MILAN — Italy surged to a record 98,030 new cases of COVID-19 infections Wednesday, an increase of 25% in one day.

The government was meeting later to consider reducing the quarantine for vaccinated people, amid forecasts that the increasing number of infections could place more than 2 million people in quarantine after close contact with infected people.

The commuter train line in hard-hit Lombardy — which recorded one-third of all new cases — had to cancel about 100 trains Wednesday, due to lack of personnel.

Health Ministry statistics showed nearly 500 people have been hospitalized, with 126 new arrivals in intensive care units. Officials say 71% of those hospitalized are not vaccinated. The death toll rose by 136 to 137,091.

More than 1 million tests were performed in the last 24 hours, with long lines hundreds deep forming in centers around the country. Army teams are set to arrive in the coming days in two towns in Italy’s first red zone, Codogno and Lodi, to help with testing.



— Asia keeps omicron at bay, but a surge may be inevitable

— WHO: Global COVID cases up 11% last week, omicron risk high

— California 1st US state to top 5M cases amid omicron surge

— Stricter Canadian rules complicate NHL push through pandemic


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WASHINGTON — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that average coronavirus cases in the U.S. this week have increased 60% over the previous week, a reflection, she said, “of the exceptionally transmissible omicron variant.”

“This virus has proven its ability to adapt quickly and we must adapt with it,” Walensky said during the Biden administration’s COVID-19 task force briefing.

She pointed in particular to the CDC’s decision to reduce the quarantine time for individuals who test positive for coronavirus but don’t have symptoms to 5 days from 10 days. After five days, the risk of transmission “substantially decreases,” she said, and the reduced quarantine period reflected an effort to “provide updated recommendations using science to ease the burden of lengthy isolation and quarantine recommendations.”

Walensky also noted the decision to reduce the quarantine time for healthcare workers to seven days reflects in part a desire to address staffing shortages at overburdened hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. She emphasized the need for those who test positive to strictly adhere to masking guidelines.

“How well each of these prevention measures is implemented, as well as adherence to isolation and quarantine recommendations, will determine the outlook in the coming weeks,” Walensky said.


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s health minister received his booster jab with Turkey’s domestically made vaccine, Turkovac, live on camera on Wednesday — a day before it was scheduled to be made available for general use.

The vaccine, which uses the “inactivated virus” technology, was granted emergency use approval last week, becoming the third vaccine on offer in Turkey after jabs developed by China’s Sinovac and by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Fahrettin Koca, the health minister, said Turkey was dedicating the vaccine to all who have died of COVID-19 in the country. Members of Turkey’s coronavirus advisory council also took turns to receive their Turkovac booster jabs.

Turkey has so far administered close to 130 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines — including nearly 19 million booster shots. Around 82% of the adult population has received two doses.


BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Interior Minister says police forces will begin implementing strict measures ahead of New Year’s Eve to limit the spread of coronavirus in the small country.

Bassam Mawlawi’s comments on Wednesday came as the daily cases of the virus reached 3,153, a figure not seen in Lebanon in months.

After last year’s New Year’s Eve, Lebanon witnessed a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and deaths that overwhelmed hospitals. The medical sector has been hit hard by the country’s economic meltdown that began two years ago.

Mawlawi told reporters that police will be present in hotels, night clubs and restaurants to make sure they are working at 50% capacity and all clients present are either vaccinated or have a PCR test that was taken in less than 48 hours. He added that staff will either have to be vaccinated or undergo a PCR test twice a week.

Health Minister Firass Abiad said there has been no decision yet for a nationwide lockdown.

Lebanon, a nation of 6 million people including a million Syrian refugees, has registered 715,000 cases and more than 9,000 deaths since the first case was reported in February last year.


THESSALONIKI, Greece — Authorities in northern Greece say a 47-year-old woman is facing criminal charges of fraud and impersonating a doctor after she allegedly received 3,000 euros ($3,400) from a couple trying to get two sick parents into an ICU ward for COVID-19 treatment.

Police said Wednesday the woman has been identified by authorities but not yet formally arrested. They said, despite having no medical qualifications, she posed as an anesthesiologist who offered personalized treatment in the ICU of a Greek state hospital in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The woman claimed she had been given a government civil mobilization order as a private doctor to cover staff shortages but a hospital investigation found that she had no connection with the institution.

The alleged incident occurred in November. The two patients, fathers of the couple, were eventually moved to ICU wards and both died earlier this month.

Greece is currently battling an unprecedented spike in infections, which authorities say is caused by the rapid spread of the omicron variant.


CAIRO — Libyan health authorities said they have identified Wednesday the country’s first cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The National Center for Disease Control did not provide further details including the number of those who were found to have the variant.

The center, which tracks the virus spread, urged people across Libya to urgently receive vaccines.

The center reported Wednesday 665 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nine deaths in the past 24 hours. That has brought the country’s tally to more than 387,540 cases including 5,685 fatalities.


UNITED NATIONS — Days before its start date, an international conference on a landmark Cold War-era nuclear treaty is poised to be postponed because coronavirus cases are surging in the host city of New York.

Already delayed multiple times because of the pandemic, the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was supposed to start Jan. 4 at the United Nations’ headquarters, bringing delegations from around the world together to discuss the state of the 1970 pact. It’s considered a cornerstone of arms control.

