Travel news live: France to lift UK travel ban today

From today, France is lifting its blanket ban on British travellers.

Tourists from the UK who are fully vaccinated will be allowed back into the country for the first time since 18 December, without the need to provide a “compelling reason” for travel or to isolate on arrival.

Travellers will need to provide a negative result from a Covid test – which can be a lateral flow or PCR test – taken in the 24 hours before departure.

The lifting of the ban was confirmed yesterday by French minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, who announced that a decree changing the rules would be published today, with the easing of restrictions taking immediate effect from that point.

Although Mr Lemoyne didn’t provide any timings for the change, The Independent’s travel correspondent, Simon Calder, arrived in France at 4am this morning and was allowed through border control without issue.

The lifting of the travel ban precedes strict new vaccine passport rules, which are being introduced in France from 17 January.

From Monday, visitors will need to have been fully vaccinated – including a booster jab if their second dose was administered more than seven months prior – in order to access most indoor venues.

Follow the latest updates below:


What it’s like to be the first British tourist back in France

As soon as it was announced that the French border would be opening back up to British travellers, The Independent’s travel correspondent, Simon Calder, wasted no time in crossing the Channel.

Despite no official time for the lifting of the UK travel ban having been released, Simon boldly departed on the 11pm DFDS ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe yesterday evening, due to arrive in France at 4am this morning.

Armed with his passport, a signed “sworn statement” and his passenger arrival form, Simon boarded the four-hour sailing as the only foot passenger and hoped for the best.

As it turned out, he was let into France without issue – confirming that the ban has already been lifted for those travelling from the UK.

“Besides breathing in the frosty city air, my main concern is to keep my phone on life support and roaming data topped up so that anyone from bar owners to museum staff can scan the QR code that unlocks the capital,” he said, writing from a Parisian cafe this morning.

“This is France, but not quite as we know it.”

Helen Coffey14 January 2022 08:21


Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s travel liveblog. We’ll be bringing you all the latest news and updates throughout the day.

Helen Coffey14 January 2022 08:04


Two Ryanair planes narrowly avoided crash, investigation finds

Two Ryanair planes had a near miss at Malaga airport two years ago, an investigation has concluded, almost colliding in what investigators have called a “serious incident”.

The official investigation by Spain’s civil aviation authority yesterday revealed that an air traffic controller at the Andalucia airport had given one Ryanair flight permission to land on a runway from which another Ryanair flight had been given permission to take off.

The distance between the two Boeing 737s was, at its closest, 520 metres – 16 per cent of the minimum recommended safety margin, which was the length of the runway (3,200 metres).

Lucy Thackray13 January 2022 17:06


Ski instructor bookings forecast to rise by 300%

Ski and snowboard instructor marketplace Maison Sport is forecasting a 300 per cent rise in instructor bookings over the next two weeks, compared with the previous period.

The company already saw a record day of bookings on Wednesday of this week, as anticipation grew around the prospect of France reopening.

Now the announcement has been made, it expects an “unprecendented surge” of demand for instructors.

Founder and CEO Nick Robinson says: “This is more welcome news at long last for the industry, particularly for the many local instructors who have been incredibly frustrated by the protracted lifting of the border restrictions. Morzine has been particularly affected, with large numbers of instructors facing the prospect of no bookings for the next few weeks.

“It may be a case of from rags to riches for many instructors now as we expect an unprecedented surge of bookings from now until the end of the season, as the majority of customers have been holding off as they waited for this news before confirming lessons.

“With so much great availability in late winter, after a slow December, we expect the next two weeks to be the biggest in our company’s history, with a 300 per cent increase in bookings anticipated.”

Lucy Thackray13 January 2022 15:59


Cyprus trips made slightly cheaper as antigen tests allowed

Authorities in Cyprus have announced that either antigen or PCR tests will be accepted for visitors’ pre-travel Covid tests, meaning slightly lower testing costs for holidaymakers.

The change in rules comes in tomorrow morning.

“Passengers aged 12 years old and over who arrive in Cyprus as of 14 January at 5am local time will have the option of taking a PCR test carried out up to 72 hours before their departure or an antigen rapid test carried out up to 24 hours before their departure,” said the country’s Transport, Communications and Works Ministry on Wednesday.

