Virus fears hit Christmas travel as flights cancelled
More than 7,000 flights have been cancelled worldwide over the Christmas weekend and thousands more delayed, a tracking website reported on Sunday, as the highly infectious Omicron variant brings holiday hurt to millions.
According to Flightaware.com, more than 2,000 flights were cancelled on Sunday - including more than 570 originating from, or headed to, US airports. More than 4,000 delays were reported.
Aircrew and ground staff have fallen sick or gone into quarantine after exposure to Covid, forcing Lufthansa, Delta, United Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and other carriers to cancel flights during a peak travel period.
More than 2,800 flights were scrubbed around the globe on Saturday, including more than 990 originating from or headed to US airports, with over 8,500 delays. On Friday, there were around 2,400 cancellations and 11,000 delays.
Flightaware data showed United cancelled around 200 flights on Friday and nearly 250 Saturday - about 10% of those that were scheduled. “The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” United said in a statement on Friday.
Delta scrapped 310 flights Saturday and over 100 more Sunday, saying it has “exhausted all options and resources”.
The cancellations added to the frustration for many people eager to reunite with their families over the holidays after last year’s Christmas was severely curtailed.
Chinese airlines accounted for the highest number of cancellations, with China Eastern scrapping more than 1,000 flights, over 20 percent of its flight plan, on Friday and Saturday - and Air China grounding about 20 percent of its scheduled departures over the period.
France recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day for the first time since the pandemic struck, and Covid-19 hospitalisations have doubled over the past month as the fast-spreading omicron variant complicates the government’s efforts to stave off a new lockdown.
More than 1 person in 100 in the Paris region has tested positive in the past week, according to the regional health service.
Most new infections are linked to the Omicron variant, which government experts predict will be dominant in France in the coming days.
The Palestinian health ministry said on Sunday it had identified the first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the Gaza Strip.
The carrier is a Gaza resident who was infected within the coastal territory, ministry official Majdi Dhair told a news conference.
New daily US cases from the Omicron variant have now surpassed Delta’s peak, CNN reported.
Hospitalisations remain lower than the peaks earlier this year, it said. More than 69,000 people were hospitalised on Friday, CNN said, citing department of health and human services data.
Americans should stay vigilant against the Omicron variant despite evidence its symptoms may be less severe because the volume of cases can still overwhelm hospitals, President Biden’s top medical adviser said on Sunday.
“The issue that we don’t want to get complacent about... is that when you have such a high volume of new infections, it might override a real diminution in severity,” Anthony Fauci told the ABC talk show This Week.
Israeli PM’s daughter test positive for Covid
Israeli PM Naftali Bennett went into isolation at home on Sunday and will await the results of a Covid-19 PCR test after his 14-year-old daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said.
The premier’s daughter had been vaccinated against Covid-19, his office said. It did not disclose whether she had been infected by Omicron or the Delta variant also prevalent in Israel.
China outbreak widens
The Chinese city of Xi’an, where 13 million residents are currently confined to their homes, announced tightened restrictions on Sunday as the country recorded its biggest Covid-19 infection numbers in 21 months.
China has so far stuck to a zero-Covid strategy. Still on Sunday the country reported 206 new Covid infections - the highest daily number since March 2020. Xian reported 155 new Covid patients on Sunday.
Its residents have already been tested several times, authorities said, and a “total” disinfection was to begin Sunday evening.