Indian court urges delay in state elections as Omicron spreads

A health worker takes a swab sample of a traveler to test for COVID-19 at a train station in Mumbai, India, Dec 23, 2021.  (RAFIQ MAQBOOL / AP)

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / BANGKOK / BEIRUT / HANOI / ISLAMABAD / JERUSALEM / MANAMA / NEW DELHI / SYDNEY / TOKYO – An Indian court urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to suspend political rallies and election campaigns in poll-bound states amid the rising number of Omicron cases, a variant of COVID-19.

Judges of the Allahabad High Court in the country's most populous Uttar Pradesh state said on Thursday the number of people infected with Omicron is on the rise and could result in a third wave of the coronavirus.

Elections to the state assembly in UP, home to over 220 million people in India, are scheduled for early next year but final dates are yet to declared

Elections to the state assembly in UP, home to over 220 million people, are scheduled for early next year but final dates are yet to declared. Three other states are also scheduled to hold local elections at the same time.

Political parties, including Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have started holding rallies and meetings where crowds continue to ignore pandemic protocols.

The judges said, if possible, the elections that are expected to be held in February next year be postponed by a couple of months.

"The court requests the honorable prime minister that looking at the situation of this frightening pandemic, to take strong steps and stop rallies, gatherings and cancel or postpone (the) upcoming election," the judges said.

"Because only if there is life, we have our world," they stated.

India's overall tally of the fast-spreading Omicron variant has reached 358 cases, across 17 states, authorities said on Friday, although no deaths have been reported so far.

Students wait for their turn to receive their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Sydney on Aug 9, 2021. (DEAN LEWINS / POOL / AFP)


Australia on Friday narrowed the wait time for people to receive COVID-19 booster shots as another record jump in daily infections resulted in canceled flights and sent Christmas travel plans into disarray.

From Jan 4, the country would offer booster shots to every person aged over 18 who had their second shot four months earlier and the interval would be again reduced to three months by the end of the month, said federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Most states had been pressing the federal government to make more people eligible for boosters to stem the tide of Omicron cases, which reached 9,100 on Friday, up from the previous day's record of 8,200. While most new cases were previously in New South Wales and Victoria states, neighboring Queensland and South Australia clocked sharp increases. 

Media reported thousands of people planning to travel interstate for Christmas the following day had their plans thrown into chaos as airlines canceled or postponed flights due to frontline staff being forced to isolate due to possible exposures to the virus.

Australia has been looking to ramp up the rollout of boosters after becoming one of the world's most-vaccinated countries against COVID-19, with more than 90 percent of people over the age of 16 having received two doses.

Despite record cases, the Australians hope the hospitals will not come under extreme pressure from the new strain, which they say appears to be less severe than other variants.

The number of people admitted in hospitals is rising steadily, but remains far lower than during the Delta outbreaks. Just over 4 percent of patients in hospitals have been infected with Omicron as of Dec 20, with only one in intensive care.


A second booster shot has been approved in Bahrain for those who have taken three doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, the country's Health Ministry announced on Thursday.

According to the ministry, those aged above 18 will be eligible for the second booster three months after their third jab.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Bahrain has launched financial package to offset impact on businesses and adopted several digital measures, and continues to offer different COVID-19 vaccines free of cost. 


Brunei confirmed Thursday the first case of the Omicron variant in the country.

According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, the case arrived in the country from Britain on Dec 17 and was quarantined upon arrival. All the close contacts were also instructed to undergo laboratory tests and self-isolation.

The health ministry advised the public not to feel anxious, saying, "The preventive and control measures for any of the COVID-19 variants are the same."

"What is important is for anyone who has completed two doses of the vaccination to get a third dose or booster dose injection as soon as they are eligible to receive it, which is three months after the second dose was obtained," the ministry said. "Scientific studies have found that administering the third dose or booster dose can increase the body's resistance or immunity to COVID-19 infections, including the Omicron variant."

As of Wednesday, 94.4 percent of Brunei's population had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 92.7 percent had been double vaccinated and 12.5 percent had received three doses.

