Commercial airlines around the world cancelled more than 5,700 flights over the Christmas weekend according to a flight tracker website, as a mounting wave of coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant created greater uncertainty and misery for holiday travellers.
On Saturday, Pope Francis prayed for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, using his Christmas Day address to urge vaccines for the poor and health care for all.
“Grant health to the infirm and inspire all men and women of good will to seek the best ways possible to overcome the current health crisis and its effects,” Francis said in his address.
Here are the latest updates for Saturday:
Biden commends Americans’ COVID resilience in Christmas greeting
United States President Joe Biden commended Americans for their strength and resilience in the face of the raging coronavirus pandemic, urging “hope and renewal” during the holiday season.
In his first Christmas address as president, Biden praised “the enormous courage, character, resilience, and resolve in all of you who heal, comfort, teach, and protect and serve in ways big and small.”
“You show there is much to gain in appreciation and gratitude for the gift of time and goodwill we share as we look out for one another,” Biden said in a statement with First Lady Jill Biden.
Villa manager Gerrard to sit out two games after testing positive
Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard will miss the team’s next two Premier League matches after testing positive for COVID-19, the English club said.
Gerrard, 41, who joined the club last month, will miss both Sunday’s home game to Chelsea and Tuesday’s trip to Leeds United while isolating.
France reports record 100,000 daily cases
Coronavirus cases in France hit six figures, health officials recording 104,611 cases over the previous 24 hours, the third consecutive day the numbers have hit record highs.
The latest official figures come ahead of a meeting Monday in which President Emmanuel Macron and key members of his government are set to discuss new Covid safety measures.
Italy reports third consecutive record of cases
Italy reported a third successive record tally of coronavirus cases, with new infections hitting 54,762 against 50,599 a day earlier, the health ministry said.
The number of coronavirus-related deaths rose to 144 from 141 on Friday.
Italy has registered 136,530 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth highest in the world.
Portugal says Omicron dominant amid rising infections
Omicron has become the dominant strain of coronavirus in Portugal where more than 10,000 daily coronavirus cases had been registered, the national health agency said.
Portugal, one of the countries with the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates worldwide, has begun inoculating children over five years old.
“The Omicron variant is already dominant in Portugal, accounting for 61.5 percent of cases on December 22,” the General Directorate of Health said.
On Saturday, Portugal recorded 10 deaths and 10,016 cases, slightly fewer than Friday when 11 deaths and 12,943 cases were reported.
Timberwolves D’Angelo Russell enters protocol
Minnesota point guard D’Angelo Russell is the eighth member of the Timberwolves in COVID-19 protocols, ESPN reported.
Russell, 25, joins a list that includes backcourt partner Anthony Edwards and All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns.
The other Minnesota players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols are Patrick Beverley, Josh Okogie, Taurean Prince, Jarred Vanderbilt and McKinley Wright IV.
Indian PM Modi announces booster shots to healthcare workers next month
India will start administering COVID-19 booster shots to healthcare and frontline workers from January 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
In an address to the nation, he also said those aged 15-18 would start receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations from January 3.
Read more here.
My address to the nation. https://t.co/dBQKvHXPtv
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 25, 2021
Turkmenistan to register Russian Sputnik Light vaccine
Turkmenistan became one of the first nations to approve the use of Russian COVID-19 vaccines, including Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, and Sputnik Light, according to the country’s Ministry of Health and Medical Industry.
The ministry said in a statement that it registered the Sputnik Light vaccine and issued a corresponding certificate for its use.
Another Top14 Rugby games gets postponed
Clermont’s visit to Brive became the third game in the post-Christmas round of Top 14 Rugby matches to be cancelled because of a cluster of coronavirus cases.
The match, scheduled for Sunday, was called off after Clermont reported coronavirus cases in their squad, the French league (LNR) announced.
“Due to the health situation of the squad of Clermont, following new tests, the match Brive-Clermont, is postponed. The rearranged date will be communicated later,” said the LNR in a statement.
More than 5,700 flights scrapped on Christmas weekend
At least 5,743 flights have been cancelled worldwide over the long Christmas weekend and thousands more were delayed, a tracking website reported.
According to Flightaware.com, more than 2,500 flights were scrubbed around the globe on Christmas Day, including more than 870 originating from or headed to US airports, with some 4,200 delays as of 1430 GMT.
On Friday, there were around 2,400 cancellations and 11,000 delays, while Sunday cancellations have already topped 800.
Two more members of Korean group BTS test positive for virus
Two more members of the K-pop group BTS tested positive for COVID-19 following their return to South Korea from the band’s first pandemic-era concerts in the United States, their management company Big Hit Music said.
Rapper RM, 27, and vocalist Jin, 29, were diagnosed with COVID-19 a day after Suga, a songwriter and rapper for the seven-member group, tested positive.
All three had completed second doses of a coronavirus vaccine in August, the company said.
Japan’s Fukuoka finds first Omicron case
Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture has confirmed its first infection with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, its governor Seitaro Hattori said.
The case was a result of possible community transmission as the infection route was unclear, Hattori told a news conference.
Pope prays for end of pandemic in Christmas blessing
Pope Francis prayed for an end to the coronavirus pandemic, using his Christmas Day address to urge health care for all, vaccines for the poor and for dialogue to prevail in resolving the world’s conflicts.
“Grant health to the infirm and inspire all men and women of good will to seek the best ways possible to overcome the current health crisis and its effects,” he said on Saturday.
