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Commuters, some wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, walk to Westminster Underground Station in central London on Monday, December 20, 2021. The British Health Secretary refused to rule out the imposition tighter COVID-19 restrictions before Christmas amid rapidly rising infections and lingering uncertainty over the omicron variant. (Victoria Jones / PA via AP)

PA

The country’s second-largest city canceled its New Years celebration on Monday, and its smaller state re-imposed an indoor mask mandate as the omicron variant edged out other variants to become the dominant version of the coronavirus in the United States

The moves to Los Angeles and Rhode Island reflected growing fears of a potentially devastating winter wave of COVID-19. Much of the concern is over omicron, which federal health officials said accounted for 73% of new infections last week, a nearly six-fold increase in just seven days.

The prevalence of Omicron is even higher in some areas of the United States. It is responsible for about 90% of new infections in the New York City area, the Southeast, the Industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, federal officials said.

The announcement highlighted the variant’s remarkable ability to cross oceans and continents. It was first reported in southern Africa less than a month ago.

Scientists say omicron spreads more easily than other strains of coronavirus, including delta, although many details about it remain unknown, especially if it causes more or less severe illness. But even if it’s milder, the new variant could still overwhelm healthcare systems due to the sheer number of infections.

Organizers of the planned New Years Eve party at Grand Park in downtown LA have rejected plans for an in-person audience, saying the event will instead be broadcast live, as it did last year. . In Rhode Island, which has the most new cases per capita over the past two weeks, masks or proof of vaccination will be required at most facilities covered for at least the next 30 days.

And in Boston, the city’s new Democratic mayor announced to howls of protest that anyone entering a restaurant, bar, or other indoor business will be required to show proof of vaccination, starting next month. Municipal employees will also need to be vaccinated.

“There is nothing more American than coming together to make sure we take care of each other,” Mayor Michelle Wu said at city hall as protesters hissed loudly and shouted “Shame to Wu “.

Erika Rusley, a 44-year-old resident of Providence, Rhode Island, says recent events have prompted her family to curb daily activities.

The elementary school teacher and her doctor husband pulled their two young daughters out of swimming lessons this week, limited their play dates and canceled medical appointments, even though the whole family is fully immunized.

“Last week we really stopped things. It just isn’t worth it, ”said Rusley. “We are back where we were before the summer, before the vaccination. It’s almost square one.

In New York City, where a spike in infections is already scuttling Broadway shows and causing long lines at testing centers, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to decide this week whether the city’s famous New Years party to Times Square will come back “at full force” as it had promised in November.

North of the border, the Canadian province of Quebec imposed a closing time for restaurants at 10 p.m., banned spectators from sporting events and closed gymnasiums and schools, and made remote working compulsory.

Across the Atlantic, the World Economic Forum said on Monday it would again delay its annual meeting of world leaders, business leaders and other elites in Davos, Switzerland.

But in Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday authorities had decided not to impose further restrictions, at least for now.

The Conservative government re-imposed face masks in stores and ordered people to show proof of vaccination at nightclubs and other crowded places earlier this month. It is weighing curfews and stricter social distancing requirements.

“We will have to reserve the possibility of taking other measures to protect the public,” he said. “The arguments are very, very finely balanced anyway.”

Johnson’s warning highlights the unpleasant choice facing government leaders: to derail the vacation plans of millions for the second year in a row, or to face a potential tidal wave of cases and cases. disturbances.

In the United States, President Joe Biden planned to address the nation on the latest variant on Tuesday, less than a year after suggesting the country would be essentially back to normal by Christmas.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president would issue a “stern warning” and make it clear that unvaccinated people “will continue to cause hospitalizations and deaths,” she said.

U.S. vaccine maker Moderna announced Monday that lab tests suggested that a booster dose of its vaccine should provide protection against omicron. Similar testing done by Pfizer on its vaccine also found that a boost triggered a big jump in anti-omicron antibodies.

The country is averaging nearly 130,500 new cases of COVID-19 per day, up from about 122,000 per day two weeks ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In Texas, a Houston hospital system reports that omicron already accounts for 82% of new symptomatic COVID-19 cases it treats, a dramatic increase from Friday, when tests showed it was only responsible for 45% of system cases.

But in Missouri, an early epicenter of the delta surge, the variant still accounts for 98% to 99% of COVID-19 samples, according to the state Department of Health and Aging Services.

Meanwhile, Ohio hospitals have postponed elective surgeries, while the governors of Maine and New Hampshire have sent National Guard reinforcements to help hospital staff under siege in recent days.

In Kansas, rural hospitals are struggling to transfer patients, with some stranded in emergency rooms for a week while waiting for a bed. Overwhelmed hospitals as far away as Minnesota and Michigan have called for beds in major Kansas hospitals. Often there is simply no room.

“It’s already as crazy as it can be when you talk about moving people from Minnesota to Kansas City for treatment,” Dr Richard Watson, founder of Motient, a company that contracted with Kansas said on Friday. to help manage transfers.

Yet many political leaders are reluctant to impose the strict measures they resorted to earlier in the pandemic.

France is desperately trying to avoid a new lockdown that would hurt the economy and darken President Emmanuel Macron’s expected re-election campaign. The Parisian government, however, has banned public concerts and fireworks during New Year’s celebrations.

Ireland has imposed an 8 p.m. curfew in pubs and bars and limited participation in indoor and outdoor events, while Greece will have 10,000 police officers on duty during the holidays to carry out COVID pass checks -19.

For Rusley’s family in Rhode Island, the news is disturbing, but not enough to dissuade them from a trip to Denver to visit her husband’s family.

They are flying out after Christmas, but have decided they will spend time indoors only with people who have been vaccinated this holiday season, something they would not have considered just a few months ago.

“We’ve been here before and we know how to do this,” Rusley said. “We are not going to hide in our house, but at the same time, we are not going to take unnecessary risks.”

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Lawless reported from London. Associated Press editors Colleen Long in Washington; John Antczak in Los Angeles; Mark Pratt in Boston; Juan Lozano in Houston; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho; Rob Gillies in Toronto; Geir Moulson in Berlin; Aritz Parra in Madrid; Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this story.

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Follow all of AP’s stories about the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.