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How Are Other Countries Responding to the Rise of Omicron?

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With record numbers of daily infections in recent days, the UK is currently a hotspot for Omicron – but the latest COVID-19 variant has hit other countries around the world, too.

The US government’s chief medical officer Dr Anthony Fauci has called on Americans to get vaccinated, as densely populated areas such as New York City have seen a surge in cases, and some European countries have reintroduced stricter restrictions.

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According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UK has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Europe and the second highest in the world – 436,870 – in the last seven days.

Here’s what the COVID situation looks like around the world.

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United States

The first Omicron case was detected in the US on 1 December and since then numbers have increased by 40%.

Several large events have been cancelled or postponed, with three NFL matches delayed after outbreaks. The National Hockey League was also forces to cancel games, while performances of the Michael Jackson musical on Broadway have been called off.

Dr Tom Frieden, the former chief of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, has urged people to get their booster jabs, warning of a “tidal wave of Omicron likely coming to a hospital near you soon”.

Despite the surge in cases, lockdowns of workplaces and social gatherings have not been put in place.

According to WHO data, the US has seen almost 800,000 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began.

In the past seven days, some 571,461 cases were reported, the highest in the world in the last week.

The total number of coronavirus cases is now almost 50 million in the United States.

Germany

Germany is among several European countries that have introduced tougher measures for UK travellers.

As of midnight on Monday 20 December, people travelling from the UK to Germany have to quarantine.

“The spread of Omicron in the UK is very evident… We have to prevent the spread for as long as possible and slow it down as much as possible,” German ministers said in a statement.

People arriving from the UK must also provide a negative coronavirus test under the new rules.

Germany recorded its first Omicron case on 27 November. A total of 297,855 COVID cases have been recorded in the last week.

Spain

British tourists can only enter Spain if they show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Until recently, unvaccinated travellers were allowed into the country if they could present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before their arrival.

“The appearance of new variants… obliges an increase in restrictions,” the government has said.

Spain’s Industry, Trade and Tourism department said approximately 300,000 British people who are resident in Spain will not be affected by the new measures.

In football, Real Madrid’s unbeaten record in La Liga ended on Sunday with a 0-0 draw against strugglers Cadiz – the team had been without six players due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.

According to WHO data, some 143,400 cases and 195 deaths have been reported in Spain in the last seven days.

France

On 16 December, France banned British tourists because of the rise in Omicron cases in the UK.

Those with a “compelling reason” are still able to travel but have to register the address of their stay in France.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told BFM television that restriction measures include reducing the validity of pre-departure PCR tests to 24 hours from 48 for travellers arriving from Britain.

The Delta variant remains dominant in France, which has recorded 350,382 total coronavirus cases and 973 deaths in the past seven days.

Portugal

Officials in Portugal have not introduced any new COVID-19 measures yet, despite the rise of Omicron.

Almost 30,000 total cases and 107 deaths were reported in the country in the last week.

Analysis by Adam Parsons, Europe Correspondent

Countries in mainland Europe are looking toward the UK and seeing the proportion of Omicron cases, so now they are trying to buy some time.

Every day that passes is an opportunity to get millions of booster jabs into people before the Omicron wave really hits.

That may not take long. Figures suggest that in Paris for instance, the proportion of cases showing the Omicron variant is rising, fast.

That explains the restrictions that have been inflicted upon visitors coming from the UK to Germany, France, Ireland and Cyprus.

A question for the future is – once Europe gets really hit by the new Omicron wave, will there be any value in retaining those travel restrictions?

Of course, it isn’t just down to Omicron. In fact, Delta cases continue to cause countries to bring in new restrictions on the day-to-day lives of citizens.

The Netherlands has gone into something that is akin to an old school full lockdown.

Denmark, one of the first countries to relax COVID rules, has brought them back into places like restaurants, bars and cinemas.

There is also widespread use of vaccine passports in a growing number of places across much of Western Europe.

At the same time, Austria has moved away from its less restrictive lockdown rules, having seen a fall in the number of cases.

The EU, under the guise of Ursula von der Leyen, would love to have a single set of rules but that isn’t happening and I doubt it will happen any time soon.