All arrivals 12 and over must still take a PCR test upon arrival at Cyprus’ airports, at their own expense, regardless of vaccination status.

Travellers who are yet to have a booster jab must also take a further PCR test 72 hours after arrival.

Lucy Thackray13 January 2022 15:34


What is changing for France’s vaccine passports?

One day after most Britons will be allowed back into France, the country’s rules are set to change around proof of vaccination and entry to venues.

On 6 January, the French government voted in plans to convert its health pass (pass sanitaire) to a vaccine pass (pass vaccinal) – meaning that full vaccination will be required to access public spaces such as restaurants, bars and public transport.

Until now, France’s TousAntiCovid app could be used by people who were not fully vaccinated – displaying a recent negative test result instead of vaccine proof – but as of Saturday, it will only work for fully jabbed visitors.

Meanwhile, from 15 January, everyone over the age of 18 must have received a booster to still be considered “fully” vaccinated in France.

There will be two different vaccine passes: Mobilité (for travel) and Activité (for access to venues such as restaurants and museums).

Lucy Thackray13 January 2022 14:41


RAF pilot to fire space rocket from Virgin jumbo jet later today

A Virgin Orbit space rocket will be launched from a Virgin Atlantic plane over the Pacific Ocean today, flown by an experienced RAF pilot.

Matthew “Stanny” Stannard will take off at around 12.30pm Pacific Time (8.30pm GMT) on a mission to launch the 70ft “space booster”.

The modified Boeing 747-400 – a former Virgin Atlantic passenger jet named Cosmic Girl – will fly out over the Pacific with the rocket attached under its left wing.

About an hour into the flight, the pilot will drop the rocket from about 35,000ft – at which point its first engine will ignite, taking it on a climb into orbit.

Lucy Thackray13 January 2022 13:53


Do not go directly to jail: tips on filling out the French travel forms

While British travellers and the industry wait to find out when admission to France will be possible, these are the two documents that UK visitors will need to complete.

The first is the passenger arrival form. When you complete this, note that the UK is Royaume-Uni on the drop-down menu.

There is a “zipcode” requirement for your birthplace – unless you were born in France, type 999.

When it asks, “What type of accommodation will you be staying in?” select “Individual accommodation”. Do not select “Jail”, one of the other options on the drop-down menu.

You will need to give an approximate location for where you are staying, for which a zipcode is required. For example, tap 75 into the drop-down menu for Paris and choose the appropriate option for the arrondissement where you will stay.

The document generated when you complete the form must be accompanied by your “sworn undertaking to comply with rules for entry” – asserting that you have not been suffering from coronavirus symptoms and “have no knowledge of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 during the last 14 days”.

Simon Calder13 January 2022 13:19


Severe delays on Southeastern and Thameslink services after freight train derailed

Passengers experienced severe delays on Southeastern Railway and Thameslink services this morning after the derailment of a freight train at Hoo Junction.

According to Network Rail, “One wheel has come off the rails and some wagons are blocking the down line”.

The body responsible for Britain’s rail infrastructure tweeted early this morning: “Our teams have sourced a rescue locomotive and driver who should be on site shortly. Then they will attach to the wagons blocking passenger trains and pull them clear and back into the sidings.”

Helen Coffey13 January 2022 12:57


When exactly does France ban end and how soon will transport resume?

In terms of the timing of the border reopening, the minister’s wording was simply: “The decree will be published tomorrow [Friday] morning, with immediate entry into force.” The Independent is urgently seeking clarification.

Given the absence of British visitors to France, anyone seeking a city break to Paris or Nice, or a ski trip to the French Alps, over the coming weekend will find a dearth of crowds – and plenty of accommodation availability.

While ferry firms, Eurotunnel shuttles (carrying cars from Folkestone to Calais) and Eurostar trains (carrying passengers from London to Paris) are running to schedule, with plenty of space available, airlines are not able to ramp up so quickly.

Jet2 says its ski flights to France will begin again on 22 January, one week after the ban is lifted.

Meanwhile ferry operators are reporting “phones red hot” as travellers book trips to France.

Simon Calder13 January 2022 11:49

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Travel news live: France expected to lift UK travel ban

France is expected to announce that it will lift its travel ban on most UK travellers in the next couple of days.

