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To travel, or not to travel: Festivities for NYE are restricted worldwide

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Revelers will still ring in the new year in New York's Times Square next week, there just won't be as many of them as usual under new restrictions announced Thursday as the city grapples with a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Viewing areas that normally accommodate about 58,000 people will be limited to about 15,000 to allow for more distancing, and everyone in attendance must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a news release announcing the changes.

“There is a lot to celebrate and these additional safety measures will keep the fully vaccinated crowd safe and healthy as we ring in the New Year," de Blasio said, noting the city's success in getting residents vaccinated while also keeping businesses open.

The added precautions for New Year's Eve in Times Square were spurred by the rapid spread of the omicron variant in the Big Apple, where lines for testing have snaked around blocks in recent days.

Universal Orlando is reinstating its mask requirements beginning Christmas Eve as COVID-19 cases are surging as a result of the omicron variant.

Daily cases of coronavirus have quadrupled in the past week in the state of Florida, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitalizations have increased by 12%, the CDC says.

But one of the largest hospital networks in Miami, Jackson Health, has reported twice as many COVID-19 patients on Thursday than it had a week ago.

Universal Orlando says masks will be required at all public indoor locations and at all attractions from the moment guests enter the lines to when they leave. A lot of lines for rides and shows in the resort theme parks start in outdoor areas.

Italy on Thursday again tightened COVID-19 restrictions, focusing on the unvaccinated and on New Year’s Eve celebrations as the new omicron variant pushed recorded infections to the country's highest one-day total ever.

Under the new rules, people who have not been vaccinated will be barred from entering museums, exhibitions, amusement parks, bingo parlors and betting halls — places that until now they could access with a negative test. Already forbidden seating in restaurants, their dining options have now been completely shut down as they can no longer be served standing at a bar.

China plunged a city of 13 million people into lockdown on Thursday to stamp out an increase in coronavirus infections, as the country doubles down on its “zero tolerance” policy just weeks before it is set to host the Winter Olympics.

The restrictions in the northeastern city of Xi’an took effect at midnight Wednesday, with no word on when they might be lifted. They are some of the harshest since China imposed a strict lockdown last year on more than 11 million people in and around the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

One person from each household will be allowed out every two days to buy household necessities, a government order said. Other family members were required to stay at home, although the rule was not being rigorously enforced, according to social media posts. People who happened to be staying in hotels became stuck.

But, there is some good news: 

Many Americans now have two oral antiviral pills that can be taken at home to treat a fresh case of COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the emergency use of the molnupiravir pill from Merck for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in people who have just tested positive.

The approval comes on the heels of Wednesday's approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid. Both pills are intended only for people who are at high risk for hospitalization and death from severe COVID-19, and they are available by prescription only.

But the two pills are not interchangeable: The Pfizer drug far outperformed the Merck drug in clinical trials. While molnupiravir cut the risk for hospitalization and death in high-risk patients by 30 percent, Paxlovid did so by nearly 90 percent. Molnupiravir works by introducing errors into the genetic code of the the coronavirus, which first hampers and then prevents the virus from replicating.

THURSDAY, Dec. 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Many Americans now have two oral antiviral pills that can be taken at home to treat a fresh case of COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the emergency use of the molnupiravir pill from Merck for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in people who have just tested positive.

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