But after the U.N. expressed concerns Monday about the resurgent virus and said the world body couldn’t staff an in-person conference, participants were reluctant to proceed with the Jan. 4 date, conference President-designate Gustavo Zlauvinen said in a letter Tuesday to the group.

He said the event would be put off if participants didn’t tell him otherwise by Wednesday evening.

“This is a regrettable decision, but the present circumstances do not leave us any other choice,” wrote Zlauvinen, an Argentine diplomat and former International Atomic Energy Agency official.

It’s not yet clear how long the gathering would be delayed, or whether all or some of the events might be held virtually. Participants are due Thursday to discuss what to do.


LAWRENCE, Kan. — Health officials in one of Kansas’ most populous counties are talking again about the possibility of imposing a local mask mandate over COVID-19 only days after one for children expired.

The interest in a new mask mandate in Douglas County, home to the main University of Kansas campus, comes as the state continues to see relatively high numbers of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The delta variant has spread across the state, and 25 cases of the omicron variant have been reported in 10 of the state’s 105 counties, including a case in Douglas County.

Local health department Director Dan Partridge told the Lawrence Journal-World that he, the county administrator and the CEO of the local health system plan to meet next week to hear from the county’s public health officer and other health professionals. He said the question of imposing a new mask mandate is sure to come up.

The elected Douglas County Commission would decide whether to impose the mandate. A requirement that children aged 2 through 11 wear masks in public places expired Dec. 22.


ATHENS, Greece — Greece has announced a record number of new daily coronavirus cases for the third consecutive day Wednesday, with 28,828 infections in the country of 11 million people.

On Tuesday, the number of daily infections had rocketed to nearly 22,000, more than double the record number of the previous day. Authorities have attributed the spike to the omicron variant and announced Wednesday they were moving up restrictions meant to go into place in the new year to Thursday, in an effort to limit its spread.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said music will be banned at all commercial venues for New Year’s Eve celebrations, while seating limits in restaurants will also be in effect. The restrictions, which limit service at restaurants, cafes and bars to seated customers only, ban music and impose a maximum of six people per table, had originally been planned to take effect on Jan. 3.

The measures include mandatory use of high-protection or double masks at supermarkets and on public transport, capacity limits at sporting venues and schedule changes and work-from-home orders for civil servants.

Greece now has more than 1.1 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, and more than 20,600 deaths.


MADRID — Spain’s Health Ministry says that the mandatory isolation time for people who test positive for COVID-19 and for unvaccinated people who have been in close contact with an infected person will be shortened from 10 to seven days.

A public health commission representing experts and health chiefs from Spain’s central and regional governments approved the new rules “unanimously,” the ministry says in a statement. Spain doesn’t currently mandate quarantines for double-dose vaccinated people who have been in contact with a positive case.

The new rules follow similar moves by health authorities in the United States, the United Kingdom and some European countries.

Health Ministry data showed a new record of nearly 100,000 reported infections on Tuesday, bringing the closely-watched 14-day infection rate to 1,360 cases per 100,000 residents. That’s nearly twice the level from a week earlier and five times the incidence rate at the beginning of December.

Although primary care health services are now feeling the strain of people showing up with symptoms and requiring tests, hospitalizations are lower than during previous virus surges. Spanish experts are linking the milder affection to a vaccine uptake of more than 80% of Spain’s 47 million residents.


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia has confirmed the presence of the omicron variant of the new coronavirus in the Balkan country.

Health officials on Wednesday said that the variant has been detected in 10 out of 100 samples tested at the main clinic in the capital Sarajevo. The fast-spreading virus variant earlier has been detected in other countries in the Balkan region as well.

Montenegro on Wednesday limited the work of bars and restaurants for New Year’s Eve to 1 a.m. in response. Montenegro has seen a sharp rise in new cases in the past days with around 1,500 infections reported on Wednesday in the country of 620,000 people.

In neighboring Serbia, authorities have decided this week to go ahead with planned outdoor concerts for New Year’s Eve despite the omicron fears and expert appeals for swift action. The state RTS television has reported that tens of thousands of visitors have flocked for the holidays to Belgrade which has relaxed virus restrictions.

Serbia has introduced COVID passes in the evening for bars, restaurants and night clubs while face masks are mandatory in shops and other indoor venues. Serbia and other countries in the region were hit hard in a major wave during the fall that swept through low-vaccination Central and Eastern Europe.


JACKSON, Miss. — The mayor of Mississippi’s capital city has ordered the closure of city hall and other city offices due to a surge in new confirmed coronavirus cases, particularly the highly contagious delta and omicron variants.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s new executive order closing offices went into effect Wednesday. He said only essential employees will continue to work in person. The order will stay in place until at least Jan. 5.

“The infectious spread of COVID-19 through both the Delta and Omicron variants has continued and dramatically increased in the City of Jackson, with a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and death rate,” the mayor said in a statement. “The City of Jackson does not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach to the continued threat.”

A total of 400 people were hospitalized with a confirmed coronavirus infection in Mississippi on Monday, compared with 239 people last Friday on Christmas Eve, the Department of Health reported.

Health officials said Tuesday 48% of Mississippi residents were fully vaccinated, and 29% had received a booster shot. Around 62% of people nationwide are fully vaccinated, and 32% had received a booster shot Tuesday, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.

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