More places in Europe and the U.S. were tightening restrictions, canceling holiday gatherings and bracing for a surge in new Covid-19 cases, as officials worked to boost testing and healthcare capacity amid the rising risk from the Omicron variant.
The coronavirus’s Omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, and Covid-19 cases of the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission, the World Health Organization said Saturday. The variant is spreading rapidly even in countries with high levels of immunity in the population, the WHO said.
Paris canceled its traditional New Year’s Eve festivities on the Champs-Élysées. London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” in the British capital following what he said was the largest daily rise in cases in the city since the pandemic began, with 26,000 new cases recorded in the latest 24 hours.
President Biden on Tuesday plans to deliver remarks on the status of the country’s fight against Covid-19, as the U.S. sees rising cases, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a tweet Saturday.
Mr. Biden will announce new steps the administration is taking to help communities and issue a stark warning of what the winter will look like for Americans that remain unvaccinated, she said. “We are prepared for the rising case levels,” she said in the tweet.
Harvard University will move to mostly remote learning and work for the first three weeks of January, “prompted by the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases locally and across the country, as well as the growing presence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant,” university administrators said Saturday in a letter to the Harvard community, writing, “Please know that we do not take this step lightly.”
Stanford University will start the winter quarter online and is requiring students to get a Covid-19 vaccine booster by the end of January.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the launch of 40 new pop-up vaccination sites across the state. “The winter surge is in full force, but we are not defenseless,” she said, after announcing Friday that Covid-19 infections hit a daily record there. New York set another record in daily cases reported Saturday.
NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” said that it would have no live audience for its taping this week and that the show would go on with a limited cast and crew.
The National Hockey League on Saturday paused games for the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators after also recently temporarily stopping play for the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers.
In Canada, the government of Prince Edward Island said it was pausing indoor group sports and recreational activities starting Saturday.
Rhode Island will reinstate a partial indoor-mask mandate starting Monday. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan said rising hospitalizations there were “triggering a new round of actions,” including reducing nonurgent medical surgeries.
Holiday cancellations ranged from an annual church dinner in Austin, Minn., to a popular living nativity event in Santa Fe, N.M. The United Christian Church in Lincolnville Center, Maine, sent an email to its congregation Saturday morning saying it has canceled its in-person Christmas Eve service and will move it to a remote event because of the surge of Covid cases there.
“It’s a very difficult decision to make,” the Rev. Elizabeth Barnum, the church’s pastor, said. “One of the most meaningful services of the year is our 200-year-old meeting house filled with church members and community members and people coming home for the holidays. But we are also called to keep our community healthy and to support our overwhelmed healthcare system.”
The scramble for testing continued as many people rushed to get peace of mind before attending holiday get-togethers. Roxanna Garcia, who is 36 years old and plans to travel to Honduras next week to visit family, said she visited four New York City drugstores Friday night before finding a rapid Covid-19 test in stock. Seeking extra confirmation of her negative result, she went to Queens Hospital in New York to get a PCR test early Saturday morning and said the line was around the parking lot.
“It’s obviously good that people are taking precautions and getting tested,” said Ms. Garcia, who is a nurse. “But it did feel like, it’s two years into this and we still can’t seem to find a more streamlined way of getting tested?”
A federal appeals court Friday reinstated Biden administration rules that require many employers to ensure that workers are vaccinated or tested weekly for Covid-19. A divided panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved a stay issued by another court that had blocked the rules. The majority, in a 2-to-1 ruling, said legal challenges to the administration’s vaccination-and-testing requirements were likely to fail.
In New York, the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes canceled the remainder of its season Friday, citing increasing challenges from the pandemic. A number of Broadway shows canceled performances in recent days because of Covid-19 cases among cast members. Organizers of New Year’s Eve festivities at Times Square said they would go ahead with an outdoor celebration among fully vaccinated revelers.
—Daniel Michaels, Sarah Toy and Brent Kendall contributed to this article.
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