary’s government has opted to keep its economy open.

Despite a mass vaccination drive that began last week, a surge in new cases has continued and the number of daily deaths reached the highest since April 16.

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MILAN – Italy’s drug agency has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged between 5-11.

The decision Thursday came less than a week after the European Union drug regulator said it was safe to use the jab for children.

Italian officials said children will be administered one-third of the dose authorized for adults and adolescents, in two doses at a distance of three weeks, beginning Dec. 15.

In Italy, 77% of the total population is fully vaccinated and officials are urging the eligible population to get a booster shot.

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LONDON – Britain has ordered a further 114 million doses of coronavirus vaccines as it ramps up a campaign to give all adults a booster shot.

Health officials hope the increased protection will help keep the new and potentially more transmissible omicron variant at bay, even if it proves more resistant to vaccines than other strains.

The government says 60 million Moderna doses and 54 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be delivered in 2022 and 2023 — a sign authorities think further booster shots may be required.

The World Health Organization has criticized wealthy countries for stockpiling vaccines when many nations have received few or none.

Britain says it will give 100 million doses of vaccine to developing nations by mid-2022, but most of them have not yet been delivered.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek lawmakers have approved legislation making vaccination for COVID-19 mandatory for all people aged over 60 living in the country on pain of a monthly fine, to deal with an infection surge and the emergence of the omicron variant.

The draft law backed Wednesday by the center-right government and a center-left opposition party — but rejected by all other opposition parties — targets the country’s age group that is most vulnerable to death or intubation from the coronavirus.

Some 17% of Greeks aged over 60 have not yet been vaccinated. They have until Jan. 16 to get their first jabs, or will be fined 100 euros ($113) for every month they remain unvaccinated.

Parties that opposed the measure said it was too harsh on low-income people who don’t want to be inoculated.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa hospitalizations from the coronavirus have reached a high for this year with 721 people being treated in hospitals.

The last time hospitalizations reached that level was mid-December of 2020 when the state was coming down from the historic peak of COVID-19 activity in November.

Hospitalizations peaked at more than 1,500 patients in mid-November 2020. Iowa Department of Public Health data released Wednesday indicates 10 children age 11 or younger are in the hospital. All are unvaccinated.

An additional unvaccinated child between ages 12 and 17 is hospitalized. The state also confirmed 91 additional deaths in the past week, with some dating back to mid-September. Iowa officials report a total of 7,445 COVID-19 deaths.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a day, authorities reported Wednesday, signaling a dramatic surge in the country where scientists detected the omicron variant last week.

New confirmed cases rose to 8,561 Wednesday from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics.

Scientists in South Africa said they are bracing for a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases following the discovery of the new omicron variant.

“There is a possibility that we are going to see a vast increase in number of cases being identified in South Africa,” Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, regional virologist for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press.

The omicron variant has been detected in five of South Africa’s nine provinces and accounted for 74% of the virus genomes sequenced in November, the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced Wednesday.

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