The country reported three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total tally to 15,429.

A medic from Magen David Adom, Israel's national emergency service, conducts COVID-19 tests on Palestinians entering Israel from the Gaza Strip at the Erez Crossing, on the Israel-Gaza border, Dec 16, 2021. (TSAFRIR ABAYOV / AP)


The number of daily COVID-19 infections in Israel reached 1,400 for the first time in two months on Thursday, as a new wave of the pandemic has begun in the country, according to the health ministry.

The number of new infections on Thursday is the highest in Israel since Oct 18, when more than 1,500 cases were registered

The number of new infections on Thursday is the highest in Israel since Oct 18, when more than 1,500 cases were registered. As of Thursday, the total number of infections in Israel hit 1,360,098.

Four Israelis died of the virus on Thursday, bringing the total number of persons killed by the virus in Israel to 8,239, according to the ministry.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Israel increased to 9,591, the highest level since Nov 1, up from fewer than 5,400 in early December. The number of patients in serious condition increased to 83.


Lebanon's tourism ministry ordered restaurants, hotels, fitness centers and entertainment venues to require visitors to present either a certificate of COVID vaccination or a negative PCR test before entering, it said in a statement on Thursday.

The ministry said it is requiring such establishments to enforce the new rules until Jan 9.


Pakistan added 359 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, the National Command and Operation Center said on Thursday.

The overall tally of the infected people climbed to 1,292,406 across the country, according to the department leading Pakistan's campaign against the pandemic.

A total of 28,894 people died of COVID-19 in Pakistan, including two more deaths over the last 24 hours, the NCOC said.

Pakistan's southern Sindh province has been the worst hit, with a total of 479,890 cases, followed by 444,380 in eastern Punjab province.

Over the last 24 hours, 510 patients have recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 1,254,104.

A tourist arrives at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov 1, 2021. (SAKCHAI LALIT / FILE / AP)


Thailand reported on Friday its first domestic cluster of coronavirus infections from the Omicron variant in Kalasin province in northeastern Thailand, officials said.

“From the Kalasin cluster, there are 21 new infections,” said country’s COVID-19 taskforce spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan.

The infections stem from a couple who traveled from Belgium through the country’s Test & Go scheme that waived quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, she said.

Both had tested negative for infections before traveling and after arrival in Thailand in early December.

The announcement comes as Thailand’s capital city Bangkok canceled government-sponsored New Year activity, including midnight prayers.

Fireworks and countdown events organized by malls were still going forward and would require proof of vaccination and antigen test results.

The health ministry also previously said it would introduce a fourth booster dose for medical personnel.


Tokyo reported on Friday its first case of community transmission of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, local media reported.

A doctor at a clinic in Tokyo with no history of recent travel overseas was confirmed to be infected with the new variant through an unknown route, according to the metropolitan government. Three other cases with a history of overseas travel were also reported on the same day.

The metropolitan government has classified five people as close contacts of the doctor. The doctor has been hospitalized and the five close contacts have all tested negative for the virus.

Tokyo will conduct free COVID-19 tests from Saturday amid growing worries over the variant, Koike said, adding that the government is planning to conduct 30,000 tests per day for those wishing to be tested at 180 locations in the capital.

Kyoto, a western prefecture of Japan, also confirmed three infections of the variant through unknown routes on Friday. On Wednesday, cases of community transmission of the variant in Japan were first reported in Osaka Prefecture. 

READ MORE: Japan PM Kishida speeds boosters and secures Pfizer pills


Vietnam aims to vaccinate all of its adult population with a coronavirus booster shot by the end of the first quarter of next year, the health ministry said on Friday.

The Southeast Asian country has seen a surge in daily infections since it lifted most of its movement restrictions in October, but has not reported any cases of the Omicron variant.

"The COVID-19 situation has been evolving in a complicated manner recently, with a rising trend in new infections," the ministry said in a statement.

The country reported 16,377 infections on Thursday, raising its overall caseload to 1.6 million, with 30,500 deaths.