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Coronavirus digest: German health officials urge new travel curbs

German Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has said he predicts the country will soon be facing a "massive" fifth wave of COVID cases

German Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has said he predicts the country will soon be facing a "massive" fifth wave of COVID cases

Health ministers of Germany's federal states on Saturday called for tougher measures for entry into the country to slow down the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

"Making entry safer helps to prevent the omicron variant from spreading so quickly," Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told the German dpa news agency after a meeting with state ministers to discuss the pandemic situation.

Germany has recorded 6,764,188 confirmed coronavirus cases and 108,053 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute, the country's public health authority.

The new rules are to apply to entry from virus variant-hit countries, including the UK, where the omicron variant has sparked a surge in infections.

"The spread of omicron in the UK is very evident ... We have to prevent the spread for as long as possible and slow it down as much as possible," the ministers said in a statement.

Travelers from the age of 6 who have been in a virus variant region at any time in the last 10 days would be required to present a negative PCR test prior to departure.

A rapid antigen test will no longer be adequate. The measure would also apply to travelers in transit at a German airport.

The UK, which has reported record coronavirus infections for the past three days, is currently categorized in Germany as a high-risk area. Only unvaccinated travelers from the UK must provide a test and quarantine for at least five days.

Here's a look at the latest coronavirus-related news in other parts of the world

Europe

The Netherlands will go into a tough lockdown from Sunday morning to mitigate a feared COVID-19 surge due to the omicron coronavirus variant, caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on Saturday.

Rutte said the move was "unavoidable because of the fifth wave caused by the omicron variant that is bearing down on us.''

Shops, restaurants, schools and other public venues will be forced to close during the lockdown. Only essential shops such as supermarkets and pharmacies will be exempt from the rules.

Earlier warnings of a lockdown prompted residents to flock to shops to buy Christmas gifts.

The lockdown is expected to last until January 14, with schools to be closed until January 9.

On Saturday the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) reported 14,616 new infections in 24 hours.

Italy's national health institute (ISS) has said the country's north and south is seeing "a strong acceleration" of the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The ISS reported that its network of regional laboratories had so far reported 84 omicron cases.

Thirty-three of the cases were found in the northern region of Lombardy and a further 20 in the southern region of Campania.

Portugal has announced that tens of thousands of children under the age of 12 were set to receive their first jab against COVID-19 this weekend.

With around 87% of its 10 million population fully vaccinated, Portugal has one of the world's highest rates of vaccination against COVID-19. The country is now facing a rise in infections, in part due to the omicron variant.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to send 15 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa.

"We are aware of the global injustice in accessing the COVID-19 vaccine and Africa's unjust treatment," Erdogan told dozens of leaders and ministers at the Turkey-Africa summit.

"It is disgraceful for humanity that only 6% of Africa's population has been vaccinated."

Turkey is developing its homegrown Turkovac vaccine, which is in the process of receiving emergency use approval. Following authorization, it will be shared with Africa, Erdogan said.

It was not immediately clear whether Turkey would first send doses of the internationally approved vaccines it was currently using, such as BioNTech-Pfizer.

Africa

Egypt has said it had detected its first three cases of the coronavirus Omicron variant.

Three Egyptians tested positive on their return from overseas, the health ministry said without specifying where they had traveled from.

One of them had mild symptoms and the other two had none, it added.

From December 1, Egypt barred officials and students not vaccinated against the coronavirus from government offices and universities unless they present a negative PCR test.

Asia

Beijing is urging residents not to take unnecessary trips outside the city in early 2022, a major holiday season in China, to limit COVID-19 risks while the Winter Olympics Games are being held.

Beijing is keen "to ensure zero local infection, the successful hosting of the Winter Olympic Games and the Winter Paralympic Games, and that the public have joyful, peaceful and tranquil holidays," authorities said in a statement.

mvb/wd (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)