France starts vaccinating children as governments race to contain Omicron surge

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France started vaccinating children from the age of five on Wednesday as governments scramble to contain fresh virus surges driven by the Omicron variant.

French health workers began administering Pfizer-BioNTech jabs to children aged between five and 11 in the government's latest step to combat a fresh wave of cases.

The move came just two days after the national health regulator, the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS), gave the green light to the vaccine elaborated by US-based Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech.

France’s Health Minister Olivier Véran said Omicron-fuelled daily Covid infections could exceed 100,000 by the end of December, according to modelling, with France recording almost 73,000 cases on Tuesday.

Finland also revealed plans to expand its vaccination programme to children aged between five and 12, a day after announcing bars must close at 9:00 pm on Christmas Eve as part of new restrictions to fight record Covid infection levels.

The latest clinical data suggest Omicron does not cause more severe illness than its predecessors, notably the Delta variant first identified in India, which accounts for the bulk of cases worldwide.

But scientists warn the highly transmissible strain, which South Africa first reported to the World Health Organization last month, could cause more deaths if soaring infection numbers overwhelm health systems.

Omicron's lightning global spread has led some governments to reimpose restrictions ahead of Christmas holidays or to re-evaluate their plans to halt the spread, dampening hopes the worst of the pandemic is over.

Israel rolls out fourth jabs

Omicron has already become the dominant strain in countries including Britain, Denmark and the United States, prompting US President Joe Biden on Tuesday to announce a raft of new measures.

These included shipping half a billion free home tests from January and giving $580 million (513 million euros) in additional aid to international organisations to fight Covid.

While nations scramble to complete adult vaccinations and roll out booster jabs, Israel on Tuesday became the first country to make fourth jabs widely available, amid fears Omicron is more resistant to existing vaccines.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said citizens over the age of 60 and medical teams would be eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine shot, following the recommendation of an expert panel.

"The world will follow in our footsteps," he tweeted.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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