France’s parliament has approved a law that will exclude unvaccinated people from all restaurants, sports arenas and other venues – the central measure of government efforts to protect hospitals amid record numbers of infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
In China, the city of Xi’an has gradually begun lifting restrictions after over three weeks of lockdown, following a coronavirus outbreak last month that officials attributed to the Delta variant.
India has reported its highest daily count of new novel coronavirus infections, with more than 271,000 cases recorded in the last 24 hours.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, vaccinated travellers will not be asked for COVID-19 tests on their return from holidays starting from next month, according to British daily The Times.
Here are the latest updates on January 16:
Baby dead from COVID-19 in Qatar: ministry
A three-week-old baby has died from COVID-19 in Qatar, the health ministry said, reporting a rare child fatality from the illness in the Gulf country.
“A three-week-old baby has sadly died as a result of severe infection from Covid-19,” the emirate’s public health ministry said in a statement.
“The baby had no other known medical or hereditary conditions”, and was the second child to have died in the country since the pandemic began, it added.
French parliament approves vaccine pass
France’s parliament gave final approval to the government’s latest measures to tackle the COVID-19 virus, including a vaccine pass contested by anti-vaccine protestors.
The new law, which had a rough ride through parliament with opposition parties finding some of its provisions too tough, will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places like restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains.
Currently, unvaccinated people can enter such places with the results of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Nearly 78 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry on Saturday.
Anti-vaccine far-right rally attracts hundreds in Hungary
Over a thousand people marched in Budapest protesting against COVID-19 inoculation at a rally organised by the far-right Our Homeland Movement, which has been campaigning on a fierce anti-vaccine and anti-immigration message ahead of April 3 elections.
“Vaccines should not be mandatory! We don’t tolerate blackmail,” said the slogan of the rally where people held up banners saying: “I am unvaccinated, not a criminal” and “Enough of COVID dictatorship.”
Hungary’s nationalist government has made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory only for teachers and healthcare workers.
With 10 million people and 40,237 people deaths from COVID-19 so far, Hungary has a vaccination rate of just over 60 percent, which lags western European levels.
Protest in Netherlands against coronavirus measures
Thousands of protesters packed Amsterdam’s streets in opposition to the government-imposed COVID-19 measures and vaccination campaign as virus infections hit a new record.
Authorities were granted stop and search powers at several locations across the city and scores of riot police vans patrolled neighbourhoods where the demonstrators marched with banners and yellow umbrellas.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen said the mood has been “quite heated but peaceful”.
“There’s a wide range of people against government measures and a general distrust of politics,” she said.
“A lot of people are now not obeying the rules and are violating many of the rules that are still place. The government has lifted the lockdown last Friday but in the last couple of days we’ve seen many business owners going against the government, opening their shops, restaurants and businesses saying they can’t go any longer.”
Chinese city Xi’an lifts some restrictions after lockdown
The Chinese city of Xi’an has gradually begun lifting restrictions after over three weeks of lockdown, as authorities sought to stamp out a local outbreak before the Beijing Winter Olympic Games are due to start.
State-owned broadcaster CCTV reported that certain counties and development zones in Xi’an, a city of 13 million famous for the Terracotta Warriors, had begun restoring production.
Officials told a news conference that lockdown measures had been either partially or completely lifted in some communities that have been designated as lower risk, allowing people to leave their homes for a limited time to purchase daily necessities.
Turkey backtracks on allowing unvaccinated on domestic flights without PCR test
Turkey has rescinded a measure that allows people unvaccinated against COVID-19 to board domestic flights without a PCR test, the state-owned Anadolu Agency said, a day after the requirement was lifted.
The Interior Ministry on Saturday lifted the PCR requirement for unvaccinated people in various areas, including planes, buses, theatres, cinemas and concert venues, Anadolu said.
Ankara had also lifted the PCR test and isolation requirement for those who come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. PCR tests are given only to those who show sypmtoms of the illness.
COVID deaths and cases are rising again at US nursing homes
COVID-19 infections are soaring again at US nursing homes because of the omicron wave, and deaths are climbing too, leading to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted.
Nursing homes were the lethal epicentre of the pandemic early on, before the vaccine allowed many of them to reopen to visitors last year. But the wildly contagious variant has dealt them a setback.
Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending January 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Austria tweaks vaccine mandate plan, to come in next month
The Austrian government has announced revised plans for a strict vaccine mandate, which it said will now apply to all residents age 18 and over, rather than 14 as originally intended.
The government announced nearly two months ago that it would implement a general vaccine mandate early this year, becoming the first European country to do so. In early December, it produced a first draft, calling for the measure to be introduced in February and foreseeing fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,100) for people who flout it.
Key aspects of the plan remain in the final version, which the government aims to have parliament approve on Thursday, but officials said consultations with two opposition parties and others showed the need for significant changes to details.
Germany’s seven-day incidence of infections passes 500 for first time
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned Germans against complacency and warned of “difficult weeks” ahead as the country’s disease control body recorded a new high in its seven-day incidence of coronavirus infections.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 515.7 new infections per 100,000 people per week on Sunday, marking the first time the measure has passed the 500 mark.
This compares to the figure of 497.1 a day earlier and 362.7 a week earlier. German health authorities recorded 52,504 new infections in the past 24 hours. A week earlier 36,552 were recorded.
