WASHINGTON, D. C., RAW – EUROPE

* Germany is considering shortening COVID-19 self-isolation periods over fears that critical services could grind to a halt as the highly infectious Omicron variant takes hold.

* France registered a record of more than 332,000 new cases in the last 24 hours, while the number of deaths also rose as the country battles a fifth wave of the virus.

* Ireland will no longer require vaccinated arriving travellers to present a negative COVID-19 test.

* Italy is set to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for people aged 50 and above in an attempt to ease pressure on its health service and reduce fatalities.

* Bulgaria will require almost all travellers from the European Union to have a negative PCR coronavirus test prior to entry along with a valid vaccination certificate, starting on Friday, the Health Ministry said.

* A “supersonic” rise in French COVID-19 cases will continue in the coming days, an official said on Wednesday as the government decreed a health state of emergency in overseas territories Guadeloupe, Guiana, Mayotte, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy.

AMERICAS

* Cuba tightened border controls as the Caribbean island nation moved to tamp down a growing wave of coronavirus infections while keeping doors open for its economically vital tourism industry.

* Canadians are angered by people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday. He also promised more than 100 million rapid tests will be distributed quickly to provinces.

* Rio de Janeiro has cancelled street parades and parties during its world-famous Carnival for a second year because of an increase in cases and the threat from the arrival of the Omicron variant.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Turkey recorded 66,467 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours, its highest daily figure on record, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, as infections surge due to Omicron.

* Hong Kong announced a two-week ban on incoming flights from eight countries, including the United States and Britain, and tightened restrictions as authorities feared a fifth wave of infections.

AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST

* COVID-19 infections caused more disruption to football’s African Cup of Nations preparations, with Senegal delaying their departure for the tournament in Cameroon, and Burkina Faso set to miss players in Sunday’s opening game.

* Israel changed its quarantine and testing policy in an effort to ensure continued protection for vulnerable populations from a surge in infections.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Pfizer and BioNTech will develop an mRNA-based vaccine for the viral infection shingles, collaborating for the third time after the success of their COVID-19 vaccine based on the same technology.

* India has not added Merck’s COVID-19 pill to its national treatment protocol for the disease due to some “major safety concerns”, a senior health official said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* The White House is in constant ongoing dialogue with US lawmakers and others on COVID-19 stimulus funding but the current economy appears strong, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.

* Norwegian Cruise Line on Wednesday cancelled trips on eight ships, a few with embarkation dates as far out as late April, signalling a blow to the recovery of the pandemic-ravaged cruise industry.

GLOBAL

DEATHS 5,480,872

CASES 297,820,061

RECOVERED 256,692,705