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CAIRO — Libyan health authorities said they have identified Wednesday the country’s first cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The National Center for Disease Control did not provide further details including the number of those who were found to have the variant.

The center, which tracks the virus spread, urged people across Libya to urgently receive vaccines.

The center reported Wednesday 665 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nine deaths in the past 24 hours. That has brought the country’s tally to more than 387,540 cases including 5,685 fatalities.



— Asia keeps omicron at bay, but a surge may be inevitable

— WHO: Global COVID casesup 11% last week, omicron risk high

— California 1st US state to top 5M cases amid omicron surge

— Stricter Canadian rules complicate NHL push through pandemic


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UNITED NATIONS — Days before its start date, an international conference on a landmark Cold War-era nuclear treaty is poised to be postponed because coronavirus cases are surging in the host city of New York.

Already delayed multiple times because of the pandemic, the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was supposed to start Jan. 4 at the United Nations’ headquarters, bringing delegations from around the world together to discuss the state of the 1970 pact. It’s considered a cornerstone of arms control.

But after the U.N. expressed concerns Monday about the resurgent virus and said the world body couldn’t staff an in-person conference, participants were reluctant to proceed with the Jan. 4 date, conference President-designate Gustavo Zlauvinen said in a letter Tuesday to the group.

He said the event would be put off if participants didn’t tell him otherwise by Wednesday evening.

“This is a regrettable decision, but the present circumstances do not leave us any other choice,” wrote Zlauvinen, an Argentine diplomat and former International Atomic Energy Agency official.

It’s not yet clear how long the gathering would be delayed, or whether all or some of the events might be held virtually. Participants are due Thursday to discuss what to do.


LAWRENCE, Kan. — Health officials in one of Kansas’ most populous counties are talking again about the possibility of imposing a local mask mandate over COVID-19 only days after one for children expired.

The interest in a new mask mandate in Douglas County, home to the main University of Kansas campus, comes as the state continues to see relatively high numbers of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The delta variant has spread across the state, and 25 cases of the omicron variant have been reported in 10 of the state’s 105 counties, including a case in Douglas County.

Local health department Director Dan Partridge told the Lawrence Journal-World that he, the county administrator and the CEO of the local health system plan to meet next week to hear from the county’s public health officer and other health professionals. He said the question of imposing a new mask mandate is sure to come up.

The elected Douglas County Commission would decide whether to impose the mandate. A requirement that children aged 2 through 11 wear masks in public places expired Dec. 22.


ATHENS, Greece — Greece has announced a record number of new daily coronavirus cases for the third consecutive day Wednesday, with 28,828 infections in the country of 11 million people.

On Tuesday, the number of daily infections had rocketed to nearly 22,000, more than double the record number of the previous day. Authorities have attributed the spike to the omicron variant and announced Wednesday they were moving up restrictions meant to go into place in the new year to Thursday, in an effort to limit its spread.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said music will be banned at all commercial venues for New Year’s Eve celebrations, while seating limits in restaurants will also be in effect. The restrictions, which limit service at restaurants, cafes and bars to seated customers only, ban music and impose a maximum of six people per table, had originally been planned to take effect on Jan. 3.

The measures include mandatory use of high-protection or double masks at supermarkets and on public transport, capacity limits at sporting venues and schedule changes and work-from-home orders for civil servants.

Greece now has more than 1.1 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, and more than 20,600 deaths.


MADRID — Spain’s Health Ministry says that the mandatory isolation time for people who test positive for COVID-19 and for unvaccinated people who have been in close contact with an infected person will be shortened from 10 to seven days.

A public health commission representing experts and health chiefs from Spain’s central and regional governments approved the new rules “unanimously,” the ministry says in a statement. Spain doesn’t currently mandate quarantines for double-dose vaccinated people who have been in contact with a positive case.

The new rules follow similar moves by health authorities in the United States, the United Kingdom and some European countries.

Health Ministry data showed a new record of nearly 100,000 reported infections on Tuesday, bringing the closely-watched 14-day infection rate to 1,360 cases per 100,000 residents. That’s nearly twice the level from a week earlier and five times the incidence rate at the beginning of December.

Although primary care health services are now feeling the strain of people showing up with symptoms and requiring tests, hospitalizations are lower than during previous virus surges. Spanish experts are linking the milder affection to a vaccine uptake of more than 80% of Spain’s 47 million residents.


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia has confirmed the presence of the omicron variant of the new coronavirus in the Balkan country.

Health officials on Wednesday said that the variant has been detected in 10 out of 100 samples tested at the main clinic in the capital Sarajevo. The fast-spreading virus variant earlier has been detected in other countries in the Balkan region as well.

Montenegro on Wednesday limited the work of bars and restaurants for New Year’s Eve to 1 a.m. in response. Montenegro has seen a sharp rise in new cases in the past days with around 1,500 infections reported on Wednesday in the country of 620,000 people.