On Tuesday, French politician Alexandre Holroyd tweeted: “Following numerous discussions with the Government, considerable reductions in health measures at the borders will be announced very soon.

“More details here in the coming days.”

The cryptic tweet followed several holiday companies telling customers they believed the French ban on all Brits, barring those with a handful of “compelling” reasons for travel, was about to be scrapped.

Some ski travel operators are selling packages for next week, with promises of refunds if the update does not happen.

Yesterday afternoon, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal confirmed that an announcement will be made “by the end of the week”.

Many feel the travel ban is outdated, since the Omicron variant is widespread across many countries, and France’s case numbers are higher than the UK’s.

France adjusted the restrictions on 6 January to allow some essential business travel from the UK, as well as permitting people with homes in an EU country to pass through France to reach them.

Follow the latest updates below:


Good morning

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s travel liveblog, where we’ll be posting all the latest news and updates.

Lucy Thackray13 January 2022 07:35

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Travel news live: France expected to lift UK travel ban imminently

Expectations are building that France may imminently announce it is lifting the blanket ban on British travellers.

Speculation, already rife, was further fuelled last night when French politician Alexandre Holroyd tweeted: “Following numerous discussions with the Government, considerable reductions in health measures at the borders will be announced very soon.

“More details here in the coming days.”

The cryptic tweet followed several holiday companies telling customers they believed the French ban on all Brits, barring those with a handful of “compelling” reasons for travel, was about to be scrapped.

London firm has sent out a marketing email saying: “We are expecting the French government to make an announcement this Wednesday to confirm that British vaccinated skiers can enter France from this Saturday 15 January.”

Two key meetings are happening in France this morning, at which it is hoped restrictions may be eased: one for the defence council, following by another with the council of ministers.

Follow the latest updates below:


Ryanair claims to be a ‘Ghostbuster’ and demands seats on empty flights are sold at low fares

After the Lufthansa Group revealed that it would operate 18,000 empty flights this winter purely to hang on to airport slots, arch-rival Ryanair has demanded that seats on these so-called “ghost flights” are sold at low fares.

Under “use it or lose it” rules, airlines must give up rights to take off and land if they are not sufficiently utilised.

Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said: “The solution to Lufthansa’s ‘ghost flights’ problem is a simple one – just sell these seats to consumers.

“If Lufthansa really needs to operate these flights, solely to prevent the release of these slots to competitor airlines, then they should be required to sell these seats to the public at low fares.

“Slots are the way it blocks competition and limits choice at big hub airports like Frankfurt, Brussels Zaventem, Vienna, among others.

“Ryanair again calls on the European Commission to force Lufthansa and other state-subsidised airlines to release slots that they do not wish to use, so that low-fare ‘Ghostbusters’ like Ryanair, among others, can offer choice, competition, and lower fares at these hub airports.”

Simon Calder12 January 2022 10:31


Train cancellations due to Omicron rise

Faced with staff shortages due to workers self-isolating, train operators are cancelling increasingly many services.
TransPennine Express, which is already running a reduced timetable, has today cancelled or curtailed a further 18 trains.

Six of the cancellations are on the core route from Liverpool via Manchester, Leeds and York to Newcastle. Others are from York to Manchester Airport and to Scarborough.

“Further short-notice cancellations and amendments to services are likely throughout the day,” the operator warns.

Many other rail firms are running reduced services in line with the slump in passenger demand.

Simon Calder12 January 2022 10:25


Last-minute bookings beating summer holidays

Holiday bookings have risen steeply since last weekend, when expensive and onerous UK testing rules introduced because of the Omicron variant of coronavirus were eased.

But almost one-third of travel agent sales are for trips within the next four weeks, while just 7 per cent are for holidays in July and August respectively.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, told The Independent: “Confidence to book to travel within the next few weeks is growing, with around 30 per cent of all sales for travel within the next four weeks.”

Simon Calder12 January 2022 10:13


Sharp increases in Covid cases as Omicron surge continues

“The last 24 hours saw the most positive tests ever seen around the world,” says Tim White, the Covid data analyst who tweets as @TWMCLtd.

He writes: “2.81m people confirmed to have contracted the disease yesterday.

“Norway confirms 9,622 new Covid-19 cases, beating the previous high set six days ago by 1,237.

