Global cases rise as UK, Greece ease curbs

Face coverings are no longer required by law anywhere in England as restrictions end.
Camera IconFace coverings are no longer required by law anywhere in England as restrictions end. Credit: AP

Global COVID-19 cases have hit a new daily high as Poland reported a surge in infections while authorities in Greece and the United Kingdom eased restrictions.

The World Health Organisation said on Thursday that 3.84 million new coronavirus infections were reported in the last 24 hours - a record high.

It is the first time new global cases have exceeded one million per day.

The WHO said the surge is driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, which resulted in 90 per cent of cases tested.

In Europe, Poland, Portugal, Austria and the Czech Republic registered record breaking numbers of new infections on Thursday.

Poland's health ministry reported 57,659 new daily COVID-19 infections on Thursday.

Older primary school students and high school students were due to move to remote learning on Thursday, the education ministry said earlier in the week.

The government has other limited restrictions in place, including wearing masks in enclosed public spaces, but they are not strictly enforced.

Poland's health ministry also announced on Thursday that children aged 12 through 15 will be allowed to receive booster shots from Friday.

Meanwhile, Sweden's Health Agency on Thursday decided against recommending any COVID-19 vaccines for children aged five to 11, arguing that the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

"With the knowledge we have today, with a low risk for serious disease for kids, we don't see any clear benefit with vaccinating them," Health Agency official Britta Bjorkholm told a news conference .

She added that the decision could be revisited if the research changed or if a new variant changed the pandemic.

Most coronavirus restrictions, including mandatory face masks, were lifted in England on Thursday after the UK government said its vaccine booster rollout successfully reduced serious illness and hospitalisations.

From Thursday, face coverings are no longer required by law anywhere in England and a legal requirement for COVID-19 passes for entry into nightclubs and other large venues has been scrapped.

The government last week dropped its advice for people to work from home as well as guidance for face coverings in classrooms.

From next week, restrictions on the number of visitors to nursing homes will also be lifted.

Although legal requirements were being rolled back, some shops - including major supermarket chains Sainsbury's and Tesco - and public transport operators say they will continue to ask people to don their face masks.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said face coverings will still be required on the capital's buses and underground trains but it is unclear how that will be enforced.

Greece will allow music in restaurants and bars again and extend their operating hours as it lifts some of the restrictions imposed last month now that coronavirus infections and the pressure on hospitals are easing, authorities said on Thursday.

The country last month forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight, with no standing customers and no music, following a surge of cases over the Christmas holidays.

"We have decided to scale back the restrictions, taking into consideration the course of the pandemic in terms of cases which have been declining in recent weeks," Health Minister Thanos Plevris said.

Capacity restrictions will remain in place for sport events while a double mask is mandatory in supermarkets and transport.

with reporting from Reuters and EFE

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