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Many countries usher in New Year amid shadow of spreading Omicron variant******
Various countries across the world are welcoming the New Year as the fast-spreading Omicron variant is causing new spikes in COVID-19 infections and disruptions in people's lives and work.
As of Monday, more than 290 million COVID-19 cases and over 5.44 million related deaths have been registered worldwide, according to latest data of Johns Hopkins University.
New Covid-19 records in US
The United States has set several new records in COVID-19 indicators as the pandemic enters its third year, and health experts have warned of a "tidal wave" of the pandemic in 2022.
The country set a new record high of over 640,000 daily COVID-19 cases on Friday, according to data of Johns Hopkins University.
Over the week ending January 1, the country hardest-hit by the pandemic reported more than 2,700,000 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. The weekly increase of cases also registered a new pandemic high, surpassing the previous record set in the first week of 2021.
The country is averaging about 320,000 new cases daily, according to data updated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Thursday. The 7-day average of daily cases also marked a new high.
The Omicron-fueled surge in the United States has also let the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 soar to a record high.
During the week of December 22 to 28, an average of 378 children aged 17 and under were admitted to hospitals per day due to COVID-19, a 66.1-percent-increase from the week before, and a new record for hospitalized children with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to CDC data.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced Sunday that he tested positive for COVID-19.
"I tested positive this morning for COVID-19," Austin said in a statement, adding that he was experiencing mild symptoms and will be quarantined for the next five days.
The pandemic-induced staff shortages at airlines and airports amid a busy holiday travel season in the United States have led to 2,393 canceled journeys within, into, or out of the country, constituting more than half of which were canceled globally. Another 4,519 US flights were delayed on Sunday.
Amtrak, a passenger railroad service that provides medium and long-distance inter-city rail service in the contiguous United States and to nine cities in Canada, said on Thursday that it will reduce its schedule between New Year's Eve and January 6 as it battles bad weather in some parts of the country and a surge in coronavirus cases among its employees.
Top US infectious disease adviser Anthony Fauci said earlier last week that the surge in the COVID-19 Omicron variant in the United States would likely peak by the end of January.
Strict Covid-19 rules in Europe
France has seen a sharp increase since Christmas, with 208,099 cases detected on Wednesday. This set a new record since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the incidence rate passed 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for the first time.
The same day on the other side of the English Channel, Britain reported a new record increase of 189,213 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number in the country to over 12 million.
Total COVID-19 infections in Germany within one day increased by 41,240 cases on Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). The share of the Omicron variant among COVID-19 infections in Germany jumped from 3.1 percent in the previous week to 17.5 percent on Thursday, RKI reported.
The Omicron variant has become the main source feeding the COVID-19 pandemic in Cyprus, representing an estimated 80 percent of new infections, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas said on Sunday.
Amid surging cases and deaths after Christmas, European governments were scrambling to roll out additional restrictions to curb the trend.
The German government implemented contact restrictions both for vaccinated and recovered people, as well as a nationwide ban on gatherings over the New Year.
In Britain, secondary school students in the country are once again being asked to wear masks in classrooms as Omicron continues to spread ahead of children's return to school.
However, dissatisfaction is rising among experts, as new measures will take time to bring any benefits, and may not prevent a surge in cases over the next few weeks.
"Given the very high transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its ability to, at least partially, evade immunity, it should be clear that a rapid response is needed. Instead, we have a policy based almost entirely on increasing vaccination rates that will take weeks to bring any benefit," said Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Other regions hit by omicron
In Asia, India's Omicron tally has reached 1,525 till Sunday, out of which Maharashtra and Delhi have reported 460 and 351 cases respectively.
In South Korea, two people who posthumously tested positive for the highly contagious Omicron variant appear to be the first such reported deaths in the country, Yonhap news agency reported Monday.
Pakistan on Saturday confirmed 594 new COVID-19 cases amid the spread of Omicron, the National Command and Operation Center said Sunday.
When it comes to Africa, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Friday night confirmed that there the new COVID-19 variant called Omicron is present in the east African nation.
As for Latin America, Chile has reduced the number of COVID-19 infections in the last two weeks by 18 percent, however experts are not ruling out an increase in infections due to the Omicron variant.
The Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa in November 2021. The World Health Organization has warned that the Omicron variant was spreading at a rate not seen with previous strains and was likely present in most countries.
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The Tech That Will Invade Our Lives in 2022
Each year, I look ahead at what’s new in consumer technology to guide you through what you might expect to buy — and what will most likely be a fad.
Many of the same “trends” appear again and again because, to put it simply, technology takes a long time to mature before most of us actually want to buy it. That applies this year as well. Some trends for 2022 that tech companies are pushing are things you have heard of before.
A chief example is virtual reality, the technology that involves wearing goofy-looking headgear and swinging around controllers to play 3-D games. That is expected to be front and center again this year, remarketed by the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other techies as “the metaverse.”
Another buzzy category will be the so-called smart home, the technology to control home appliances by shouting voice commands at a speaker or tapping a button on a smartphone. The truth is, the tech industry has tried to push this kind of technology into our homes for more than a decade. This year, these products may finally begin to feel practical to own.
