The ultra-contagious Omicron variant is pushing cases to all-time highs and causing chaos as an exhausted world struggles to stem the spread. Two million new coronavirus cases were recorded on average across the world every day between 1 and 7 January, with figures doubling in 10 days, according to a tally by Agence France-Presse. New global case numbers have soared 270 per cent since Omicron was discovered in South Africa in late November.
The stratospheric rise in cases is straining healthcare and essential services in many parts of the world, as the virus infects frontline workers, causing severe shortages in staff.
Here’s a rundown of how countries around the world are dealing with the latest Covid surge:
The UK surpassed the grim of 150,000 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson recognising the “terrible toll” and urging people to get vaccinated.
Some 313 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test were reported in the UK on Saturday, taking the total number of fatalities on this measure to 150,057.
Amid the Omicron surge, the British government may stop giving out free lateral flow tests under plans for living with Covid, a move which has been deemed as “utterly wrongheaded” by Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
READ | Troops in London hospitals, Sicily’s treatment tents: Omicron batters healthcare in Europe
In the US, the current explosion of omicron-fuelled Covid-19 cases is causing a breakdown in basic functions and services, diminishing the ranks of healthcare and essential workers. Hospitals are overwhelmed, turning away incoming patients.
A nurse takes a break during a shift at a Covid care facility in the US (AFP photo)
In New York City, subways and trash collection services are delayed due to out of commission employees infected with Covid, while schools across the nation are struggling to find teachers for their classrooms.
Elsewhere, in the state of Texas, the growing case numbers has led to an acute shortage of Covid-19 tests. Long queues can be seen outside pharmacies, which are already sold out of testing kits.The need for testing is so high that people sometimes have to wait for hours at large, dedicated “mega” facilities.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the country must revamp its Covid-19 vaccination strategy to tackle the Omicron variant amid a sudden spurt in coronavirus infections. Germany reported 55,889 fresh cases on Saturday, more than double the number a week earlier.
“If we get a variant that is as contagious as Omicron, but significantly more deadly, we should be able to develop and produce a new vaccine in a very short time. “We must not fall into the naive assumption that it (the pandemic) will be over soon,” said Lauterbach, as quoted by Reuters.
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On the other hand, in France, more than 100,000 people protested across the country on Saturday over what they say are government plans to further restrict the rights of the unvaccinated, days after French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to “piss off” those refusing the jab.
The protests oppose a planned law that will require individuals to prove they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus before they can eat out, travel on inter-city trains or attend cultural events.
Meanwhile, the country recorded 303,669 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday amid mounting pressure on hospitals.
Demonstrators, in opposition to vaccine pass and vaccinations, gather during a rally in Paris, France on Saturday (AP photo)
Brazil reported 49,303 fresh cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, and 115 deaths from the virus, the health ministry said on Saturday.
The South American country has now registered 22,499,525 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 619,937.
Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro, who is not vaccinated himself, has criticised Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa for authorising the vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 years against Covid-19. He has consistently cast doubt on the efficacy and safety of coronavirus vaccines and stressed that vaccination for children was not obligatory.
READ | Rapid nose swab tests for Covid may not detect Omicron quickly enough, says expert
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Sunday that the United States has agreed to impose stricter Covid-19 measures at its military bases in the island nation, amid concerns that outbreaks at bases have fuelled infection in local communities.
Covid infections are surging in Japan, and the country is stepping up restrictions in regions, such as Okinawa and Hiroshima, that are posting their highest caseloads ever.
Japan halted the entry of almost all foreign travellers in late November after the World Health Organization listed Omicron as a variant of concern. But the US military moves staff in and out under a separate testing and quarantine regime.
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(With inputs from Agencies)