“We must not lull ourselves into a false sense of security in view of the fall of hospitalization numbers, especially in intensive care units,” Lauterbach told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
Australian PM welcomes court decision to dismiss Djokovic visa case
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has welcomed a federal court ruling that upheld the cancellation of tennis player Novak Djokovic’s visa, saying the decision will help “keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe”.
A medical exemption that allowed Djokovic to enter the country without being vaccinated had sparked fury in Australia, becoming a political issue for Morrison, who has to call a federal election before May.
“It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer,” Morrison said in a statement.
Serbia says Australia’s decision to deport Djokovic ‘scandalous’
Serbia’s prime minister has denounced as “scandalous” Australia’s decision to deport tennis player Novak Djokovic over his decision not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Serbian president said he would always be welcome in his homeland.
A unanimous ruling by a three-judge bench rejecting Djokovic’s appeal against the cancellation of his visa dealt a final blow to his hopes of chasing a record 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open.
“I think the court decision is scandalous … I find it unbelievable that we have two completely contradictory court decisions within the span of just a few days,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters in Belgrade.
Thailand reports first death from Omicron variant
Thailand has reported its first death from the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant, a health official said on Sunday.
The death of an 86-year-old woman from the southern province of Songkhla came after Thailand detected its first Omicron case last month that led to the reinstatement of its mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for foreign visitors.
“The woman is a bed-ridden, Alzheimer patient,” health ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati told the Reuters news agency.
Such a death was expected as the country has so far reported more than 10,000 Omicron cases, he said, adding that Thailand would not need further containment measures.
Djokovic boards flight after Australia court upholds visa cancellation
Tennis star Novak Djokovic boarded a flight bound for Dubai after an Australian federal court upheld the government’s cancellation of his visa in a drama over his decision not to be vaccinated against coronavirus.
The player was seen boarding an Emirates flight from Melbourne just hours after the court ruling.
Beijing Omicron case prompts temple closures, queues for COVID tests
China reported 65 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases for January 15, including the first Omicron case in Beijing, just weeks from the February 4 start of the Winter Olympic Games and the country’s Lunar New Year holiday.
That was down from 104 comparable cases a day earlier, as the outbreak in the northwestern city of Xian winds down after strict lockdowns.
But the highly transmissible Omicron variant has been detected in at least five provinces and municipalities, prompting cities to impose curbs to stop its spread and threatening to further undercut slowing economic growth.
Australia court rules Djokovic to be deported
Tennis player Novak Djokovic has lost his chance to defend his Australian Open title after an Australian court upheld a government deportation order.
Three federal court judges sided with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision made on Friday to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.
Read more here.
UK Conservative chairman asks Johnson to address culture of staff parties
The British Conservative Party chairman has rejected calls for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign but said he must address the culture within his government that resulted in multiple staff gatherings at his residence during coronavirus lockdowns.
Johnson has apologised for attending a gathering in the garden of his Downing Street residence in May 2020 where staff had been invited to bring their own alcohol at a time when strict rules forbade the public from almost all socialising.
Amid a public backlash at the perception that the government did not follow its own rules during the pandemic, an internal investigation is looking at that party and several others – including two separate parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
India daily COVID-19 case count touches eight-month peak
India has reported 271,202 new daily cases of the novel coronavirus, its highest daily count in eight months, taking its total tally to 37.12 million, the federal health ministry said.
Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 314 to 486,066, the ministry said.
N Korea train makes first crossing into China since border lockdown: Reports
A North Korean cargo train pulled into a Chinese border town on Sunday, in what would be the first confirmed crossing since anti-coronavirus border lockdowns began, according to media reports.
North Korea has not officially reported any COVID-19 cases and has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and domestic travel curbs, since the pandemic began in December 2019.
A North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River railway bridge to arrive in the Chinese town of Dandong on Sunday, Yonhap News Agency said, citing multiple unnamed sources.
Beijing reports first local Omicron case
The first locally transmitted Omicron case has been detected in the Chinese capital, Beijing, officials said, weeks before the city is due to host the Winter Olympic Games.
State television reported on Saturday that the new COVID infection had been identified as the Omicron strain.
Lab testing found “mutations specific to the Omicron variant” in the person, an official at the city’s disease control authority, Pang Xinghuo, told a news briefing.
Read more here.
UK will not require COVID tests for fully vaccinated travellers: Report
Britain’s vaccinated travellers will be able to go on half-term holidays next month without taking COVID-19 tests on their return, The Times reported.
Transport Minister Grant Shapps is in favour of ending the testing system for the double-jabbed in time for the February break, the report said.
An announcement on the change in guidance would be made on January 26, the report said.
China urges authorities to minimise effects of COVID curbs over Lunar New Year
China’s state planner has urged local governments to minimise the effects of COVID-19 restrictions over the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday to help a rebound in consumption, as rising cases of the Omicron variant threaten economic growth.
“Local governments should avoid simplified, one-size-fits-all … COVID-19 epidemic and control measures [over the holiday] and minimise the impact on the people’s life,” the National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement.
It said low-risk places in China meet the reasonable demand for short trips from urban and rural residents, and urged a step-up in the supply of everyday products over the holiday period.