Instead, we have some echoes of what happened last year, a patchwork of different restrictions, border requirements and health mandates with each country falling back on its own decision making

Italy and Spain will have meetings later this week to discuss their own restrictions.

Those are countries, particularly in the case of Spain, that have been reluctant to be tough on British visitors due to the role of tourism in its economy.

Germany, a very different economy, has put in something at the end of the scale – effectively telling UK visitors not to come because they will spend their whole time in quarantine.

Whether or not Europe moves towards a whole scale restriction against the UK is in the balance.

It depends on how long it takes for Omicron to be dominant across the continent.

South Africa

South Africa has reported the highest number of cases in Africa in the last seven days and the fifth highest globally.

There were 162,364 new infections in the last week, almost a month since the first Omicron case was reported in South Africa.

On 20 December, President Cyril Ramaphosa returned to work following a week of isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

He had mild symptoms and was treated at his official residence in Cape Town by the military health service.

Despite a surge in cases in the last month, hospitalisations remain low with experts stating that vaccines and natural immunity are protecting people from more severe symptoms.

Mr Ramaphosa previously said South Africa would not impose new restrictions, but would “undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations”.

Current regulations in South Africa make it mandatory to wear face coverings in public and restrict indoor gatherings to 750 people and outdoor gatherings to 2,000.

The Netherlands

On 28 November, Dutch health officials detected 13 Omicron cases among people who flew from South Africa – making the Netherlands the first European country to report cases of the new variant.

The country entered into a tough lockdown to curb the spread of Omicron on Sunday 19 December, with non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and other public places closing, as well as schools.

The “unavoidable” lockdown will run until at least 14 January, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said.

Shops, bars, and restaurants in the country had already been under a 5pm to 5am curfew, which was introduced at the end of November.

A total of 108,521 COVID-19 cases and 391 deaths have been reported in the Netherlands in the past week.

Italy

From 6 December, unvaccinated Italians faced tougher rules.

The “super green pass” requires vaccination, rather than including those who have received a recent negative test result. It is compulsory for entry to sports events, concerts, theatres, indoor restaurants and public events.

The previously introduced “green pass”, which can be obtained with a negative test result, will be acceptable for the use of local transport and hotels.

In the past seven days, Italy has recorded some 143,400 cases and 750 deaths.

Australia

Compared to cases globally, Australia has one of the lowest rates of new COVID-19 cases reported in the last seven days, 15,057, with a similar number of cases as Iran and Colombia.

Earlier this year, England’s Ashes tour was at risk because of rising cases in key Australian cities, including Sydney and Melbourne but tough restrictions for much of their winter has seen a dip in infections.

But, behind the numbers, there are concerns of a spike because of the Omicron variant.

According to reports, 10 testing sites in Melbourne were shut after reaching capacity, while there were long waiting times at centres in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced on Monday that he would discuss the Omicron outbreak with premiers at a snap national cabinet meeting on Friday.

New Zealand

As has been the case for most of the pandemic, New Zealand has managed to keep infections low.

In the latest seven day period, there were 600 positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 12,947.

What are the symptoms of the omicron variant?

COVID-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced in November that fully vaccinated international travellers will be allowed into the country from 2022.

The border will first open to citizens and residents travelling from Australia on 16 January, before expanding to include New Zealanders living elsewhere on 13 February,

Fully vaccinated visitors from all other countries, except those deemed “high risk,” can visit the Pacific Island nation from 30 April, Mr Hipkins said.

Thailand

Since the pandemic began the Thai economy has been devastated as it relies heavily on tourism.

The government lifted restrictions to tourists in November, but it reported its first Omicron case on 20 December and is now considering reinstating some restrictions.

This includes the return of mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors.

In the last seven days, there were 24,717 new infections in Thailand.

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Man Trying to Cross Channel Dies in Sub-zero Conditions After Going Overboard

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A manslaughter investigation is under way in France after a migrant died in sub-zero conditions while trying to cross the English Channel.

The Sudanese man was pulled from the water unconscious after going overboard in the early hours of Friday as he and others attempted to reach the UK.

Aged in his 20s, he was declared dead after being taken back to shore by French rescue teams.

Image: Rescued migrants were suffering from hypothermia

A total of 32 people were rescued off Berck, near Calais, suffering from hypothermia, authorities said.

