By The Associated Press
PARIS – French authorities announced Saturday that children six and older will have to wear masks in indoor places open to the public as new cases of the highly contagious omicron variant surge past 200.000 for the fourth consecutive day.
By lowering the age of children obligated to wear masks from 11 to 6, the government is hoping to avoid shutting down schools after the holiday break. Classes resume Monday and young children will have to wear masks in public transport, in sports complexes and places of worship. The mask mandate extends to outdoor spaces in cities such as Paris and Lyon that have recently re-introduced mask wearing outside.
On the first day of the new year, France registered 219,126 new infections, down only slightly from the daily record of 232,200 noted on the last day of 2021.
French government is betting that fifth wave of the pandemic driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant can be tamed without returning to economically damaging lockdowns or curfews and without hospitals collapsing under growing numbers of gravely sick.
France has lost 123,000 people to COVID-19.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
— Dozens of U.S. colleges move classes online temporarily to counter surge of infections
— Over 2,400 U.S. flights canceled on New Year’s Day as omicron rages on
— UK estimates 1 in 15 had virus in London before Christmas amid omicron surge
— New COVID-19 cases in US soar to highest levels on record
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
PHOENIX — Arizona on Saturday reported the largest number of additional confirmed COVID-19 cases since last January for the second day in a row and 125 more virus deaths.
The state reported additional 8,220 cases as Arizona’s pandemic totals increased to 1,389,708 cases and 24,354 deaths, according to the Department of Health Services’ coronavirus dashboard. Arizona on Friday reported 7,720 additional cases.
The state reported over 8,000 additional cases on 13 days last January.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped slightly for the second straight day, with 2,283 virus patients occupying inpatient beds statewide Friday, the dashboard reported.
According to Johns Hopkins University data, Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Arizona rose over the past two weeks, increasing from 3,058.6 on Dec. 16 to 4,325 on Thursday. The rolling average of daily deaths dropped from 77.1 to 52.8 during the same period.
DALLAS — For air travelers, the new year picked up where the old one left off –- with lots of frustration.
By late morning Saturday on the East Coast, more than 2,400 U.S. flights and nearly 4,200 worldwide had been canceled, according to tracking service FlightAware.
That is the highest single-day toll yet since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staffing shortages on increasing COVID-19 infections among crews. More than 12,000 U.S. flights have been canceled since Dec. 24.
Saturday’s disruptions weren’t just due to the virus, however. Wintry weather made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers, with 800 flights scrubbed at O’Hare Airport and more than 250 at Midway Airport. Forecasts called for nine inches of snow. Denver, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, were hit with at least 100 cancellations each.
Southwest Airlines, which has major operations at Chicago Midway and Denver, canceled more than 450 flights nationwide, or 13% of its schedule, by midmorning. American, Delta, United and JetBlue scrubbed more than 100 flights apiece.
LOS ANGELES — A year after New Year’s Day passed without a Rose Parade due to the coronavirus pandemic, the floral spectacle celebrating the arrival of 2022 proceeded Saturday despite a new surge of infections due to the omicron variant.
The 133rd edition of the Pasadena, California, tradition featured actor LeVar Burton as grand marshal, 20 marching bands, 18 equestrian units and dozens of floats reflecting the theme of “Dream. Believe. Achieve.”
After days of record-smashing rains, there were sunny skies for the 8 a.m. start of the parade, which has an uncanny history of postcard weather.
LeAnn Rimes kicked off the event with a performance of “Throw My Arms Around the World” followed by a military flyover of a B-2 bomber. Also on the performance list were “American Idol” winner Laine Hardy aboard Louisiana’s “Feed Your Soul” float and country singer-songwriter Jimmie Allen.
The parade and the afternoon Rose Bowl football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Utah Utes remained on track despite an explosion of COVID-19 infections in Los Angeles County, where daily new cases topped 27,000 on Friday.
The county Department of Public Health said it was the highest number of new cases.
LISBON, Portugal — A cruise ship carrying over 4,000 people has been held in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon after a COVID-19 outbreak infected crew members, the German news agency dpa reported Saturday.
German company Aida Cruises told dpa that it discovered the positive coronavirus cases during routine health checks and has accommodated those infected ashore in coordination with Portuguese authorities in Lisbon.
Portuguese media reported that 52 members of the crew of over 1,000 workers tested positive. None of the nearly 3,000 passengers had tested positive. All on board had passed a screening test and were vaccinated with two doses before the ship set sail from Germany.
The ship is waiting for the arrival of new crew members to continue its journey to Spain’s Canary Islands, dpa said.
BOSTON — With COVID-19 cases surging just as students are about to return from winter break, dozens of U.S. colleges are moving classes online again for at least the first week or so of the semester — and some warn it could stretch longer if the wave of infection doesn’t subside soon.
Harvard is moving classes online for the first three weeks of the new year, with a return to campus scheduled for late January, “conditions permitting.” The University of Chicago is delaying the beginning of its new term and holding the first two weeks online. Some others are inviting students back to campus but starting classes online, including Michigan State University.
Many colleges hope that an extra week or two will get them past the peak of the nationwide spike driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. Still, the surge is casting uncertainty over a semester many had hoped would be the closest to normal since the start of the pandemic.
For some U.S. students, starting the term remotely is becoming routine — many colleges used the strategy last year. But some fear the latest shift could extend well beyond a week or two.
