Live updates: UK rushes to help businesses hurt by omicron

By AP News

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LONDON — Britain has announced 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in grants and loans to help the hospitality industry survive the onslaught of the omicron variant, bowing to days of pressure from pubs, restaurants and other businesses that have seen their income plunge following public health warnings.

Only a few shoppers pass by as a sign says 'We are Open' in London, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that his government reserves the "possibility of taking further action" to protect public health as Omicron spreads across the country. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON — Britain has announced 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in grants and loans to help the hospitality industry survive the onslaught of the omicron variant, bowing to days of pressure from pubs, restaurants and other businesses that have seen their income plunge following public health warnings.

Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-time grants of up to 6,000 pounds ($7,900) each. An additional 100 million pounds ($132 million) will be given to local governments to support businesses in their areas hit by the sudden spike in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly transmissible new variant.

Pubs and restaurants have reported a wave of cancellations during the crucial Christmas season as people shun public events and workers are forced to self-isolate, leaving venues short of staff. Many theaters and museums also have closed their doors.

“With the surge in omicron cases, people are rightly exercising more caution as they go about their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors at what is typically the busiest time of the year,’’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “That’s why we’re taking immediate action.”

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

— Biden to urge Americans to get vaccinated as Christmas nears

Explainer: Boosters key to fight omicron, lot still to learn

— Feeling powerless, families bring elderly home in pandemic

Britain to give financial support to businesses hurt by the omicron surge

German military gives hospital an edge in treating COVID-19 patients

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

MIAMI — Omicron has overtaken the delta variant in Miami-Dade County as the dominant strain of the coronavirus in a matter of weeks, according to genomic surveillance data.

Genetic sequencing of the virus showed omicron grew from a tiny fraction of hundreds of samples taken the first week of December to nearly three of every four samples taken last week.

“It is absolutely astonishing how contagious this variant has proven to be,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the Miami Herald.

The county contracts with NOMI Health to conduct testing, vaccination and sequencing. The company found that 76% of 504 COVID-19 samples taken Dec. 14-15 were the omicron variant. That compared to 64% of 378 samples collected Dec. 10-13, and 1.3% of the 373 samples collected Dec. 1-5, county records showed.

The variant is also sweeping the nation, accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said.

The county is also seeing a spike in positive COVID-19 cases, which stand at 10% after dropping to about 1% a month ago, according to data.

“It’s on us to protect ourselves and still the most important thing we can do is vaccinate,” the mayor said.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden had close contact with a staff member who later tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Monday night that the staff member tested positive earlier in the day. Psaki says the staff member spent about 30 minutes around the president on Air Force One on Friday during a trip from Orange, South Carolina, to Philadelphia.

Psaki says the staff member is fully vaccinated and boosted and tested negative before boarding Air Force One. She says the staffer began experiencing symptoms Sunday night.

Psaki says the 79-year-old Biden is tested regularly for the virus and has had two negative tests since Sunday. She says he will be tested again Wednesday.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive announced Tuesday that its COVID-19 passport must remain valid for intra-EU travel for nine months after full vaccination. The rule takes effect on Feb. 1.

The announcement came only days after last week’s E summit stressed the importance of coordinated action to avoid a confusing cacophony of rules in the bloc's 27 member states, and ensure that COVID-19 certificates continue to guarantee unrestricted travel.

“A harmonized validity period for EU Digital COVID certificate is a necessity for safe free movement and EU level coordination,” said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

If member states could all impose their own deadlines, it would sharply hamper travel within the bloc.

The nine-month target had already garnered wide backing at a recent summit but still needed to be legally backed by the EU Commission.

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BERLIN — Germany’s independent vaccine advisory panel is recommending boosters starting from three months after people are fully vaccinated.

Tuesday’s recommendation is effective immediately and is a change from the previous call for booster shots after a minimum six months.

Some German regions and facilities already had declared people eligible for boosters after five or even four months.

The recommendation comes as Germany anticipates a steep rise in infections as a result of the new highly contagious omicron variant.

Also on Tuesday, regulators in neighboring Switzerland recommended boosters after four rather than six months.

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MILAN — Police in Sicily have arrested three people for allegedly helping fake vaccinations for around 400 euros ($450) a piece, allowing people opposed to getting inoculated to obtain a health pass.

The suspects include a nurse who pretended to administer the vaccines and the leader of an anti-vaccination movement in Palermo. Video supplied by authorities showed the nurse emptying the syringe into gauze before injecting the needle into people paying for the fake certificate.

Authorities have confirmed about a dozen faked vaccinations, but suspect that many more are circulating. Confirmation of a vaccination allows people to obtain a health pass to access places of employment, as well as indoor dining, theaters, museums and other leisure activities.

Sicily has the highest percentage of unvaccinated people of any Italian region, at nearly 23%. Nationwide, just under 17% of Italy's population is not vaccinated.

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BARCELONA, Spain — Catalonia is preparing to become the first Spanish region to reinstate serious limitations given the latest spike in infections in a country that is among the world leaders in vaccination.

