Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Friday

The latest:

New coronavirus infections in South Korea have exceeded 7,000 for the third consecutive day in a record-breaking surge that has crushed hospitals and threatens the country’s goals to weather the pandemic without lockdowns.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the country could be forced to take extraordinary measures if the virus doesn’t slow soon. Officials issued administrative orders requiring hospitals around the country to designate 2,000 more beds combined for COVID-19 treatment.

South Korea will also further cut the interval for coronavirus booster vaccines for all adults from four to five months to three, officials said on Friday, as it struggles to fight record levels of infections amid growing concern over the omicron variant.

The move came three weeks after the government reduced the booster gap for people aged 60 and older and primary groups to four months from six. The interval for all other adults had been five months.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 8:40 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Public health agency didn’t track most quarantine hotel stays, auditor general says: 

Public health agency didn’t track most quarantine hotel stays, auditor general says

A new auditor general’s report says the Public Health Agency of Canada failed to keep track of most travellers assigned to quarantine hotels earlier this year. It also found one-third of COVID-19 test results were missing or not matched to a returning traveller. 2:00

What’s happening around the world

A nasal swab is taken to test for COVID-19 at a site near Johannesburg earlier this week. (Denis Farrell/The Associated Press)

As of Friday morning, more than 268.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The reported death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Thursday reported 22,391 new cases of COVID-19 and 22 additional deaths. The country, which raised the alarm about a new variant of the coronavirus that has since been named omicron, has been dealing with an increase of cases.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday again took aim at the travel restrictions countries — including Canada — imposed on southern Africa after the variant was reported, saying on Twitter that “we should be concerned that some decisions are no longer informed by science.”

“This pandemic has shown how we respond to a truly global crisis. It has shown several shortcomings and weaknesses,” Ramaphosa said in Tweet as he attended a meeting focused on accelerating equitable access to vaccines.

South African scientists see no sign that the omicron variant is causing more severe illness as officials announced plans to roll out vaccine boosters with daily infections approaching an all-time high.

Meanwhile, officials in Ghana announced returning citizens and residents will be vaccinated against COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport from next Monday if they have not already received shots, its health service said, amid concerns over low take-up of vaccinations.

In the Americas, dozens of U.S. Navy medics have deployed to New Mexico to treat a delta variant-fuelled surge in patients as part of a military operation to treat virus hotspots across Western and Midwest states.

In Europe, Switzerland proposed on Friday further tightening restrictions on public life in a bid to break the momentum of rising coronavirus cases that threaten to overwhelm its health-care system, saying a limited lockdown may be needed. The government asked regional authorities to consider expanding the requirement for proof of vaccination or recovery from the virus for access to many indoor venues.

Meanwhile, tighter restrictions to curb the coronavirus came into force in Britain on Friday, as the government faced new allegations that officials flouted rules they had imposed on the nation with lockdown-breaking parties last Christmas.

Face masks are once again compulsory in indoor public spaces in England under the measures British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this week to slow the spread of the new omicron virus variant. Vaccination passes will be needed for nightclubs and large events starting next week, and residents will be told to work from home, if possible.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Friday said that the omicron coronavirus variant was growing exponentially and would overtake delta as the dominant strain within days, as she tightened self-isolation rules.

In the Middle East, health officials in Jordan on Thursday reported detecting two cases of the omicron coronavirus variant.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore has detected its first locally transmitted case of the omicron variant in a member of staff at the city state’s airport, authorities said, warning that more omicron cases are likely to be detected.

Meanwhile, India has detected 25 cases of the omicron variant and all have shown mild symptoms, the health ministry said on Friday, adding that there was no immediate plan to authorize vaccine boosters.

-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 10:05 a.m. ET

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