France has recorded more than 100,000 coronavirus infections in a single day for the first time since the pandemic began.
Covid cases in hospital have also doubled over the past month, as the fast-spreading Omicron variant complicates the government’s efforts to stave off a new lockdown.
More than one person in 100 in the Paris region has tested positive in the past week, according to the regional health service.
Most new infections are linked to Omicron, which government experts predict will be dominant in France in the coming days.
Meanwhile, a surge in Delta variant infections in recent months is pushing up hospital admissions.
More than 1,000 people in France with the virus died over the past week, bringing the overall death toll to more than 122,000.
The government is holding emergency meetings on Monday to discuss the next steps. Some scientists and educators have urged the return to schools after the Christmas break to be delayed, or for a curfew to be reimposed.
But the education minister says schools should open as usual on January 3rd, and other government officials are working to avoid measures that would hammer the economic recovery.
Instead, the government is hoping that stepped-up vaccinations will be enough.
The government is pushing a draft law that would require vaccination to enter all restaurants and many public venues, instead of the current health pass system which allows people to produce a negative test or proof of recovery if they are not vaccinated.
Australia’s most populous state has reported a record number of new coronavirus cases and a sharp jump in hospital numbers, while thousands of people isolate at home after contracting the virus or coming into contact with someone who has.
New South Wales reported 6,394 new infections on Sunday, up from 6,288 a day earlier. Case numbers in the state have surged over the past two weeks but hospitalisations have lagged behind new infections.
More than 70 per cent of cases in some Australian states are the Omicron variant but New South Wales does not routinely carry out genome testing to identify the variant.
New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard indicated on Sunday that Omicron is widespread.
“We would expect that pretty well everybody in New South Wales at some point will get Omicron,” he said.
“If we’re all going to get Omicron, the best way to face it is when we have full vaccinations including our booster.”
Health officials reported 458 active cases in hospitals across the state, up sharply from 388 the day before. There are 52 people in intensive care in New South Wales.
Meanwhile, a major laboratory in Sydney, which is in New South Wales, said on Sunday that 400 people who had been informed a day earlier that they had tested negative for Covid had in fact tested positive.
The lab’s medical director said those people are being contacted and informed of the error.
“An emergency response team is now investigating the cause of this mistake, which is believed to be due to human error,” he said. “We sincerely apologise.”
Doctors and pharmacists in New South Wales have said they are running short of vaccine doses amid a rush for shots spurred by concern over the Omicron variant.
Victoria, the country’s second most populous state, reported 1,608 new Covid cases and two deaths on Sunday, with 374 people in hospitals, including 77 in intensive care.
More than 30,000 people in Victoria spent Christmas isolating at home, unable to celebrate with family or friends. Of those, about half were reported to be active cases who contracted the virus in the days leading up to Christmas.
China reported its highest daily rise in local Covid-19 cases in 21 months as infections more than doubled in the northwestern city of Xian, China's latest Covid hot spot.
The city of 13 million, which entered its fourth day of lockdown, detected 155 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms for Saturday, up from 75 a day earlier, official data showed on Sunday.
That drove the national daily count to 158, the highest since China managed to contain a nationwide outbreak in early 2020.
Xian, with 485 local symptomatic cases reported for the December 9th-25th period, has imposed heavy-handed measures to rein in the outbreak, in line with Beijing’s policy that any flare-up should be contained as soon as possible.
The city managed to quickly detect those cases through three rounds of mass testing, He Wenquan, a Xian official, told a press conference on Sunday, adding that high case numbers could persist into the next couple of days.
“In order to quickly screen out the infected groups of people, after an analysis by experts, we will step up control measures in key areas, especially places with greater risk level,” said He.
The local government also announced that it would launch a city-wide disinfection campaign from 6pm local time, urging residents to shut the windows and bring clothes or other items inside from their balconies.
Residents may not leave town without approval from employers or local authorities and multiple rounds of mass testing were conducted to identify cases.
The city has announced no infections caused by the Omicron variant, although Chinese authorities have reported a handful of Omicron infections among international travellers and in southern China.
Including imported cases, mainland China confirmed 206 new cases on December 25th, up from 140 a day earlier.
No new deaths were reported, leaving the cumulative death toll at 4,636. Mainland China had 101,077 confirmed cases as of December 25th – AP/Reuters