The World Health Organization has warned that the Omicron coronavirus variant could lead to overwhelmed health systems, although early studies suggest it triggers milder disease as daily case records fell in Europe and the US, while China, South Africa and Germany brought harsh restrictions back to eradicate infections.
Covid-19 increases have wreaked havoc around the world, forcing many nations to make difficult choices between economically penalizing restrictions and controlling the spread of the virus.
That United States has halved the isolation period for asymptomatic cases to try to dull the disturbance, while France has ordered companies to have employees work from home for at least three days a week.
Contact restrictions were in place in Germany for the second year in a row heading into the new year as Europe’s largest economy closed nightclubs and forced sports competitions behind closed doors.
Despite the fact that China is facing a much smaller outbreak compared to global virus hotspots, China has not relaxed its “zero Covid” strategy, imposing stay-at-home orders in many parts of the city of Yan’an.
The hundreds of thousands of affected residents joined the 13 million people in the city of Xi’an, who went into a sixth day of home detention as China struggled with its highest daily case count in 21 months.
“I’m about to starve to death,” a resident of Xi’an wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.
“There is no food, my home will not shut me out and I am running out of instant noodles … please help!”
Many Xi’an residents have similarly complained on social media about the restrictions, which include a ban on driving, and only one member of a household is allowed to go outside to buy groceries every three days.
This shutdown is the most pervasive in China since the similar-sized city of Wuhan was cut off from the world in the early days of the pandemic.
South Africa said it would reinstate efforts to track contacts of people infected with coronavirus following a setback over plans to scrap the measure.
Health officials said Thursday they would stop contact tracking anywhere except places like prisons and schools, as they believed most of the population had already been exposed to the virus through vaccination or infection.
These protocols will be revoked after the Ministry of Health was flooded with media, stakeholders and public inquiries and comments following the publication of the revised rules.
The increase in many countries has been driven by the highly transferable Omicron variant with Netherlands and Switzerland both said on Tuesday that it has now become the dominant tribe in their countries.
Greece meanwhile, a new daily record of 21,657 cases was reported, which health authorities said was linked to the rise in Omicron.
The WHO warned against complacency, although preliminary results suggest that Omicron may lead to milder illness.
“Rapid growth of Omicron … even when combined with a slightly milder disease, will still result in a large number of hospitalizations, particularly among unvaccinated groups, and cause widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services,” the WHO warned Europe’s Covid- event manager, Catherine Smallwood.
However, the WHO highlighted the 29% drop in the incidence of cases observed in South Africa – the country that first reported the variant to the WHO on 24 November.
It said that early data from the UK, South Africa and Denmark – which currently has the world’s highest infection rate per capita. person – indicated that there was a reduced risk of hospitalization for Omicron compared to Delta.
However, additional data were needed to understand Omicron’s severity in the form of clinical markers, including oxygen use, mechanical ventilation, and death. There was also a need for more data on how the severity could be affected by previous Covid infection or vaccination.
To hold back the tide, European nations brought back curbs with painful economic and social consequences.
Facing record high infections, France stopped issuing an order to stay home, but urged employers to get staff to work from home three days a week where possible.
Finland Tuesday said it would prevent unvaccinated foreign travelers from entering. Only residents, essential workers or diplomats will be exempt.
Sweden had begun to demand negative tests for incoming non-resident travelers from Tuesday, the day after Denmark – which currently has the world’s highest infection rate per. per capita – applied the same measure.
In Germany, private gatherings are now limited to 10 vaccinated persons – or two households where unvaccinated persons are present – and nightclubs have been closed. All sports competitions will now be held behind closed doors.
“Something needs to be done to reduce infection rates,” a Berlin resident told AFP TV.
But not everyone accepted the measures.
Thousands of protesters marched across Germany late Monday, throwing fireworks or bottles at police, leaving at least 12 police officers wounded.
In addition to social strife, the pandemic has punished financially, especially for sectors such as travel.
About 11,500 planes have been scrapped worldwide since Friday, and tens of thousands more delayed during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.
Several airlines have blamed staff shortages caused by increases in Omicron cases.
The rise in the US has been driven by the Omicron variant, as well as large pockets of unvaccinated residents and lack of access to quick and easy testing.
President Joe Biden said Monday that some U.S. hospitals could be “overrun,” but that the country was generally well prepared.
He stressed that Omicron would not have the same effect as the first Covid outbreak or the Delta variant increase this year.
“Omicron is a source of concern, but it should not be a source of panic,” Biden said.
In an effort to prevent mass labor shortages during the rise, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reduced the isolation period for asymptomatic cases from 10 to five days.
The United States is the nation hardest hit by the pandemic, approaching its daily high of 250,000 cases recorded in January last year.