In neighboring Serbia, authorities have decided this week to go ahead with planned outdoor concerts for New Year’s Eve despite the omicron fears and expert appeals for swift action. The state RTS television has reported that tens of thousands of visitors have flocked for the holidays to Belgrade which has relaxed virus restrictions.

Serbia has introduced COVID passes in the evening for bars, restaurants and night clubs while face masks are mandatory in shops and other indoor venues. Serbia and other countries in the region were hit hard in a major wave during the fall that swept through low-vaccination Central and Eastern Europe.


JACKSON, Miss. — The mayor of Mississippi’s capital city has ordered the closure of city hall and other city offices due to a surge in new confirmed coronavirus cases, particularly the highly contagious delta and omicron variants.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s new executive order closing offices went into effect Wednesday. He said only essential employees will continue to work in person. The order will stay in place until at least Jan. 5.

“The infectious spread of COVID-19 through both the Delta and Omicron variants has continued and dramatically increased in the City of Jackson, with a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and death rate,” the mayor said in a statement. “The City of Jackson does not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach to the continued threat.”

A total of 400 people were hospitalized with a confirmed coronavirus infection in Mississippi on Monday, compared with 239 people last Friday on Christmas Eve, the Department of Health reported.

Health officials said Tuesday 48% of Mississippi residents were fully vaccinated, and 29% had received a booster shot. Around 62% of people nationwide are fully vaccinated, and 32% had received a booster shot Tuesday, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fewer people are being hospitalized now in New Mexico due to COVID-19.

State health officials reported Tuesday there were just over 460 coronavirus patients in hospitals around the state. The Albuquerque Journal reports that the number marks a drop of more than one-third since Dec. 9. That’s when the state hit an 11-month peak that topped 700 patients.

New Mexico also ranks in the bottom half of states when it comes to cases per capita over the last week. The state also reported 22 additional deaths Tuesday. Just seven of them happened in the last 30 days and 13 were in their 70s or older.


PARIS — France’s Health Minister Olivier Veran announced that the country recorded a record high of 208,000 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours.

Speaking at the National Assembly on Wednesday, Veran said the new figure is equivalent to two French testing positive every second, a surge fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Veran warned those not vaccinated: “There is really little chance that this time you can escape (COVID-19). The virus is spreading too fast.”

France has vaccinated 77% of its population and is rushing out booster shots. But more than 4 million adults remain unvaccinated.

More than 3,400 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in intensive care units on Wednesday, an increase by 10% compared to last week.

Veran defended a government plan to allow only the fully vaccinated to enjoy continued access to places such as restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas.


PRAGUE — The Czech government is planning to test all employees for the coronavirus in effort to manage the expected new wave of infections caused by the omicron variant.

Health Minister Vlastimil Valek says the government is planning to make it mandatory for the employees, including those who have received a booster shot, to get tested, possibly once in three to five days. The details of the measure that is set to become effective on Jan. 17 will be worked out with the employers.

The government had ready approved a testing twice a week for all schoolchildren, teachers and other school staffers, starting in January.

Valek says he expects the omicron wave to peak on the turn of January and February. It is estimated by the Health Ministry the omicron variant is currently responsible for about 10% of all new cases in the country.

The nation of 10.7 million has registered about 2.5 million cases with almost 36,000 deaths. The new coronavirus cases have still been on a decline after reaching a record high in late November.


MILAN — Milan’s La Scala theater has canceled all scheduled performances of its season-opening ballet “Bayadere” after new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the ballet corps, the theater announced Wednesday.

Theater management was working to see if new dates could be scheduled, and ticketholders will be advised in the coming days of any new dates or reimbursement instructions.

The seven performances had already been delayed after four dancers tested positive in early December.

Scheduled performances of the season-opening opera “Macbeth,” which is also heavy on dance, are going ahead as planned. Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov has dropped out of Thursday night’s performance in the role of Banquo due to “personal reasons,’’ La Scala said. The role will be sung by Jongmin Park.


ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s health minister says music will be banned at all commercial venues for New Year’s celebrations as part of new restrictions announced in response to a surge in COVID-19 infections fueled by the omicron variant.

The restrictions, originally planned to take effect on Jan. 3, will start early Thursday after the daily number of infections rocketed to nearly 22,000 on Tuesday, more than double the record number reported the previous day.

“Omicron is now the dominant variant in terms of new infections,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said during a livestreamed briefing.

Included in the measures are the mandatory use of high-protection masks at supermarkets and on public transport, schedule changes and additional work-from-home orders for government employees, and strict capacity limits at sporting venues.

Entertainment venues will close at midnight starting Thursday, but they will be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. for New Year’s Eve.