Another recurring technology on this list is digital health gear that tracks our fitness and helps us diagnose possible ailments. And automakers, which have long talked about electric cars, are beginning to accelerate their plans to meet a nationwide goal to phase out production of gas-powered cars by 2030.
Here are four tech trends that will invade our lives this year.
1. Welcome to the metaverse.
For more than a decade, technologists have dreamed of an era when our virtual lives play as important a role as our physical realities. In theory, we would spend lots of time interacting with our friends and colleagues in virtual space, and as a result we would spend money there, too, on outfits and objects for our digital avatars.
“We’re in a world where people several times per day send out an image reflecting themselves,” said Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist who has written extensively about the metaverse. “The next phase takes that visual representation and dimensionalizes it. You go into an environment and express yourself through an avatar.”
That sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. But throughout Year 2 of the pandemic, a critical mass of factors came together to make the metaverse more realistic, Mr. Ball said.
For one, the technology got better. Last year, Facebook announced that it had renamed itself Meta after shipping 10 million units of its virtual-reality headset, the Quest 2, which was a milestone.
For another, many of us were willing to splurge on our digital selves. Hordes of investors bought NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, which are one-of-a-kind digital objects purchased with cryptocurrency. Eminem and other investors invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to join a virtual yacht club.
There’s more to come this year. Apple plans to unveil its version of a virtual reality headset, which will look like a pair of ski goggles and, for computing power, rely on a separate computing device that is worn elsewhere on the body. Apple declined to comment.
Google has also developed virtual reality products for years, and Microsoft has offered a virtual reality headset for businesses and government agencies.
The metaverse could still turn out to be a fad, depending on what products emerge and who buys them. Carolina Milanesi, a consumer technology analyst for the consulting firm Creative Strategies, said she worried that it could become a reflection of the privileged few who can afford to treat their digital selves.
“The boating market is dominated by white upper-class middle-aged men,” she said. “Will we just transfer all of that into the metaverse?”
2. The smart home.
Over the last few years, smart home products like internet-connected thermostats, door locks and robotic vacuum cleaners made major progress. The devices became affordable and worked reliably with digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri.
Yet the smart home, for the most part, has remained chaotic. Many smart home products didn’t work well with other technology. Some door locks, for example, worked only with Apple phones and not Androids; some thermostats were controlled by talking to Google Assistant and not to Siri.
The lack of compatibility has created long-term issues. An Apple-compatible lock isn’t useful for the family member or future tenant who prefers Android. It would also be more convenient one day if our home devices could actually talk to one another, like a washing machine telling a dryer that a large load was ready to be dried.
This year, the tech industry’s biggest rivals — Apple, Samsung, Google and Amazon — are playing nice to make the smart home more practical. They plan to release and update home technology to work with Matter, a new standard that enables smart home devices to talk to one another regardless of the virtual assistant or phone brand. More than 100 smart home products are expected to adhere to the standard.
“We’re all speaking a common language built on already proven technologies,” said Samantha Osborne, a vice president of marketing for SmartThings, the home automation company owned by Samsung.
This means that later this year, when you shop for a product like an automated door lock, look for a label indicating that the device is compatible with Matter. Then, in the future, your smart alarm clock may be able to tell your smart lights to turn on when you wake up.
3. Connected health.
Fitness gadgets like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, which help us track our movements and heart rate, keep getting more popular. So tech companies are experimenting this year with smaller wearable devices that gather more intimate data about our health.
Oura, a health tech company, recently introduced a new model of its Oura Ring, which is embedded with sensors that track metrics including body temperature to accurately predict menstruation cycles. This week at CES, a tech trade show in Las Vegas, Movano, another health tech start-up, unveiled a similar ring that stitches together data about your heart rate, temperature and other measures to inform a wearer about potential chronic illnesses.
Medical experts have long warned about the potential consequences of health tech. Without proper context, the data could potentially be used to misdiagnose illnesses and turn people into hypochondriacs. But if the widely sold-out Covid rapid test kits are any measure, more of us appear ready to be proactive in monitoring our health.
4. Electric cars.
Last year, President Biden announced an ambitious goal: Half of all vehicles sold in the United States would be electric rather than gas-powered by 2030.
In response, major automakers are hyping their electric cars, including at CES this week. On Tuesday, Ford Motor announced plans to increase production of its F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. Later this week, General Motors plans to unveil a battery-powered version of its Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. Other carmakers, like Mercedes-Benz, have shared plans for electric cars to be released in coming years.
While there’s lots of marketing hype around electric cars, those of us looking for battery-powered vehicles this year will probably still gravitate toward Tesla, Ms. Milanesi said. That’s because we have yet to see widespread deployment of solar power and charging stations for electric cars, especially in more rural areas. Tesla has a head start because it has been rolling out charging stations for years, she said.
“There’s so much from an infrastructure perspective that needs to happen,” she said. “So it’s a lot of talk, but I don’t know how much of a reality.”