“Bulgaria also hitting unwanted new heights in terms of Covid-19 infections: 7,062 cases, 13 per cent higher than last Wednesday.”

For the US, Mr White estimates “a 20 per cent chance the all time record will be broken tonight”.

With seven states left to report, there were more than 670,000 new cases overnight.

“Meanwhile it looks like CDC [the US health regulator] will either mandate or recommend use of medical masks,” he writes.

Simon Calder12 January 2022 10:06


UK companies selling French ski holidays for next week

Twenty-five days after France abruptly closed its frontiers to British visitors, anticipation is growing that the travel ban on the UK will soon end. One ski operator is so confident that it is selling winter sports trips for the coming weekend.

The south-east London firm has sent out a marketing email saying: “We are expecting the French government to make an announcement this Wednesday to confirm that British vaccinated skiers can enter France from this Saturday 15 January.”

It is selling one-week holidays to Tignes in the French Alps departing from London Heathrow on Saturday for £799, including flights, transfers and fully catered accommodation.

“If the announcement is made as we expect, you will be one of the few lucky skiers in France this weekend,” the company says.

Skiline promises: “If no announcement is made this Wednesday, we will refund your credit card before this Friday.”

Simon Calder12 January 2022 09:55


Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s travel liveblog. We’ll be bringing you all the latest updates throughout the day.

Helen Coffey12 January 2022 09:54

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Lebanese judge issues travel ban for central bank governor

BEIRUT (AP) — A Lebanese judge Tuesday issued a travel ban for the country’s central bank governor, state-run National News Agency and a lawyer said. The move comes after a corruption lawsuit accused him of embezzlement and dereliction of duty during the country’s financial meltdown, .

The decision was the first judicial action taken by authorities in Lebanon against Riad Salameh, who is being investigated in several countries abroad for potential money laundering.

It was not immediately clear if the ban will be implemented. Salameh, 71, has been in the post for nearly three decades and enjoys backing from most politicians, including the country’s prime minister, despite the country’s devastating economic crisis and banking sector collapse.

The travel ban was issued by Ghada Aoun, an investigating judge for the Mount Lebanon district, based on an investigation into a case filed by lawyers of an anti-corruption group known as the People Want to Reform the Regime.

Aoun’s decision came as the value of the Lebanese pound tumbled to new lows on Tuesday, reaching 33,500 to the U.S. dollar. The pound has lost more than 90% of its value since the meltdown began, including nearly 10% of its value since the beginning of the year.

Salameh was once touted as the guardian of Lebanon’s monetary stability and praised for steering the country’s finances through post-war recovery and bouts of unrest. But he has come under intense scrutiny since the small country’s economic meltdown began in late 2019, with many experts now questioning his monetary policies.

Haitham Ezzo, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit against Salameh, said the governor violated his official duty to protect the national currency and the banking sector. He said Salameh is also criminally responsible, saying the suit provides new evidence that he abused his position for personal gain.

“We filed a criminal case against him … and we asked for a number of things starting with a ban on his traveling,” Ezzo said. The second request was to reveal the fate of Lebanon’s huge gold reserves that are worth billions of dollars.

Salameh is being investigated in Switzerland, Luxembourg and France for potential money laundering and embezzlement. Local media reported in recent months that Salameh, his brother and an aide have been involved in illegal businesses, including money transfers abroad despite the informal capital controls imposed at home.

Ezzo said they have evidence that Salameh has rented an apartment in Paris’ Champs Elysee for the central bank at an overvalued price, accusing him of embezzling the difference.

Salameh, who has repeatedly denied making such transfers, said in November that he asked for an audit of transactions and investments during his tenure and the results showed no public money has been misused.

Salameh has said that he was wealthy before he became central bank governor in 1993.

Lebanon’s economic crisis — rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement — has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst the world has witnessed since the 1850s.

“How can I trust a person who said the pound is doing well. How can I trust a person who said the banks are not bankrupt but they really are,” said Ezzo.

Last month, Prime Minister Najib Mikati was asked whether he plans to remove Salameh from the post. Mikati responded: “During wars you don’t change officers.”


Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed reporting.

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EU ends omicron travel ban on flights from southern Africa

The European Union has ended travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa well over a month after imposing it on hopes of containing the spread of the omicron variant of the corona virus

BRUSSELS — The European Union ended travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa on Monday well over a month after imposing them to in hopes of containing the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The highly contagious variant was first discovered in southern Africa in late November and the 27-nation bloc restricted travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a sudden surge of infections.

