Global COVID Updates

Mexico Oks Cuba Vaccine

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexico's health safety council has approved the use of Cuba's three-dose Abdala coronavirus vaccine.

The council said Wednesday that it has sufficient evidence the vaccine is safe and effective.

The approval for emergency use does not necessarily mean the Mexican government will acquire or administer the Abdala vaccine in Mexico. Mexico has approved 10 vaccines for use, but has made little use of some, like China's Sinopharm.

Cuba has approved Abdala for use domestically and begun commercial exports of the three-dose vaccine to Vietnam and Venezuela.

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India to Hold Election Despite COVID Growth

NEW DELHI (AP) -- India is going ahead with a legislative election in its most populous state despite daily COVID-19 infections more than doubling nationwide within a week.

India reported 13,154 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a jump from 6,000 daily cases on Dec. 24.

Thousands of people without masks have been crowding the election rallies of top politicians across Uttar Pradesh state.

Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra says all political parties in the northern state of 200 million want the election held by March.

Chandra rejected a state High Court's suggestion to postpone the election in light of an expected surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Dr. K.K Paul, a top government official, said the World Health Organization's warning of a COVID-19 tsunami was not India-specific and referred to the global situation.

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Form Finland President Hospitalized

HELSINKI (AP) -- Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari has been hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus for his second time of the pandemic.

Finland's government did not say when or where the 84-year-old Ahtisaari was thought to have gotten infected. Ahtisaari served as the Nordic country's head of state for one term during 1994-2000.

The former diplomat and peace broker for the Finnish government won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his work to resolve international conflicts.

"President Ahtisaari is doing well under the circumstances but stays at the hospital for the time being. He tested positive for coronavirus also in March 2020," the office of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement late Wednesday.

In September, it was announced that Ahtisaari had Alzheimer's disease and was withdrawing from all public activities.

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England Building Temporary Hospital Space

LONDON (AP) -- England's National Health Service is building temporary structures at hospitals around the country to prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients as the highly transmissible omicron variant fuels a new wave of infections.

The U.K. reported a record 183,037 confirmed new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, 32% more than the previous day. While early data suggests omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than earlier variants, public health officials think the sheer number of infections could lead to a jump in hospitalizations and deaths.

In response, the NHS will begin setting up "surge hubs" this week at eight hospitals around England, each with the capacity to treat about 100 patients. Staff are preparing plans to create as many as 4,000 "super surge" beds should they be needed, the NHS said Thursday.

"We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act, and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place," NHS England medical director Stephen Powis said in a statement.

The number of people in England hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 10,462 on Wednesday from 7,366 on Dec. 24, government figures show. Wednesday's number was the highest since March 1. The figure is still well below the peak of 34,336 recorded on Jan. 18.

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Paris Requires Face Masks Outdoors

PARIS (AP) -- Residents and tourists in Paris will be required to wear face masks outdoors starting Friday as France sees a surge of COVID-19 infections fueled by the omicron variant.

The Paris police prefecture said the mask rule will apply to people ages 12 and over, although individuals will be exempt while riding bicycles or motorcycles, traveling in vehicles and doing exercise.

Those who do not comply face fines of 135 euros ($153).

Masks already are mandatory in shops, public facilities and office buildings and on public transportation in France.

The French government announced measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus this week, when France reported a daily record of 208,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

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