Urgent calls for vaccinations as Omicron cases rise

by Jonathan Adams
Omicron

Authorities globally have imposed new restrictions and stepped up inoculation efforts as Omicron emerges as the dominant strain of the virus

Australia’s political leaders were set to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday as cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus broke infection records and forced countries around to world to double down on vaccinations, just days before Christmas.

Authorities globally have imposed new restrictions and stepped up inoculation efforts as Omicron emerges as the dominant strain of the virus, upending imminent reopening plans that many governments hoped would herald the start of a post-pandemic era in 2022.

Singapore will freeze all new ticket sales for flights and buses under its programme for quarantine-free travel into the city-state from Dec. 23 to Jan. 20, the government said on Wednesday, citing risk from the fast-spreading Omicron.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday promised half a billion free rapid COVID-19 tests and warned the quarter of American adults who are unvaccinated that their choices could spell the ‘difference between life and death.’

In response to the surge in cases, Asia-Pacific countries are also looking to shorten the time between second vaccination shots and boosters. However, wary of public lockdown fatigue, there is reluctance to return to the strict curbs imposed during the spread of the Delta variant earlier this year.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday urged leaders of the country’s states to reopen hundreds of vaccination hubs to accelerate the rollout of booster shots after they were shut down as demand slowed when double-dose rates in people above 16 years topped 80%.

That’s a very important part of today’s discussion, Morrison said ahead of a snap meeting of national Cabinet on Wednesday, which includes federal and state leaders.

He said decisions about bringing forward the vaccination scheduled would depend on expert advice.

Australia on Wednesday reported more than 5,000 daily infections for the first time during the pandemic, eclipsing the previous high of around 4,600 a day earlier, with the bulk of cases in its most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Despite the Omicron surge, Morrison on Tuesday ruled out lockdowns and insisted that limiting the spread of the virus comes down to personal responsibility.

There was also resistance to new lockdowns in South Korea, where authorities announced restrictions on gatherings and operating times for restaurants, cafes and bars.

While polls still show wide support for South Korea’s fresh curbs, some of its strictest yet, many small businesses have complained that restrictions leave them overstaffed and overstocked, having prepared for a holiday season under looser rules.



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