Protests Unfold in Germany, Other Cities Against Coronavirus Restrictions

Protesters took to the streets in several German cities Saturday, demanding a halt to restrictions on those who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The main demonstrations occurred in Duesseldorf, Frankfurt and Magdeburg, while “walkabouts” took place in many other German cities against measures imposed to combat the omicron variant. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Friday that proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test will now be required to enter bars and restaurants in the country.  Proof of vaccination has been required to enter many public venues for several weeks but the new measure expands the mandate to include eating and drinking establishments.  Scholz announced the decision to reporters in Berlin following a COVID-19 strategy meeting with Germany’s 16 regional governors.  The leaders also agreed to shorten quarantine—or self-isolation—for those exposed to COVID-19 cases from 12 to 10 days. Those vaccinated or fully vaccinated with a booster will not have to quarantine at all.  Scholz said the government met its goal of administering 30 million booster shots by Christmas. He said it is now aiming to administer another 30 million by the end of January.  Protests against government coronavirus restrictions also took place Saturday in Turin, Paris and Beirut. India’s capital, New Delhi, was shut down Saturday to halt the spread of the coronavirus, after a nearly fourfold nationwide spike in infections in the last week alone. Most shops were closed, but some essential services remained open. The surge in infections is fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant as political rallies attended by tens of thousands of people continue to be held by candidates before state elections are held later this year.   Global surge  Britain reported a record high 146,390 new cases Saturday. The country also reported 150,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began, more deaths than any other European country except Russia.  Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned Friday that hospital admissions were rising and said the country’s health system was facing a “rocky few weeks ahead.” Sri Lankan health authorities began vaccinating children ages 12 to 15 Friday to fight off a wave of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant.  In Japan, the government approved new restrictions Friday in the southwestern regions of Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima to stop a rise in coronavirus cases. The restrictions include reduced hours for restaurants and bans on large-scale events.  A COVID-19 vaccine deadline is rapidly approaching for Citigroup employees in the U.S. The financial firm has issued a mandate—get the COVID vaccine by January 14.  The company says those who do not comply by Friday will be placed on unpaid leave until the end of the month and will then face termination. The unvaccinated Citigroup staffers also could lose out on end-of-the-year bonuses. Staff can apply for medical, religious or legal exemptions.   Reports say more than 90% of the staff have complied with the company’s vaccine mandate.     The deadline for the Citigroup vaccine mandate approaches as the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Saturday it has recorded 303.2 million global COVID cases and 5.5 million deaths. Johns Hopkins said 98.3 billion vaccines have been administered.   Hong Kong   In Hong Kong, health officials Friday announced that more than 100 people, including at least nine government officials and several lawmakers, have been sent into quarantine after attending a birthday party where they had encountered two attendees who later tested positive for COVID-19.  Hong Kong public health chief Edwin Tsui told reporters the entire guest list of about 170 people would need to be isolated after a second person tested positive for COVID-19. The guest list at the Monday evening party included Home Affairs minister Caspar Tsui, Hong Kong police chief Raymond Siu and immigration minister Au Ka-wang.  The guest list also included at least 20 lawmakers, but as some left early it is not clear how many will be required to quarantine.  The party came three days after health officials advised residents avoid large gatherings. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Friday expressed disappointment that officials set such a bad example for the public.  Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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