Health authorities have asked the courts to authorize a battery of measures including a new nightly curfew from 1-6 a.m., a limit of 10 people per social gathering, the closure of night clubs, and capping restaurants at 50% of seating indoors and stores, gyms and theaters to 70% capacity.

If approved by the courts, they would take effect on Friday and last for 15 days in the northeast region surrounding Barcelona.

Regional health chief Josep Argimon said that the measures are needed because of the arrival of the more contagious omicron variant. “Infections have grown 100% over the past week,” he said.

Spain’s prime minister is meeting via video with the heads of Spain’s regions on Wednesday to discuss new measures for the country that has seen cases rapidly increasing despite having given two doses of vaccines to over 80% of its entire population of 47 million.

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HOUSTON — An unvaccinated man with health issues has become the first person in the Houston area whose death has been linked to COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the death of the man in his 50s during a news conference Monday.

One Houston hospital system has reported the omicron variant is accounting for 82% of new COVID-19 cases it is treating.

The medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital said in a tweet Sunday that the omicron variant became the “cause of the supermajority” of new Houston Methodist cases in less than three weeks. In comparison, the delta variant took three months during the summer before it was the cause of more than 80% of cases.

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ATLANTA -- The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has risen almost 50% in Georgia in the last month, and the number of infections detected continues to accelerate.

More than 1,200 patients were hospitalized statewide Monday with the respiratory illness. That’s well below the record of roughly 6,000 that was reached in early September at the peak of Georgia’s fourth surge of virus cases. But it is well above the recent low of 824 patients recorded on Nov. 22.

Among those who have tested positive for the virus is Atlanta-mayor elect Andre Dickens, who has put himself in self-isolation though he reports feeling well with mild symptoms. Dickens, says he is fully vaccinated.

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EUGENE, Ore. — As the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads across the country, University of Oregon students, faculty and staff will be required to get a coronavirus booster shot as soon as they are eligible.

Currently the university and the state’s six other public universities require vaccinations for those on campus.

As of Monday afternoon, the University of Oregon is the only public university in the state to publicly announce a booster requirement.

University President Michael Schill says in a letter posted online that “boosters are the next step in the evolving public health strategy in which we have adapted and responded as a community during the pandemic,”

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s governor has issued his strongest public health warning yet heading into the Christmas holidays.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that officials expect the omicron variant of the coronavirus to soon severely strain hospitals and lead to the highest daily case counts since the pandemic hit the state in March 2020.

Cooper also says he will not reimpose any statewide mandates or roll out any financial inducements for residents to get a booster shot of coronavirus vaccine. In place of mandates, North Carolina will rely on additional resources for at-home test and an informational campaign to encourage the roughly 62% of vaccinated residents to get a booster shot.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana is starting to see growing numbers of COVID-19 cases months after emerging from a fourth surge of the coronavirus outbreak, with the state at risk of another spike as the omicron variant spreads.

Data released Monday by the Louisiana Department of Health shows the number of new coronavirus cases reached more than 2,300 since Friday — and more than 4,800 over the last week. That’s more than double the amount of new cases from the prior week.

And the health department warned those numbers are expected to balloon as dozens of cases of the fast-spreading omicron variant have been confirmed in Louisiana.

Still, the number of people hospitalized in Louisiana with COVID-19 remains low so far, reported at 241 patients Monday. That continues to be among the lowest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since March 2020 and well below the state’s peak of more than 3,000 in August.

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NEW YORK — “Hamilton” and “Aladdin,” two of Broadway’s biggest musicals, are shuttering their doors during the busy Christmas week after finding breakthrough COVID-19 cases in their companies.

All matinee and evening performances of “Aladdin” from Tuesday through Friday were canceled. Performances are scheduled to resume Sunday. “Aladdin” had previously canceled its Dec. 19 performance.

“Hamilton” canceled shows on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday and performances are scheduled to resume Dec. 27. The production had previously canceled its Dec. 17 through Dec. 19 performances, as well as its Dec. 15 show due to the detection of positive results.

The two hit shows join “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “MJ” and “Ain’t Too Proud,” among others, in announcing multi-day cancellations due to the virus. Shows often add performances around Christmas week and the holidays are usually the most lucrative shows of the year.

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MISSION, Kan. — Rural Kansas hospitals are struggling to transfer patients as COVID-19 numbers surge, with some patients left stranded in emergency rooms for a week while they wait for a bed.

Space also was in short supply last winter and again over the summer when the delta variant first hit the state. The situation improved slightly this fall, but according to Motient, a company contracting with Kansas to help manage transfers, the situation now is worsening again.

And it isn’t just rural hospitals looking for beds. Overwhelmed hospitals as far away as Minnesota and Michigan have been calling looking for beds in larger Kansas hospitals. Often there simply isn’t room.

Dr. Richard Watson, founder of Motient, said Friday that the long-distance transfers and long waits for beds are sadly becoming commonplace as the pandemic ends its second year.

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Author: AP News

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