“This is and will continue to put enormous pressure on exhausted health workers and health systems on the brink of collapse,” he added.
The rise, currently worst in Europe, is forcing governments to walk a tightrope between imposing restrictions designed to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed and the need to keep economies and communities open two years after the virus first appeared at the end of 2019.
The U.S., where Omicron already overwhelms hospitals, recorded its highest seven-day average of new cases ever at 265,427, according to a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
Harvard epidemiologist and immunologist Michael Mina tweeted that the count was probably “the tip of the iceberg” with the true number of cases likely far higher due to lack of tests.
But the country also appears to be experiencing a decoupling between infections and severe outbreaks compared to previous waves, officials noted, as evidence is accumulating for milder outcomes under the new variant.
France set a new daily record of more than 200,000 cases on Wednesday – more than double the number recorded on Christmas Day – and extended the closure of nightclubs until January.
UK case numbers also hit the record 183,037, when tthe number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in England peaked at 10,000, the highest total number since March.
According to updated government figures, there were 10,462 people at the hospital in England on Wednesday morning. Fresh data for the whole of the UK were not available.
Denmark, which currently has the world’s highest infection rate per capita. person, recorded a fresh record of 23,228 new infections, which the authorities attributed, among other things, to the large number of tests performed after the Christmas celebrations.
Portugal also saw a record nearly 27,000 cases reported in 24 hours, while Lebanon had 3,150 new infections – the highest daily figure since vaccines rolled out earlier this year.
Studies suggest that Omicron, now the dominant strain in some countries, has a reduced risk of being admitted to hospital, but the World Health Organization still called for caution.
In Europe, where more than 3.5 million cases have been registered in the last seven days, Greece banned music in bars and restaurants until 16 January, including New Year’s Eve.
French politicians should start debating a new law that will only allow the vaccinated to enter restaurants, cinemas, museums and other public venues – no longer those showing evidence of a negative COVID test.
Germany has imposed restrictions on sports competitions and closed nightclubs, limiting private gatherings to 10 vaccinated people – or two households where unvaccinated people are present.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said around 90 per cent of coronavirus patients in intensive care units had not been given a booster jab, and defended his decision not to crack down on the festivities.
The high prevalence of boosters in the UK “allows us to move forward with the New Year in the cautious way we are,” he said despite new closures in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
New Year celebrations canceled
In Asia, Vietnam – an export-dependent economy long seen as a success story – reported economic growth for 2021 at a 30-year low of just 2.58 percent, while the pandemic takes its toll.
Armed police in Jingxi in southern China, near the border with Vietnam, paraded four alleged violators of COVID rules through the streets, reported state media, a practice that was banned but has resurfaced in the fight to enforce a zero-COVID politics.
Mexico City’s mayor on Tuesday canceled the capital’s massive New Year’s Eve as a precautionary measure following an increase in COVID-19 cases.
In Ukraine, three people died after a candle lit by a hospital employee in memory of a patient who died of the virus started a fire in an intensive care unit in the western city of Kosiv.
“Ignorance of the elementary laws of physics and violation of safety rules has led to irreparable losses,” the emergency services said, describing the incident as a “terrible mistake”.