NEW YORK (WABC) -- South Africa's noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country's dramatic omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.
Daily virus case counts are notoriously unreliable, as they can be affected by uneven testing, reporting delays and other fluctuations. But they are offering one tantalizing hint - far from conclusive yet - that omicron infections may recede quickly after a ferocious spike.
South Africa has been at the forefront of the omicron wave, and the world is watching for any signs of how it may play out there to try to understand what may be in store.
After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on Thursday, Dec. 16, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on Tuesday. In Gauteng province - South Africa's most populous with 16 million people, including the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria - the decrease started earlier and has continued.
Here are more of today's COVID-19 headlines:
Newark to require proof of vaccine for 5+ to enter establishments
Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced that he will sign an Executive Order on Monday, December 27, requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for customers 5 years of age and older to enter certain establishments and facilities.
The order will start by requiring anyone attending public New Year's Eve events and parties to show proof of vaccination. By January 10, persons entering a facility or business must show proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose; and be fully vaccinated three weeks later.
"Newark's latest three-day test positivity rate has spiked to 27.16 percent. Guided by this data, the City of Newark is taking firm and aggressive action to prevent its spread and protect our residents and workers. Newark will continue to meet the challenge of COVID-19 with determination," Mayor Baraka said.
RWJBarnabas Health hospitals cancel all in-person visits starting 12/26
No visitors will be allowed beginning Sunday, December 26, at all RWJBarnabas Health hospitals and healthcare facilities, including inpatient acute care, emergency departments, behavioral health and outpatient services, until further notice. Limited exceptions include:
--Pediatric units (only ONE parent/guardian will be permitted)
--Maternity and Labor & Delivery units (only ONE significant other/support person is permitted)
--Neonatal Intensive Care Units (TWO parents/support persons are permitted)
--Pediatric psychiatric patients (Only ONE if/when a mutual agreement between the care team and the parents/guardian has been reached)
--Patients with disabilities where the disability may be due to altered mental status, intellectual or cognitive disability, communication barriers or behavioral concerns (ONE designated support person is allowed to remain with the patient).
All visitors 18 years of age and under will not be permitted. Extenuating circumstances to the temporary guidelines and individual requests will always be considered based on the best interest and needs of the individual patient, including hospice and end-of-life care.
Phish postpones New Year's MSG shows
The four Phish concerts scheduled around New Year's Eve at Madison Square Garden are rescheduled for April. Phish ringing in the new year is an MSG tradition that was halted last year by the pandemic, and MSG had said earlier this week that the concert was expected to go on as planned in the fully vaccinated arena, along with its Billy Joel series, which continued on Monday night. The shows, originally scheduled for December 29 through January 1, have been rescheduled for April 20-23. Ticketholders can request a refund anytime over the next 30 days, if they cannot commit to the rescheduled show date.
New York City takes additional precautions for New Year's Eve celebration
New York City is taking precautions for New Year's Eve due to the sharp increase in COVID cases. Normally hosting approximately 58,000 people in viewing areas, this year's New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square will host approximately 15,000 people, and visitors won't be allowed entry until 3:00 PM, much later than past years. Proof of full vaccination with valid photo identification will be required. Attendees will also be required to wear masks. Viewing areas will be filled with fewer people to allow for social distancing.
Federal COVID testing sites open today in Queens
As the dramatic, omicron-fueled spread of COVID-19 continues across the Tri-State region, New York City residents have several new testing options starting Thursday. A mobile testing site at Travers Park in Jackson Heights, Queens, is one of several that reopened, even as the federal government deploys three new ones in western and central Queens. It's part of an effort to clear a massive backlog of demand that has led to long lines and hours-long waits.
VP Harris tests negative after close contact
Vice President Kamala Harris has tested negative for COVID after she had close contact with a staffer who tested positive. The White House confirms the staff member was with the vice president throughout Tuesday after testing negative. That person tested positive Wednesday morning. Vice President Harris is being tested daily.
Jersey City mayor tests positive for COVID
As COVID cases soar across New Jersey, the mayors of the state's two biggest cities say they have tested positive for the virus. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced his test result Thursday morning on Twitter. The announcement came one day after Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said he tested positive after a family member contracted the virus.
Rutgers Athletics announces COVID vaccine mandate for games
The Rutgers University Athletics Department has announced a COVID vaccine mandate for all of its games. Effective immediately, attendees at all indoor athletics events must provide proof of full vaccination or proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event accompanied by a photo ID. Doors for all events will open 90 minutes prior to the start.
"Face masks continue to be required and must be worn in the arena during the duration of each event," the university's website said. "Spectators who fail to comply with the face mask policy will be asked to leave the arena."
US authorizes Merck pill as 2nd easy-to-use drug against COVID-19
U.S. health regulators on Thursday authorized the second pill against COVID-19, providing another easy-to-use medication to battle the rising tide of omicron infections. The Food and Drug Administration authorization of Merck's molnupiravir comes one day after the agency cleared a competing drug from Pfizer. That pill, Paxlovid, is likely to become the first-choice treatment against the virus, thanks to its superior benefits and milder side effects. As a result, Merck's pill is expected to have a smaller role against the pandemic than predicted just a few weeks ago. Its ability to head off severe COVID-19 is much smaller than initially announced and the drug label will warn of serious safety issues, including the potential for birth defects.
Omicron variant symptoms: What to know even if you are vaccinated
The omicron variant is leading to a significant surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States and across Europe. The World Health Organization said 89% of those with confirmed omicron infections in Europe reported symptoms common with other coronavirus variants, including cough, sore throat, fever. The variant has mostly been spread by young people in their 20s and 30s in the region, WHO Europe regional director Dr. Hans Kluge said. Although much remains unknown about omicron, Kluge said it appears to be more infectious than previous variants, leading to "previously unseen transmission rates" in countries with a significant number of omicron cases. In those countries, cases of the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days. Here's what to know.
What to know about rapid COVID at-home tests as demand for testing surges
President Joe Biden plans to announce on Tuesday that his administration will distribute 500 million free at-home rapid tests to Americans beginning in January to combat the surging omicron variant. Americans will be able to request the tests through a website that will launch next month and they will be delivered by mail. ABC News spoke with two infectious disease experts about the difference between lab tests and rapid tests and how they work.
What to know about breakthrough COVID infections as cases among vaccinated rise
As Americans brace for the possibility of another difficult winter ahead in the nation's fight against coronavirus, there is a renewed sense of urgency to get as many people inoculated and boosted as quickly as possible, given the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant -- now dominant in the U.S. An ABC News analysis of federal and state data found that since July, there has been an acceleration of the number of breakthrough coronavirus cases, thus, of individuals who test positive after being fully vaccinated.
What we know about the Omicron variant
Alarmed by a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and the increasing prevalence of the omicron variant, New York City and the Tri-State are taking action to try to curb the spread. While only a few cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed so far in the city, federal health officials are estimating that it already accounts for around 13% of virus cases in the region that includes New York and New Jersey. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it's clear omicron is "in full force" and spreading. Here's what we know.
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