Omicron has since become the dominant variant and is responsible in the EU and many other nations for a unprecedent increase in infections. That made the travel ban from southern Africa a moot point.

The French EU presidency announced Monday that the 27 member states agreed “to lift the emergency break to allow air travel to resume with southern African countries.”

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Lifting international travel ban anticipated to boost foreign real estate purchases

In New York City, foreign purchases peaked in 2014 at about 30 percent of all sales, Maria Belen Avellaneda, a real estate agent with Compass in New York, wrote in an email. That number has declined steadily to about 15 percent today. Among her international clients, many of whom are from Latin America, 65 percent buy full-time residences, 15 percent buy second homes and 20 percent buy investment properties.

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Covid Latest Live News Updates: EU ends omicron travel ban on flights from southern Africa

The European Union ended travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa on Monday well over a month after imposing them to in hopes of containing the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The highly contagious variant was first discovered in southern Africa in late November and the 27-nation bloc restricted travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a sudden surge of infections. Omicron has since become the dominant variant and is responsible in the EU and many other nations for a unprecedent increase in infections. That made the travel ban from southern Africa a moot point.

!1 New UpdateClick here for latest updates

Maharashtra | Keeping world-renowned sites like Ellora & Ajanta Caves shut will adversely affect the tourism sector in the region. We urged govt to allow such sites to open with 50% capacity: Jaswant Singh Rajput, president, Aurangabad Tourism Development Foundation

COVID-19: Rajasthan govt caps charge of rapid antigen test at Rs 50 in private labs

  • The Rajasthan government on Monday capped the rate of Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for COVID-19 detection in private labs at Rs 50 included of all taxes.
  • Principal Secretary to the government Vaibhav Galaria informed that the rate has been fixed to provide easy and accessible test facilities to the general public at low prices.
  • This rate has been fixed as per the proposal of the committee constituted by Sawai Man Singh Medical College, Galaria said. He said that the prescribed rates will be applicable with immediate effect.

Uttar Pradesh | With number of active Covid cases crossing 1000 mark in Agra on Monday, the district admin imposed fresh restrictions in the city. Gyms & swimming pools have been closed down. Wearing of mask would be mandatory: Agra District Magistrate Prabhu N Singh

North Korea fired what may be a ballistic missile, the Japanese coast guard said, the second apparent launch in less than a week after leader Kim Jong Un urged the military to make more military advances: Reuters

Covid-19 hospitalisations in France see biggest jump since April 2021

Days after ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava said that molnupiravir has major health safety concerns, some of India’s top health experts said the benefits of the drug outweigh potential risks. Studies so far have shown no convincing side-effects among humans, they said.

Over 10.5 lakh receive ‘precaution dose’ on first day of roll out

  • The rollout of the ‘precaution dose’ (booster) of Covid vaccine on Monday received a modest response on the first day with more than 10.5 lakh people getting their third shot till 10pm. This included around 7.4 lakh health and frontline workers, and around 3.2 lakh elderly above 60 years of age.

Ludhiana, Punjab | With a surge in coronavirus cases migrant workers and daily wagers fear another round of lockdown that could push the manufacturing industry into a financial crisis: DS Chawla, president, United Cycle And Parts Manufacturers Association

New ICMR guidelines waive off testing of contacts of confirmed Covid cases unless identified as ‘high risk’

  • Amid a steep rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Monday issued a new advisory waiving off testing requirements for many categories including contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases unless identified as “high-risk” based on age or comorbidities. Besides, it also exempted asymptomatic patients undergoing surgical or non surgical invasive procedures including pregnant women hospitalised for delivery, unless warranted or symptoms develop.

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Biden to lift African travel ban; Omicron COVID surge cancels flights


The Biden administration will lift its temporary travel ban on eight countries in southern Africa on Dec. 31, said Kevin Munoz, White House assistant press secretary, in a tweet Friday.

The restrictions were implemented to slow the spread of the omicron variant in the United States, and they applied to South Africa – where omicron was first detected – as well as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Most noncitizens who have been in those countries within the past 14 days have not been allowed to enter the U.S. 