“Open hearts to ensure that necessary medical care – and vaccines in particular – are provided to those peoples who need them most.”
Read more here.
Djokovic ‘won’t go’ to pre-Australian Open ATP Cup: Local media
Novak Djokovic will not play in the ATP Cup ahead of the Australian Open, where his participation is in doubt as the Serbian tennis star refuses to say if he has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, his team have told Serbian newspaper Blic.
“It is 99 percent sure that Novak won’t go to the ATP Cup. He is training here (in Belgrade) but he has decided to give that tournament a miss,” an unnamed member of his team said.
The ATP Cup in Sydney is a team tournament that traditionally kicks off the men’s season.
Kenya to start booster shot drive amid virus fears
Kenya will offer COVID-19 booster shots to individuals six months after their initial shots, the health ministry said in a document published a day after the country logged its highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests.
Kenya last month said it would demand proof of vaccination to access public spaces and transport from December 21. The move met with a combination of bemusement, dismissal and occasional spot enforcement, given the country’s low vaccination rate.
By Friday just over 14 percent of Kenyan adults had been fully vaccinated.
US hit by further flight cancellations
According to Flightaware.com, at least 2,000 flights were cancelled worldwide on Christmas Day.
On Friday, there were around 2,400 cancellations and almost 11,000 delays. The site also reported over 600 cancellations for Sunday.
Pilots, flight attendants and other staff have been calling in sick or having to quarantine after exposure to COVID, forcing Lufthansa, Delta, United Airlines and many other carriers to cancel flights during one of the year’s peak travel periods.
China’s COVID-hit Xian city reports rise in infections
China’s Xian city has reported an increase in daily COVID-19 infections and local companies curtailed activity as the country’s latest COVID-19 hot spot entered its third day of lockdown.
Xian, a northwest Chinese city of 13 million, detected 75 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms for December 24, its higest daily count of the year and reversing the previous day’s decline, official data showed on Saturday.
Residents are banned from leaving town without clearance from employers or local autorities and households can send only one person to shop for necessities every two days.
India COVID deaths rise by 387
India’s health ministry reported on Saturday that daily COVID-19 deaths in the country have risen by 387, bringing the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to at least 479,520.
COVID cases have also risen by 7,189 to at least 34.8 million.
In Omicron-free New Zealand, Christmas without restrictions
New Zealanders celebrated Christmas on Saturday in the warmth of southern midsummer with few restrictions, in one of the rare countries in the world largely untouched by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Ninety-five percent of adults in New Zealand have had at least one dose of a vaccine, making it one of the world’s most vaccinated populations. The only Omicron cases that have been found in New Zealand have been safely contained at the border.
As COVID-19 spread across the globe in the past two years, New Zealand used its isolation to its advantage. Border controls kept the worst of the virus at bay, and by Christmas this year, New Zealand had recorded just 50 deaths in a population of 5.5 million.
Daily COVID cases in Australia’s New South Wales top 6,000
Australia’s most populous state recorded more than 6,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time Saturday, adding a sombre note to Christmas celebrations.
Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, reported 2,108 new cases and six deaths on Saturday.
Health expert highlights importance of wearing mask to fight COVID
📍Just went to a major retail store—almost nobody wearing masks, and even then—only flimsy masks under their noses. I asked two mask wearers why not wear a KN95–their response… ➡️“I don’t know what that is” & “I can’t afford that fancy stuff”. We’ve failed somewhere horribly.😢 pic.twitter.com/vUh8jaQejt
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 24, 2021
US Navy warship sidelined with COVID-19 outbreak
A US Navy warship has paused its deployment to South America because of a coronavirus outbreak, the Navy said Friday.
The USS Milwaukee, a littoral combat ship, is staying in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where it had stopped for a scheduled port visit. It began its deployment from Mayport, Florida, on December 14 and was heading into the US Southern Command region.
The Navy said in a statement that the ship’s crew is “100% immunized” and that all of those who tested positive for COVID-19 have been isolated on the ship away from other crew members. The number of crew testing positive was not disclosed. The ship has a crew of a little more than 100.
The Navy said that “a portion” of those infected are having mild symptoms and that the specific variant is not yet known. COVID-19 cases have surged across the country due to the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.
Antetokounmpo clears NBA’s COVID protocols
The Milwaukee Bucks received an early Christmas present in the form of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo clearing the National Basketball Association’s health and safety protocols on Friday.
However, Antetokounmpo’s status remains up in the air for Milwaukee’s Christmas Day showdown against the visiting Boston Celtics on Saturday afternoon.
For their part, the Celtics officially placed five more players into COVID protocols on Friday, bringing the team’s total to 12.
Blinken thanks South Africa in call with counterpart Naledi Pandor
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke via phone with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor about an earlier announcement that the US plans to lift travel restrictions on several southern African nations, imposed last month amid fears over the Omicron variant.
“The Secretary again thanked South Africa’s scientists and government for their transparency and expertise,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a statement describing the call.
“He emphasized the importance of the longstanding partnership between the United States and South Africa to combat the impacts of COVID-19.”
More than 4,000 Christmas flights cancelled worldwide
Airlines around the world called off more than 4,000 flights over the Christmas weekend, due to the increase in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant.
The website FlightAware showed 2,314 flights had been cancelled worldwide on Christmas Eve, a typically robust day in passenger transit. About a quarter of those suspended itineraries were in the US.
Another 1,404 flights scheduled for Christmas Day were cancelled globally, the website said, along with 340 more that had been scheduled for Sunday, Boxing Day.