Shoppers wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19 walk along the Christmas market at Tuilerie garden in Paris on December 20, 2021 [File: Michel Euler/AP Photo]
By Ted Regencia | AL JAZEERA

● The Omicron variant’s advance expected due to its contagious nature and has become dominant in France, Portugal and UK ●

(AL JAZEERA) — Omicron has become the dominant coronavirus strain in France which joins other European countries like the United Kingdom and Portugal as number of cases surged in the past few days.

In the US, health experts have urged Americans to prepare for severe disruptions in the first weeks of 2022, as the rising wave of COVID-19 cases led by the Omicron variant threatened hospitals, schools and other sectors impacting their daily lives.

Meanwhile, Australia’s city of Sydney is gearing up for New Year’s Eve celebrations on Friday despite a record Omicron surge. A total of 21,151 cases were reported on Friday.

Here are the latest updates:

Spain’s coronavirus daily incidence rate passes 1,000 for first time

Despite a vaccination rate of around 80 per cent, Spain will end 2021 with one of the highest incidences of coronavirus in Europe.

The number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within 24 hours climbed to 1,086, the health ministry announced, the first time the 1,000 mark was exceeded.

Meanwhile, the authorities claim that the situation in the hospitals is still largely under control, also thanks to the high vaccination rate, as the vaccine in most cases ensures infection without symptoms or a milder course of the disease.

Philippines on alert as COVID-19 infections hit 2-month high

A healthcare worker inoculates Encarnacion Tan Suan, 86, at a vaccination centre in San Juan City, Metro Manila, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in the Philippines, November 29, 2021. [File: Peter Blaza/Reuters]

Philippine officials have warned against a rise in COVID-19 cases over the New Year period as infections in the Southeast Asian country hit a two-month high.

The health ministry recorded 2,961 new coronavirus infections on Friday and reported a positivity rate of 10.3 percent, double the 5 percent recommended by the World Health Organization.

The Philippines has so far detected four Omicron cases, all of which were in quarantine, although the country’s genome sequencing capacity is limited.

“It is prudent to assume that Omicron is already in circulation, or is already in the community,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque told a separate news conference.

Israel begins administering 4th vaccine dose

Israel has begun delivering a fourth vaccine dose for people most vulnerable to coronavirus, becoming one of the first countries to do so as it prepares for a wave of infections driven by the omicron variant.

The rollout of the fourth dose began at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center Friday morning and was administered to heart and lung transplant patients.

Hong Kong says Omicron has spread despite COVID restrictions

A woman wearing face a mask, walks down a street in Hong Kong on November 29, 2021. [File: Kin Cheung/AP Photo]

Hong Kong’s health officials said the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has made its way past some of the world’s toughest COVID 19 restrictions, with the city reporting its first cases outside its strict quarantine system.

Hong Kong’s last COVID-19 case tracked outside its quarantine facilities and hotels was discovered in October. Previous infections with the Omicron variant were discovered during quarantines of people returning to Hong Kong.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan told reporters one of four air crew members who tested positive after their return to Hong Kong had breached home quarantine rules by going to a restaurant, where he passed the virus to his father and a client sitting at another table.

“Omicron is raging around the world … and it has now found its way into the community,” Chan said.

Omicron is now the main coronavirus variant in France: official

Omicron has become the main coronavirus strain in France where the number of infections has seen a big increase in the last few days, the country’s public health agency has said.

“62.4 percent of tests showed a profile compatible with the Omicron variant” at the start of this week, compared to 15 percent the previous week, the agency said.

The strain has contributed to the current flare-up in cases, which topped 200,000 in the 24-hour period from Wednesday to Thursday.

India’s Serum Institute applies for full approval of Covishield vaccine

Serum Institute Of India has applied to the country’s drug regulator and the health ministry for full approval of its COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, the company’s chief executive said on Friday.

Serum Institute, which produces AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine under the brand name Covishield, has supplied more than 1.25 billion doses of the shot in India.

Screenshot of announcement made on Twitter feed of Serum Institute CEO, Adar Poonwalla.

South Africa lifts curfew as it says fourth wave peaks

South Africa has lifted a midnight to 4am curfew on people’s movement with immediate effect, believing the country has passed the peak of its fourth COVID-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant, a government statement said.

The country made the changes based on the trajectory of the pandemic, levels of vaccination and available capacity in the health sector, according to a press release issued by Mondli Gungubele, a minister in the presidency. South Africa is at the lowest of its five-stage COVID-19 alert levels.

‘People miss travel’: IATA bullish on Asia travel rebound in 2022

Asia will reopen to travel as more is learned about the Omicron variant, with the recent tightening of borders only a “temporary speed bump” on the road to recovery, according to a top airline industry representative.

In an exclusive interview, Philip Goh, regional head of the International Air Transport Association, told Al Jazeera he was optimistic about the resumption of travel in Asia in 2022 despite the region’s doubling down on travel restrictions in response to the variant.

“People miss travel and they want to travel. You cannot substitute a hug, a handshake with a virtual zoom call,” Goh said. “Nor can videos capture and invigorate the senses stimulated by the sights, sounds and scents of the places we travel to.”

Chinese cities on COVID alert as New Year holiday looms

China is on high alert against COVID-19 as the New Year holiday looms, with the city of Xian under lockdown while several New Year’s Eve events in other cities have been cancelled and some provinces urged restraint in travel during the festive season.

China reported 166 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Thursday, according to the National Health Commission, with 161 from Xian, which is fighting the worst outbreak for a Chinese city this year.

The number of domestically transmitted infections in Xian have exceeded 1,200 during the December 9-30 period.

Sydney gears up for New Year’s Eve celebrations despite record Omicron surge

A man jogs towards the iconic Opera House in Sydney on July 23, 2021, amid a coronavirus outbreak that state leaders said has become a “national emergency”. [File: Saeed Khan/AFP]

Sydney, the Australian city worst-affected by the Omicron wave, will press ahead with New Year’s Eve celebrations on Friday, with authorities encouraging revellers to come out and enjoy the festivities despite a record number of COVID-19 cases.

Thousands are expected to flock to prime harbourside spots to watch Sydney’s famous fireworks, the traditional 12-minute pyrotechnic display to ring in the new year, with queues forming at many vantage points since early morning.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wished people to “enjoy the evening”, while New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet urged everyone to “head out and enjoy New Year’s” as daily infections in the state nearly doubled to a record 21,151 on Friday.

New York’s Times Square show will go on, mayor says

People queue for a COVID-19 test in Times Square New YorkPeople queue for a COVID test in Times Square as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in New York City, US. [File: Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

New York City will ring in 2022 in Times Square as planned despite record numbers of COVID-19 infections in the city, the state and around the nation, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday.

“We want to show that we’re moving forward, and we want to show the world that New York City is fighting our way through this,” de Blasio, whose last day in office is on Friday, said on NBC’s “Today” show.

After banning revellers from Times Square a year ago due to the pandemic, city officials previously announced plans for a scaled-back New Year’s bash with smaller crowds and vaccinations required.