The news comes after other countries, including Canada, dropped similar travel restrictions. President Joe Biden said earlier this week he was considering reversing the restrictions the U.S. enacted in late November shortly after lifting bans against dozens of other countries.

“We put the travel ban on just to see how much time we had before it hit here so we can begin to decide what we needed by looking at what’s happening in other countries,” Biden said during an address to the nation Tuesday. “But we’re past that now.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advises against travel to the eight countries since they are considered to have “very high” COVID-19 risk. 

Also in the news:

►Travelers with last-minute holiday flights this year are scrambling to find new flights as two major U.S. airlines, Delta and United, have canceled hundreds of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day flights. They cite crew shortages due to sick calls from the fast spreading omicron variant and weather in pockets of the country.

►Federal officials on Thursday loosened isolation requirements for health care workers who test positive in an effort to prevent staffing shortages. New guidance from the CDC says health care workers can come back to work seven days after testing negative and don’t have symptoms. Previously, they were required to be isolated for 10 days.

► COVID-19 cases are continuing to emerge on cruise ships. Among the latest outbreaks: MSC Seashore, which was scheduled to disembark passengers Thursday, sailed with 28 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19.

► Omicron, in a matter of a few weeks, pushed the United States to report cases faster than the delta variant took months to build up to. The nation reported more than a quarter-million cases on Wednesday alone, preliminary reports from Johns Hopkins University show. That makes Wednesday’s count at least the fifth-worst single day’s reporting of the entire pandemic.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 51 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 815,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 278 million cases and 5.3 million deaths. More than 204 million Americans – 61.7% –  are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC

📘 What we’re reading: New treatments against COVID-19 are coming – including a pair of antiviral pills, one from Pfizer and one from Merck. Will they help combat the omicron onslaught? Read the full story.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

A recent study by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases suggests those infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus are at reduced risks of hospitalization and severe disease compared to those infected with the delta variant.

The new study, which has not been peer-reviewed, indicated that people diagnosed with the omicron variant were 80% less likely to be hospitalized than those diagnosed with other strains. But researchers also cautioned that at least some of this reduction is likely a result of high population immunity in the country.

A recent survey in Gauteng, the first South African province in which the omicron variant was identified, found 72% of the population had a previous coronavirus infection, according to Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

The rapid spread of the omicron coronavirus variant has prompted flights to be canceled, events to be scaled back and sports stars to be sidelined as the nation celebrates the holidays amid a new wave of infections clouded by uncertainty. 

More than 500 flights have been canceled on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with United and Delta partially blaming the omicron variant

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that the city’s iconic New Year’s Eve Times Square celebration will be scaled back. And the NFL continues to deal with COVID-19 fallout during its first week of new protocols. Dozens of players have been added to the reserve list in the past few days, including several big names. 

The disruptions may mark a new phase of the pandemic, where health officials are increasingly signaling that many, if not most, Americans will become infected in coming months. But large swaths of the population appear to be well protected from severe illness through vaccines, especially the 64 million people who have received a booster dose.

After Amanda Wilson lost her 15-year-old son, Braden, to COVID-19 early this year, she tried to honor his memory. But in one area, she hit a brick wall: attempting to force change at the California hospital where she believes her son contracted COVID-19 in December 2020.

While seeking treatment for a bleeding cyst, Braden was surrounded for hours by coughing patients in the emergency room, Wilson said. Yet, she has been unable to get the hospital to show her improvements it told her it made or get a lawyer to take her case.

“I was pretty shocked,” Wilson said. “There’s truly no recourse.”

A previous Kaiser Health News investigation documented that more than 10,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 after they were hospitalized for something else in 2020. Yet many others, including Braden Wilson, are not counted in those numbers because they were discharged before testing positive. Still, the KHN findings are the only nationally publicly available data showing rates of patients who tested positive for COVID after admission into individual U.S. hospitals. Read more here. 

— Lauren Weber and Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News

Testing requirements are nothing new in the age of COVID-19, but travelers are finding it more difficult – and more expensive – to visit certain domestic destinations amid the latest testing shortage. 

Puerto Rico resident Sarah Molinari was looking forward to spending time in New York this week to catch up with family and celebrate the holidays. What she didn’t see coming were the hours spent scrolling through COVID-19 testing center websites to make sure she could fly home Tuesday. 