The prosecutor in Boulogne-sur-Mer said a manslaughter investigation has been opened.

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The fatality has been reported less than two months after at least 27 people died when their boat sank off the coast of France.

More than 450 people have already made the life-threatening trip in small boats in 2022.

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France eases COVID travel restrictions for people arriving from UK

In UK waters on Friday, multiple Border Force vessels were active off the Kent coast.

About 35 people were seen being brought to shore by immigration staff.

On Thursday, at least 271 people aboard 10 small boats reached England.

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Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said there were “no simple answers” to the problem.

He added: “But we urge the government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access.

“This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the latest death was made “all the more unbearable because of the refusal of governments on both sides of the Channel to address the needs and rights of people compelled to attempt these dangerous journeys”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has called for more co-operation with Europe in an effort to solve the issue.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This tragic loss of life in France today is devastating and our thoughts are with the victim’s family and loved ones.

“It is sadly another reminder of the extreme dangers of crossing the Channel in small boats and of how vital it is that we work closely together with France to prevent people from making these dangerous crossings.

“The government’s New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken system to welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing the criminality associated with it.”

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Djokovic to Be Detained Again As Australia Cancels Tennis Star’s Visa

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Novak Djokovic will be detained again in Australia from tomorrow morning after his lawyers appealed a decision by the country’s immigration minister to cancel his visa for a second time.

The tennis star first had his visa revoked on arrival in Melbourne last week when his COVID vaccination exemption was questioned.

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‘You need to be vaccinated to compete’

But he won a court appeal against the cancellation that allowed him to remain in the country.

At the time, the Australian government said it would continue to look at whether he could stay, which was a decision that was entirely at the discretion of immigration minister Alex Hawke.

He announced on Friday that the Serbian’s visa had been cancelled again, this time on public health grounds.

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At a court hearing, Djokovic’s lawyers asked for an injunction to block his removal from the country, saying the reasons behind Mr Hawke’s decision are “patently irrational”.

Image: Djokovic was practising for the Australian Open on Friday morning

Djokovic will be free for Friday night but will be detained at 8am on Saturday morning after being interviewed at the Department for Home Affairs.

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The 34-year-old will then be able to spend time with his lawyers to prepare for his case but will be taken back into detention on Saturday night.

His legal team are pushing for a hearing to take place on Sunday, in the hope of a decision being made ahead of the Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic tries to explain ‘mistake’ on Australia entry visa form

Mr Hawke said he made his judgement after “carefully” considering information from the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and from Djokovic.

“Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” he said in a statement.

“The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added, referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Djokovic vs Australia: What both sides have said until now

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‘This is not over yet’, says Djokovic’s mum

Under the section of the Migration Act used by the minister, Djokovic will not be able to secure a visa to come to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances that affect the country’s interest.

Commenting on the decision, Mr Morrison said Australians have made “many sacrifices” during the pandemic.

“They rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” he added. “The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods.

“Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to COVID and now during the pandemic.”

What are Australia’s travel rules?

‘One of the most extraordinary spectacles’

Tom Parmenter

Sports correspondent

@TomSkyNews

The polls would have suggested that the majority of the Australian public expected the government to cancel his visa.

It has taken the Australian government just 96 hours after that court case that got so much attention at the start of the week to make its decision.

Now, we know that Novak Djokovic has admitted to misleading Australian authorities when filling out paperwork in relation to his arrival for the Australian Open, and we know that he in all likelihood broke the Serbian COVID rules.

That is because he tested positive on 16 December and didn’t necessarily isolate.

This is such a mess on the eve of the Australian Open. They made the draw yesterday and Djokovic was included but we understand from Melbourne that the decision is to kick him out and cancel his visa.

It is one of the most extraordinary spectacles in sport, off the tennis court. It has been so bitter on both sides, and it has polarised the anti-vaccination debate.

It has really become much bigger than that now. The polls suggested the majority of the Australian public wanted him kicked out, and the immigration minister has finally acted.

What about the Australian Open?

The second cancellation of Djokovic’s visa comes after he was drawn against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the Australian Open, which is due to begin on Monday.

The men’s tennis world number one could still file a legal challenge, but if not, his hopes of winning a 10th title at Melbourne Park and 21st grand slam crown will come to an end.

