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Coronavirus digest: Global cases surge due to omicron

Much of Europe, the US and even Australia are logging record COVID caseloads as the omicron variant spreads. The WHO has warned that the variant still posed a "very high" risk. Follow DW for the latest.

Travelers receive tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia

Australia's proposed new testing rules would rely more on rapid antigen tests

Many countries have registered record rates of coronavirus infections as the omicron variant takes hold across the world.

France, Britain, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Malta, the United States, Bolivia, Australia and other nations all recorded a record surge in cases on either Tuesday or Wednesday.

The dramatic rise prompted a warning from World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"Delta and omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalization and deaths," Tedros told a press briefing.

"I am highly concerned that omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases."

Watch video 00:33

WHO extremely worried about spike in coronavirus cases

France has the highest new infection rate in Europe, with 208,000 new cases reported on Wednesday.

"This means that 24 hours a day, day and night, every second in our country, two French people are diagnosed positive," Health Minister Olivier Veran told lawmakers on Wednesday. "We have never experienced such a situation," he said, describing the increase in cases as "dizzying."

Germany is expected to see similar rises in omicron cases, although numbers are slightly delayed.

Uwe Janssens, who heads the German Society of Internal Medicine and Intensive Care , told DW in an interview that reliable data on the proportion of the omicron variant in Germany is currently unavailable as COVID reports have been delayed and testing volumes have dipped during the Christmas holidays.

However, he said "it can be assumed that the omicron variant will certainly dominate in January, like in the other countries such as Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, and Portugal."

"This means... we can expect significant number of infections... we are recording daily growth rates of almost 50%."

Watch video 02:22

Omicron will 'certainly dominate' in January: Dr. Uwe Janssens

Here's a look at coronavirus-related news in other parts of the world

Global

The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that the omicron variant still poses a "very high" risk and could overwhelm healthcare systems.

Cases have shot up by 11% globally in the last week, and omicron had become the dominant strain in the multiple countries including Greece, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Europe

Germany's Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases reported 40,043 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. The death toll rose by 414 to a total of 111,219.

The nationwide seven-day incidence — the number of infections per 100,000 inhabitants — dropped to 205.5 from 215.6 the previous day.

Meanwhile, the German Police Union (GdP) said it was concerned about the psychological consequences faced by police officers deployed at protests against COVID-19 measures.

Also in Germany, the country's 16 states have accumulated almost €60 billion ($67.6 billion) in new debt since the onset of the pandemic, according to a survey of state finance ministries conducted by the news agency DPA. 

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says the actual incidence rate of infections is about two or three times higher than the
officially reported figure, due to fewer tests being performed at workplaces and at doctors practices during the holiday season

Watch video 03:27

Coping with coronavirus variants: Epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb speaks to DW

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to get vaccinated on Wednesday, saying the overwhelming majority (90%) of people in intensive care units with COVID had not yet received their booster.

Johnson also said people should celebrate on New Year's Eve with caution after he decided against bringing in tougher restrictions.

That's as health authorities in England said that the number of people hospitalized had passed 10,000, making it the highest total since March.

Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta has tested positive for COVID again and will be absent for the Premier League match against Manchester City on January 1, the English soccer club said Wednesday.

Arteta's first positive test came in March 2020 and was a key factor in the suspension of the Premier League when the pandemic first spread through Europe.

Ireland on Wednesday reported its highest number of daily cases since the start of the pandemic with 16,428 new infections. The country's Health Department said that hospital admissions have also begun to rise.

"All of the latest epidemiological indicators are a cause of concern. Given the very high levels of transmission nationwide, every individual should consider themselves potentially infectious, and strictly adhere to the public health measures," Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said in a statement.

Poland reported its highest daily number of COVID-related deaths in the fourth wave on Wednesday, Deputy Minister of Health Waldemar Kraska said.

Officials said 794 died in the previous 24 hours.

The country also reported 15,571 new infections. The consistently high daily caseload has forced authorities to tighten anti-pandemic restrictions.

Watch video 02:04

Berlin jabs thousands during the holidays

Greece has banned music in bars and restaurants in an effort to limit New Year's Eve parties. Omicron is now the dominant strain there.

Bosnia has identified its first 10 omicron cases, and suspects the variant will soon be dominant.

Belgium will soon reopen theatres and cinemas after a court ruling blocked a lockdown order. Other indoor venues, such as casinos and bowling alleys, will remain closed.

Spain's prime minister has ruled out any immediate national restrictions in response to omicron, as the country has a high vaccination rate and the data appears to show that omicron is milder.

Americas

The average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the United States has hit a record high of 258,312 over the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally. This compares to a previous peak average of 250,141 recorded on Jan. 8 of this year.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said the organization was watching the nation's case load and its potential impact on health care providers.

A shortage of tests could mean this is just "the tip of the iceberg," according to a Harvard epidemiologist.

New York City will seek to limit classroom closures, and no longer quarantine entire classrooms exposed to the coronavirus.

City authorities will instead prioritize a ramped-up testing program so that asymptomatic students testing negative for COVID-19 can remain in school, officials said.

The new policy, called "Stay Safe, and Stay Open" by Mayor Bill de Blasio will take effect from January 3.

Cuba plans to administer booster shots to its entire population in January, according to a report in state-run media.

Authorities in Bolivia's main cities have canceled planned public events to bring in the New Year.

The country has recorded its highest number of new cases in a single day, with a number of 4,939 new infections.

"The pandemic is escalating," said Ian Arias, mayor of the Bolivian administrative capital La Paz. "It's preferable to be safe than sorry," Arias added.

Just over 38% of the country has been vaccinated, according to figures collated by scientific publication Our World in Data.

Watch video 12:01

COVID-19 Special: Brazil – turning the tide

Asia

Amid a surge in cases, the Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Wednesday that visitors from 11 African countries will continue to be banned from entering South Korea, while all other international arrivals will have to quarantine for ten days, until February 3.

Police in the south of China have paraded four alleged violators of COVID restrictions through the streets, state media reported Wednesday.

China banned such public shaming of criminal suspects in 2010 but the practice has resurfaced as officials attempt to enforce the country's zero-COVID stance.

Four masked citizens in hazmat suits, carrying placards displaying their photos and names, were paraded in front of a crowd in Guangxi region's Jingxi city, state-run Guangxi News said.

Pakistan health authorities are expecting a major fifth wave to hit in a few weeks, due to a combination of vaccine hesitancy and the mass violation of coronavirus-related restrictions

Watch video 01:27

COVID-19: China expands lockdowns

Middle East

Israel has removed a ban on travel to Germany and other countries, as the omicron variant is already spreading rapidly inside the country.

Oceania

Australia needs "a gear change" to manage testing requirements, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, announcing that the country was easing its COVID-19 testing rules to cope with an omicron-fueled surge in infections. 

This change would entail redefining who qualifies as a close contact and the furlough of virus-exposed workers.

"We just can't have everybody just being taken out of circulation because they just happen to be at a particular place at a particular time," the prime minister said.

Once the proposed rules on close contacts kick in, most people would not have to get PCR tests or isolate themselves.

This would cut long lines at testing sites and end 72-to-96-hour waits for lab results.

Morrison's comments come as New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, reported a near doubling in daily cases.

jsi, adi/dj (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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