While traveling to the U.S. territory used to be a breeze for Molinari and other vaccinated travelers, that changes Monday when Puerto Rico starts requiring all travelers to test negative for COVID-19 before arriving. 

The new rule comes as the U.S. finds itself in the midst of yet another coronavirus test shortage, with consumers facing limited sales at retailers and long lines at testing centers. Read more here.

A day after authorizing the first antiviral pill to treat COVID-19, the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday authorized a second: Merck’s molnupiravir.

The prescription medication, which can be taken at home, is designed to stop the progression of COVID-19 from mild to severe symptoms in people at high risk. In data presented to an FDA advisory panel in late November, the drug was shown to prevent 30% of infections from progressing – far fewer than Pfizer’s antiviral Paxlovid, which the FDA authorized on Wednesday.

Molnupiravir, produced also by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics should be given within five days of COVID-19 symptoms beginning and should only be given to adults because it may affect bone and cartilage growth, the FDA noted. The drug is not recommended for use during pregnancy because animal studies suggest it may damage the fetus.

Several doctors told USA TODAY that they would only prescribe molnupiravir if they had no other alternative, and the FDA seemed to echo that by noting in its authorization announcement that the drug is to be used by people at high risk for severe disease “for whom alternative COVID-19 treatment options authorized by the FDA are not accessible or clinically appropriate.” Read more here.

– Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY

Testing positive for COVID-19 starts a confusing, disruptive and at times frightening process – one that millions of Americans will likely go through in coming weeks as the omicron variant rapidly spreads this holiday season.

First, you need to isolate. That’s a more intense version of quarantining – it means cutting off contact with other people as much as possible, so that you reduce your chances of infecting them. It also means forgoing travel, not going to work and even limiting contact with people in your own household who aren’t infected.

The CDC says it’s a necessary step whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated; showing symptoms or feeling fine.

Everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should also monitor their symptoms. And people who are unvaccinated or at high risk for severe disease should be extra vigilant for symptoms that might require emergency care. Call your doctor for early treatment options.

How long should you isolate? How long will I be contagious? What if you are a close contact with someone who tested positive? Here’s what you should know about omicron and COVID this holiday season.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Christmas Celebrations Continue in Bethlehem Despite Omicron Travel Ban

Despite a second year of travel restrictions because of COVID-19, the town of Bethlehem, the site of Jesus’ birth, is reviving its annual Christmas Eve celebration.

“Last year, our festival was virtual, but this year it will be face to face with popular participation,” Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman told the Associated Press.

On a typical Christmas, the biblical town is a popular destination for tourists from around the globe. An average of 3 million tourists come each year. Much smaller crowds attended the holiday celebrations in Bethlehem on Friday, accompanied by gloomy weather.

“It’s very strange,” said Kristel Elayyan, a Dutch woman married to a Palestinian, who came to Bethlehem from Jerusalem. “If it’s one year, it’s an interesting experience,” she told Agence France-Presse. “But because this is the second year and we don’t know what is going to come in the future, it’s a huge loss for the people here.”

Events included traditional marching band parades and street celebrations. Scout bands with drums and flags gathered in Manger Square to celebrate the holiday.

While celebrations are scaled down this year, Salman is hopeful that 2021’s festivities will exceed last year’s, when residents were forced to celebrate inside their homes because of lockdown restrictions, the AP reported.

Israel’s ban on nearly all incoming air traffic, which has lasted two years, continues to prevent tourists from entering the occupied West Bank, and subsequently, the historic town.

The travel ban to curb the spread of COVID-19 was lifted in November to allow foreign tourists in but was soon reimposed with the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant. Coinciding with the holiday season, the disease’s newest strain has hampered Christmas celebrations.

Without the flood of tourists, local authorities hoped that the Holy Land’s small Christian community would keep the holiday spirit alive.

Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land, celebrated a midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the grotto where Jesus is said to have been born.

“Compared to last year’s Christmas, the participation is much greater, and this is an encouraging sign,” he told the masked congregation, but regretted the absence of foreign worshippers because of the pandemic.

“We pray for them and at the same time ask for their prayers, so that all this may end soon and that the city of Bethlehem may once again be full of pilgrims,” he said, according to AFP.

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