(Reuters) – A worldwide surge in Omicron-driven COVID-19 infections dampened New Year celebrations and cancelled thousands of flights, although health authorities are pinning hopes on the variant’s milder impact to help them stave off risks of fatalities.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
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* The British government has asked public sector managers to test their contingency plans against a worst-case scenario of 25% staff absence, as part of efforts to minimise disruption from surging infections.
* Children in secondary schools in England will be told to wear face coverings when they return after the Christmas holiday next week, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday.
* Omicron could ease pressure on the German health system if it turns out to produce milder illness, the head of the country’s association of senior hospital doctors said.
* Paris St Germain forward Lionel Messi and three other players have tested positive for COVID-19, the French Ligue 1 club said on Sunday.
* Bulgaria detected its first 12 cases of the Omicron variant.
* The German operator of a cruise ship that has been stuck in Lisbon’s port due to an outbreak of the coronavirus among its crew pulled the plug on the voyage on Sunday.
* Over 4,000 flights were cancelled around the world on Sunday, more than half of them U.S. flights, adding to the toll of holiday week travel disruptions due to adverse weather and soaring Omicron-driven cases.
* U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday with mild symptoms and would attend meetings virtually.
* Brazilian health agency Anvisa warned passengers against boarding cruise ships operating along the Brazilian coast after outbreaks of COVID-19 affecting crew and customers.
* China ended its final week of 2021 with its biggest tally of local cases for any seven-day period since subduing the country’s first epidemic nearly two years ago.
* China’s meticulous plans to prevent an Olympics-seeded COVID-19 outbreak by sealing all participants inside a “closed loop” for the upcoming Winter Games will be tested by the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
* Australia said the milder impact of the Omicron variant meant the country could push ahead with plans to reopen the economy even as new infections hit a record of more than 37,000 and the number of people hospitalised rose.
AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
* Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday the country would offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to people over 60 and to medical staff.
* The Kuwaiti embassy in the United Kingdom has encouraged its citizens to leave the country due to a “significant and unprecedented” increase in Omicron cases there.
* Sinovac’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine followed by a booster Pfizer-BioNTech shot showed a lower immune response against the Omicron variant compared with other strains, according to a study by researchers.
* Novavax Inc will submit a request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorise its COVID-19 vaccine next month, further delaying the submission it had expected by the end of this year.
* OPEC+ expects the impact on the oil market from the Omicron variant to be mild and temporary, keeping the door open for a further increase in output, a technical report seen by Reuters showed on Sunday.
(Compiled by Uttaresh.V; Edited by Shounak Dasgupta)