In order to stand a chance at competing, his lawyers would need to go before a judge of the Federal Circuit and Family Court or a higher judge of the Federal Court to get two urgent orders.

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Watch: Djokovic training session

One order would be an injunction to prevent his deportation, like the one he gained last week.

The second would order Mr Hawke to grant Djokovic a visa to play.

If he is forced out of the tournament ahead of Monday’s order of play being announced, the seeds will be shuffled around, with fifth seed Andrey Rublev taking the tennis star’s place.

‘Not great for the Australian Open – not great for Novak’

British tennis player Andy Murray described the fallout as “not a good situation”.

He added that it was “not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak and obviously a lot of people have criticised the government here as well, so it’s not been good.

“I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down, I said it the other day, it’s not a good situation for anyone,” he said.

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My Agent Ticked the Wrong Box! Djokovic Tries to Explain ‘mistake’ on Australia Entry Form

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Novak Djokovic has said his agent made a mistake on his Australia entry form when providing details of his travel in the days before his arrival in the country.

In an Instagram post, he said his “team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter”.

He also admitted being interviewed in person by a journalist from a French magazine in December, even though he had tested positive for COVID the day before.

Australian authorities investigating player’s declaration form as he returns to Australian Open practice

It comes as the Serbian player returned to practice on the tennis court, with photos showing him at Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open – which starts on 17 January and for which Djokovic has been named the number one seed.

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Image: Djokovic rests during practice ahead of the Australian Open

In his post, the world number one said he wanted to address the “continuing misinformation” about his movements after testing positive in December, before his arrival in Australia.

A key issue has been his Australia entry form and whether the tennis player might have incorrectly filled it out when he ticked a box indicating he hadn’t travelled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia on 6 January.

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Novak Djokovic: Transcript of Australia Border Force interview shows tennis star’s shock at visa cancellation

A social media post appears to show Djokovic attended an event in Marbella, Spain, during the period in question.

Separate photos also show the world tennis number one at a training session in the country on 2 January.

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Djokovic apparently training in Spain before Australia trip

Djokovic’s statement

Speaking out on Instagram, Djokovic said: “On the issue of my travel declaration, this was submitted by my support team on my behalf as I told immigration officials on my arrival – and my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia.

“This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur.

“Today, my team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter.

“While I felt it was important to address and clarify misinformation I will not be making any further comment out of utmost respect for the Australian Government and their authorities and the current process.”

Positive COVID test before interview

Djokovic also admitted attending an interview with French magazine L’Equipe the day after receiving his positive PCR result in December because he “felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L’Equipe interview as I didn’t want to let the journalist down”.

“While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” he wrote.

He said he received the positive result on 17 December, the same day as he had attended a tennis event in Belgrade to present awards to children.

However, transcripts of Djokovic’s interview with Australian immigration officials submitted to the court in Melbourne show he told them the positive PCR result was on the 16th, the day before the Belgrade event.

‘The most difficult time for us’

Novak Djokovic’s mother has said she is worried that her son could still be deported from Australia and miss the first open of the year because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Speaking to the Australian TV channel Network Seven from Belgrade, Dijana Djokovic said her family is hoping her son will get the chance to defend his title.

Image: Dijana Djokovic, the world number one’s mother, believes the matter is a ‘closed book’

“He’s not a politician, he is not a criminal, he’s not a murderer, he’s just a tennis player, the best in the world. Just let him play,” she said.

She feels that Djokovic’s case should be a “closed book” after a judge said he could stay in Australia.

“I’m very worried, so I realise that this is not over yet, and we are all praying that he will stay, and he will play,” Mrs Djokovic said.

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“I don’t think it’s fair. At least, Judge, Honourable Judge Kelly, he decided, to make a decision that he is free, so I cannot understand how one man can, you know, make the other decision. But I don’t know your laws in your country, so I really don’t understand.”

Read more on this story:
Transcript of Australia Border Force interview shows tennis star’s shock at visa cancellation

The tennis star has reiterated his intention to compete in the open, writing that “it is always an honour and a privilege to play in the Australian Open”.

“I just want to have the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world and perform before one of the best crowds in the world,” he said.

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