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Covid-19 live updates: Omicron drives new cases to record levels around the world

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Coronavirus cases are being reported at record levels across the world — surpassing even last winter’s devastating peak in some places — as officials grapple with a surge caused by the omicron variant. France recorded more than 104,000 new cases Saturday, reaching a six-figure daily tally for the first time. Britain, Italy, Ireland and the Australian state of New South Wales also reported record high levels of new cases over the weekend.

In the United States, the seven-day average of new daily cases was more than 203,000 on Sunday, according to a Washington Post tally, a level not seen since Jan. 19 last year. U.S. health officials warn that the country could soon see more than 1 million new cases per day, far beyond last winter’s peak of 248,000.

Hospitalizations and deaths from covid-19 have not risen as sharply, raising hopes that the omicron variant may not be as severe as the delta variant, though those figures typically lag days to weeks behind spikes in cases.

Still, some places in the United States are already hitting records: Washington D.C. is averaging more than 1,300 cases per day, far surpassing last winter’s peak of 322. Cases in Maryland have risen sharply, with the state averaging nearly 6,200 cases daily — nearly double its highest point last winter. New York state recorded more than 49,000 new cases on Sunday, its highest reported total yet during the pandemic, though testing was not widely available during the state’s first surge in early 2020.

Here’s what to know

  • Virus-related absences among airline staff — as well as winter storms in the West — are continuing to disrupt holiday travel plans, with more than 1,000 flights canceled Sunday in the United States.
  • The Military Bowl, Sun Bowl and Fenway Bowl are the latest college football bowl games to be canceled because of outbreaks on teams, as the NCAA confronts the surge with ad hoc protocols.
  • After nearly two years of collective trauma, the pandemic is pushing many people to a breaking point, fueling a slew of public outbursts.

Ashley Peterson had a different mental image of her Christmas break than what actually transpired: The 34-year-old thought she would finally visit the Caribbean reef-lined island of Bonaire, the 99th destination in her quest to travel to at least 100 countries.

Instead, her cruise ship, the Carnival Freedom, sailed past its destination Wednesday after a port turned away the boat because of coronavirus infections onboard. At least six sailings on Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival and others last week were altered by coronavirus outbreaks as cruise ships prepared for pre-pandemic levels before sailings were paused. Although vessels that have resumed cruising have beefed up coronavirus precautions — requiring vaccinations and testing passengers — the wave of new infections, fueled by the quickly proliferating omicron variant, has knocked the devastated industry and alarmed cruisers.

We’re sailing on a petri dish,” Peterson said. “I feel like I just spent my past week at a superspreader event.”

HONG KONG — Ellie May Paden, 26, came to Hong Kong over a year ago for a new opportunity and a budding relationship. Her LinkedIn page says she is “fortunate enough to be teaching English as a foreign language in a beautiful city,” with a photo of the glittering downtown skyline.

Paden, who runs a side business selling scented candles, found herself isolated by extreme quarantine rules that require anyone returning from abroad to spend weeks in confinement at a cost of thousands of dollars, irrespective of vaccination status. She missed her grandfather’s funeral and the birth of her niece, but she hoped that as vaccination rates rose, Hong Kong might open up.

It wasn’t to be. Paden is now selling her stock of candles and heading back to the United Kingdom before relocating to Canada, joining the swelling ranks of expatriates leaving Hong Kong over its approach to the pandemic.

“No other country takes it as far as three weeks,” Paden said. “It is kind of insane.”

With China exercising ever tighter control over Hong Kong, the city is hewing to the country’s strict “zero covid” policy extolled by Beijing as evidence of a superior political system. Yet the approach has largely cut off Hong Kong from both China and the world — a severe blow for a place that built its success on global connections. Even more than recent political changes, the authorities’ refusal to adapt to living with the virus is eroding Hong Kong’s viability as an international city, according to almost two dozen diplomats, chambers of commerce, recruiters, pilots and other expatriates.

3:57 AM: Pandemic and weather complicate travel again post-Christmas

The coronavirus pandemic continued to scramble Americans’ plans on the day after Christmas, with more than 1,000 flights canceled and the status of many gatherings in limbo as businesses, families and friends weighed calling off events amid absences and soaring case rates.

With cases also rising sharply around the globe, several European countries have announced new restrictions, and Israel said it would launch a study Monday of whether a fourth vaccine shot could be effective.

Many of the U.S. flight cancellations occurred on Delta, United, SkyWest, American and JetBlue airlines, according to the flight-tracking company FlightAware. The service said at least 1,212 flights within or going to or from the United States were canceled as of Sunday midafternoon — not a record-setting amount, but enough to make traveling difficult. Another 997 U.S. flights were canceled on Saturday, the service said.

10:16 PM: Three BTS members test positive for the coronavirus

SEOUL — Three members of K-pop juggernaut BTS have been infected with the coronavirus, according to their management agency.

The septet returned this month to South Korea from the United States, where it had its first concerts since the beginning of the pandemic.

RM, 27, and Jin, 29, tested positive for the virus Saturday evening, the Big Hit Music agency said in a statement. Another member, Suga, 28, was diagnosed Friday, a day after returning from the United States, according to the agency.

All three had been in quarantine after returning from the United States and had not come in contact with any other members of the group.

Big Hit Music said all three members received their second dose of coronavirus vaccine in August.

RM and Suga did not exhibit any symptoms, while Jin showed light fever and flu-like symptoms. They are self-isolating at home as per the country’s health guidelines, the agency said.

The South Korean pop group endorsed coronavirus vaccination during a speech in September at the United Nations. In November, the group traveled to Los Angeles in November to stage concerts and perform at the American Music Awards.

Earlier this month, Big Hit Music announced that the band members are taking an “extended period of rest,” citing the need to get “reinspired and recharge with creative energy.”

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