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December 20, 2021updated 07 Jan 2022 6:10am

International update: Covid Omicron variant ‘raging through the world’ says Fauci

By Paul Dennis

20 December

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.3 million, with a figure of 5,354,588 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 274 million world wide. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, said the Omicron variant has “extraordinary spreading capabilities” and is “raging through the world”.

Omicron latest

Poland: Poland confirmed seven Omicron cases in total as an official warned the variant is spreading at “unprecedented rate”. A further 15,976 Covid cases were recorded.

UAE: The United Arab Emirates reported the highest number of daily infections since late September, as Omicron threatens a winter surge in a country that’s managed to keep a lid on the virus for most of this year. The UAE, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, reported 285 cases on Sunday. While that’s well below levels seen at the start of the year, daily cases had remained below a hundred a day since mid-October, even falling to a low of 48 earlier this month.

US: The outgoing director of the National Institutes of Health warned of “a world of trouble” as the Omicron variant spreads through the US, but the impact can be blunted if Americans get vaccines, boosters and are careful about masking again, Francis Collins said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I know people are sick of hearing this, but the virus is not sick of us,” said Collins, who is stepping down this week after 12 years as NIH head. “It’s thrown us a new curve-ball and we’ve got to be ready to hit it,”

He said the evidence remained unclear if Omicron infections are milder than other Covid-19 strains “That’s something we’ve got to hope for or our health systems are going to be overwhelmed,” he said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the federal government to step up supplies of tests and treatments to the city amid a spike in infections caused by the Omicron variant.

“We are feeling the Omicron wave especially hard right now but we know it’s going to be all over the country,” de Blasio said. “This whole country needs go on a war footing to fight back.” New infections in New York City have tripled over the last month. The seven-day average of new cases reported on Sunday was 5,731, a number de Blasio called “really shocking.” New York state has broken records for new infections for the last three days, reporting 22,478 new cases on Sunday.

Peru: Peru, the country with the highest Covid deaths per capita and sixth-highest total death toll, detected its first four Omicron cases.

Italy: Italy will review its current Covid-19 measures as the country faces a surge in cases which is expected to worsen as the Omicron variant becomes dominant across Europe, the country’s health minister said. “Italy has a lower incidence of Omicron compared to other European countries. This is a small advantage we should use to vaccinate more people. The booster shots are crucial against Omicron,” Speranza said in an interview on Rai3. Italy reported 24,259 new cases and 97 deaths Sunday, with the positivity rate rising to 4.3%. The government will meet Thursday to review imposing stricter measures including an outdoor masks mandate and shortening the duration of the Covid-19 passport.

Germany: Germany’s virus cases are only a few weeks past their peak, but Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the country is already headed for a fifth wave after registering a “critical number” of Omicron infections. The nation is administering booster shots faster than most of Europe, and won’t enact a lockdown comparable to that in the Netherlands before Christmas, Lauterbach told ARD on Sunday. He said that restrictions on travel from the UK were an important step, but that he’s also pushing for travelers to be obliged to take a further PCR test on arrival. Germany could get a better handle on the pandemic if it made vaccinations mandatory, Lauterbach said.

UK: The UK recorded above 80,000 new daily cases for only fourth time since pandemic began, and clocked another 12,000 Omicron cases – taking the tally to over 37,000. Health secretary Sajid Javid refused to rule out new restrictions on the Sunday broadcast round. Cases are up 72% in one week.

Ireland: Ireland said Omicron is now the dominant strain of Covid after an estimated 52% of its cases – 5,124 new cases on Sunday – were from the highly mutated variant.

Iran: Iran has detected its first case of Omicron.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have passed the grim landmark of 50 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 806,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Brazil: Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa asked for greater law enforcement protection on Sunday after a flurry of threats following its decision to approve Covid vaccines for children aged five to 11. President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down the virus’s risks, has publicly pressured the agency over the decision.

Europe

EU: The European Commission said BioNTech-Pfizer will deliver an additional 20 million vaccine doses in the first quarter, bringing the total number of deliveries in the first three months of 2022 to 215 million. The organization also said it activated an option to order more than 200 million doses under the third contract with BioNTech-Pfizer. That order also covers vaccines adapted to the Omicron variant, should they become available.

Netherlands: The Netherlands entered a strict lockdown that meant the closure of non-essential stores, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places until 14 January to push back the new wave.

Germany: Germany followed France and tightened restrictions from Britain, mandating a 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers to avoid an Omicron wave.

Meanwhile, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned of political violence from the country’s anti-vaccine movement with its connections to the far-right.

UK: Pressure builds on UK prime minister Boris Johnson after the Guardian published a picture of him with wine and cheese in the No 10 garden, suggesting a social event, during a strict UK lockdown. No 10 insists the meeting was for work.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to rule out stronger UK Covid-19 rules before Christmas. When asked whether he could rule out a so-called circuit-breaker lockdown within days, he said that there are no guarantees in this pandemic and that everything needs to be kept under review. “It’s time to be more cautious. We know this thing is spreading more rapidly,” Javid told BBC News on Sunday. UK papers have been filled with speculation that tighter rules may be introduced right after Christmas.

UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi appealed to retired teachers to come forward to fill possible shortages expected to be caused by what he called the “tidal wave of Omicron coming this way.” The temporary assignments would begin at schools and universities in the new year, he said.

France: The French government will double overtime pay for health workers at public hospitals beginning Monday. “It’s a proper recognition by the state for health workers who have been fully involved since the beginning of this crisis,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a statement. France reported 48,473 new infections on Sunday, an 11% increase from a week earlier.

Spain: In a televised address on Sunday, Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez said the leaders will analyze the evolution of the pandemic in an extraordinary online meeting scheduled for Wednesday. Spain’s 14-day average infection rate climbed to more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, with hospitalizations tripling to 6,667 patients over the past month, according to Health Ministry data released on Friday.

Italy: Italy detected 24,259 new Covid infections, a 62% climb on the 15,010 new cases on Sunday two weeks ago.

Russia: Russia recorded 27,967 new Covid infections, a 13% slide on the 32,031 new cases on Sunday two weeks ago.

Middle-east and Africa

Israel: Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said on Sunday the country is in a fifth Covid wave and urged people to step up vaccinations.

South Africa: South African hospitals have 7,951 Covid-19 patients of whom 6.7% are in intensive care units, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a report on Sunday. Of the 535 people in ICU, 212 are on ventilators, the institute said. Of the admissions, 3,286 are in Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

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