Jake Maynard, a student at George Washington University in the nation’s capital, said he is fine with a week of online classes, but beyond that, he hopes officials trust in the booster shots and provide a traditional college experience.
TOKYO — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito offered prayers for those who died during the pandemic, taking to video for the second straight year for his New Year’s greeting on Saturday, having canceled public palace gatherings to curb coronavirus infections.
Sitting before a bonsai tree with his wife Masako, Naruhito praised and thanked doctors and other health care workers, and expressed concern for countries lacking access to vaccines and adequate hospital systems.
“By treasuring more than ever the connections among people, sharing our pain and supporting each other, I hope from the bottom of my heart that we will overcome these hard times,” he said.
Japan has recorded more than 18,000 COVID-19-related deaths, but the pace of deaths has fallen in recent months. Naruhito also voiced worries about the fast-spreading omicron variant.
LAS VEGAS — The annual CES gadget convention will be three days instead of four amid a jump in COVID-19 cases and the withdrawal of some of its best-known tech presenters.
Convention organizer The Consumer Technology Association announced Friday that CES will run from Jan. 5-7, one day shorter than planned. The event still has over 2,200 exhibitors confirmed to show off their products at the Las Vegas convention, spokeswoman Jeanne Abella said.
The announcement follows the withdrawal of tech giants from CES last week citing health risks of the omicron variant, including cellphone carriers like T-Mobile, whose CEO had been slated to deliver a keynote speech.
Computer maker Lenovo and social media companies like Twitter and Facebook parent company Meta also canceled plans to attend. News outlets including CNN said they would cancel or reduce coverage.
CES was held entirely virtually last year. It will be a hybrid of online and in-person this year, with organizers offering digital registration allowing access to around 40 livestreamed events, Abella said.
TAMPA, Fla. — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported more than 75,900 new cases of COVID-19 in Florida.
That tally raises the 7-day average daily to 42,600, which is twice as high as it was at the peak of this summer’s surge when the delta variant fueled a surge of infections in the state.
Friday’s report marks a single-day record for the number of new cases in Florida. It breaks the record set a day earlier when more than 58,000 cases were reported in the state. The omicron variant of the coronavirus has spiked in Florida and across the nation over the past few weeks.
Soaring numbers during the holiday season have sent tens of thousands of people to COVID-19 testing centers across Florida, resulting in long lines in many areas.
Three people collapsed while waiting in line at a Tampa testing site on Friday morning.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Hundreds of unvaccinated employees who work at public colleges and universities in Nevada were being fired Friday, a day after the state Board of Regents voted to keep a staff vaccine mandate in effect.
The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents on Thursday deadlocked 6-6 on a measure to repeal the staff vaccine mandate and then rejected a measure to push the effective termination date back two weeks. Without majority support for a repeal, the mandate — which Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Nevada Faculty Alliance support — remained in effect.
Higher education officials said on Friday that 379 employees were being terminated, 188 attribution employees ended their contracts and 18 more voluntarily resigned. Employees who are fired can seek reinstatement if they show proof of vaccination in January, regents said.
PARIS — Describing himself as “resolutely optimistic,” French President Emmanuel Macron has used the last New Year’s address of his current term to express the hope that, with vaccinations, 2022 will see the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
Macron stopped short of saying that he will stand for re-election in April. He said only that he intends to continue serving the French “whatever my place and the circumstances.”
The president appealed to the 5 million unvaccinated but eligible people in France to get coronavirus jabs, saying: “All of France is counting on you.”
France has lost 123,000 people to COVID-19 and new cases are at unprecedented levels, surging with the highly contagious omicron variant. France reported a record 232,200 new cases on Friday, its third day running above the 200,000 mark.
ROME — Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, has used the last New Year’s Eve speech of his term take to task those who “waste” opportunities to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, calling that choice an “offense” to all those who haven’t been able to receive the injection.
In a televised speech to the nation Friday night, Mattarella, who is head of state, noted that he was serving in the final days of his seven-year term, with Parliament to elect his successor in the first weeks of 2022. Referring to recent COVID-19 surges in Italy and many other countries driven by virus variants, Mattarella noted a “sense of frustration” over the setbacks.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Federal ambulance teams and additional National Guard members are headed for New York City, and western New York hospitals are getting more federal help as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations keep rising.
State officials announced the new deployments Friday.
Gov. Kathy Hochul also said students at state universities and the City University of New York will have to get coronavirus vaccine booster shots to be on campus in the spring semester and must test negative before returning from the holiday break.
New confirmed case counts have been breaking records by the day in the state, topping 76,500 on Thursday, Hochul said at a news briefing.
An average of 53,000 New Yorkers a day tested positive in the week that ended Thursday, compared to 13,000 per day two weeks earlier. Over 7,900 people with COVID-19 are hospitalized statewide, up 67% in a week.
ROME — Italian health officials are warning that the rate of occupation by COVID-19 patients of hospital beds both in intensive care units and in regular wards has surpassed the “critical level” nationally.
A top Health Ministry official, Gianni Rezza, also said on Friday evening that the incidence of cases is growing, with 783 confirmed COVID-19 infections per every 100,000 residents in Italy. The country hit another high for daily new caseloads — 144,243 confirmed cases in the last 24 hours.
Nearly 12% of some 1.234 million swab tests conducted since Thursday resulted positive, according to the ministry, which urged vaccinated persons to get a booster shot if they are eligible.
With the nation slammed by a surge of infections largely driven by the omicron variant, the government banned public New Year’s Eve celebrations.
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