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More countries see coronavirus cases surge to highest levels ever amid the rapid spread of Omicron variant.
New cases of COVID-19 in the United States have soared to their highest level on record, largely driven by the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.
Australia also hit a new record on Thursday as it narrowed its definition of close contacts of coronavirus cases and relaxed requirements for COVID-19 tests, in a bid to relieve pressure on testing sites.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization warned that the Omicron and Delta variants could produce a “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases that will put “immense pressure” on healthcare systems.
Here are the latest updates:
Masks to be mandatory outdoors in Paris
Residents and tourists in Paris will be required to wear face masks outdoors starting Friday as France this week reported a daily record of 208,000 new COVID-19 cases.
The Paris police prefecture said the mask rule will apply to people ages 12 and over, although individuals will be except while riding bicycles or motorcycles, traveling in vehicles and doing exercise.
Those who do not comply face fines of 135 euros ($153).
Masks already are mandatory in shops, public facilities and office buildings and on public transportation in France.
Italy tightens restrictions for access to public places
Italy approved a new decree on Thursday restricting access to an array of public places to people who are unvaccinated or whose second vaccination took place more than 120 days ago.
The measures, which will be enforced starting January 10, will restrict access to hotels, congress centres, local and long-distance public transport, ski lifts and festivals, among other places.
The new rules will stay in place until the end of the state of emergency on March 31.
In the decree, the government also decided to suspend precautionary quarantine for people who were vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 and who had close contact with a person who had tested positive.
J&J booster effective against hospitalisation in South Africa, early results suggest
A booster dose of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-dose COVID-19 vaccine was 84 percent effective at preventing hospitalisation in South African healthcare workers who became infected as the Omicron variant spread, researchers said on Thursday.
The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was based on a second dose of the J&J vaccine administered to 69,092 healthcare workers between November 15 and December 20.
The trial has been evaluating the efficacy of the J&J vaccine in the field after it was temporarily suspended due to concerns over extremely rare cases of blood clots.
Several studies have suggested that a booster dose provides significant protection against severe illness.
US cases soar to highest levels ever
New COVID-19 infections in the US have reached their highest level on record, at more than 265,000 per day on average.
The number of new daily cases has more than doubled over the past two weeks, eclipsing the old mark of 250,000 set in mid-January, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Omicron has cast a pall over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, forcing communities to scale back or call off their festivities.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said that there is no need to cancel small home gatherings for those who have received two or three vaccine doses.
Australia relaxes testing rules
Australia has hit a new record, with daily cases topping 20,000 for the first time in the pandemic.
This came as the government narrowed its definition of “close contacts” of coronavirus cases as people who live in the same household with an infected person. They would have to isolate for seven days and would only have to get a PCR test if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
The rules are being relaxed to stop asymptomatic people from being forced into isolation, especially in healthcare, hospitality and airlines, and cut long lines of people forced to get PCR tests for interstate travel or because they have been at a public site with a confirmed case.
The country’s medical association criticised the government’s redefinition of close contacts, saying it would further accelerate the outbreak.
Al Jazeera and news agencies