Since it was first detected in South Africa November, the Omicron Covid-19 variant has spread to around 89 countries, including New Zealand.
Some governments were responding to Omicron by re-imposing restrictions in an attempt to curb its spread, while others were taking a more relaxed approach.
Work was ongoing to determine the transmissibility of the variant, how it reacted to vaccines and prior infections, and how virulent it was compared to other variants, but the variant appeared to be spreading quickly. New Zealand had so far reported eight cases in managed isolation and quarantine.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said there was “consistent evidence” that Omicron had a “substantial growth advantage” over Delta.
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Here’s the latest on the Omicron Covid-19 outbreak around the world.
The Omicron variant was rapidly spreading across the United States, but Delta remained the dominant strain in circulation, for now.
Omicron cases made up just 0.4 per cent of cases in the US on December 4, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By December 11 that figure had jumped to 2.9 per cent.
The state of New York was experiencing a surge in cases with 21,027 reported on Friday, breaking a record for daily cases that was set at 19,942 back in January. In New York City alone, 10,286 cases were reported – a 20 per cent increase from the previous day.
Hospitalisations across the state increased by around 300 – 8 per cent – compared to the week prior. Admissions across the country were also increasing.
As a result, Americans were being encouraged to get their Covid-19 booster shots.
The country had so far responded to Omicron by introducing travel bans for a number of African countries, it also introduced additional pre-departure testing requirements for arrivals into the country.
Case numbers were surging in the UK – on Friday, 93,045 cases were confirmed, the highest daily figure since the pandemic began. On Saturday, the daily figure dropped slightly to 90,418.
In the last week, 787 people died within 28 days of returning a positive test.
Hospitalisations had grown by 8.1 per cent in the last week, with 900 patients admitted on December 13.
To respond to the growing outbreak, London mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” to try to ease the pressure on the health system.
This declaration required numerous public agencies to work more closely. It also doubled as a warning that hospitals and emergency services won’t be able to provide the level of care they normally do.
Omicron had been reported in numerous Australian states since the first cases were confirmed in Sydney from international arrivals.
New South Wales on Saturday reported 2482 new cases – 266 of these were confirmed to be Omicron, but officials said the majority were likely infected with the variant.
On Sunday, daily case numbers jumped up to 2566 with 227 cases in hospital. There were just 595 cases reported last Sunday.
Hospitals across the state had moved back to “red alert” operations in response to Omicron, requiring exemptions for visitors. Despite this, the state was determined to avoid imposing more restrictions, but masks had once again become mandatory indoors.
Victoria was opting not to introduce additional public health measures in response to Omicron, and instead reversed its decision to require vaccine passes in some non-essential settings. The southern state had reported around 10 Omicron cases in the last week.
In comparison, Queensland was bringing back mask mandates after it reported around five Omicron cases in the last week. This number was expected to increase in the coming weeks and was likely to become the dominant strain in the state.
Experts across the country were also encouraging Australians to host Christmas celebrations outside and to reduce the number of people invited in a bid to reduce risk.
The Netherlands would be spending Christmas in lockdown as the Dutch government re-imposed restrictions in an attempt to control the spread of Omicron.
Schools, universities, bars, restaurants and all non-essential stores would be closed until January 14, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on Saturday. Residents were limited to two visitors, except for on Christmas and New Year’s when they were allowed four.
Rutte said this move was “unavoidable” because of the fifth Covid-19 wave “bearing down on us”.
On December 18, Dutch health officials reported 14,742 cases. That figure dropped slightly from the day prior when there were 15,395 cases reported.
The number of hospital admissions had increased from December 12 to 13 going from 195 to 249. More recent statistics were still being compiled.
On December 18, the government reported 50 deaths, 11 fewer than the previous day.
South African health officials were the first to report the existence of this new variant back in November.
Since then, case numbers had climbed, with the variant quickly becoming the most dominant strain in circulation, surpassing Delta – more than 90 per cent of recently sequenced infections were confirmed to be Omicron.
On Wednesday, the country reported a record-high for new cases – 26,976 in 24 hours, according to data shared by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). The previous record was 26,485 cases in early July during a Delta outbreak.
On Saturday, the number of daily cases had dropped to 16,080, potentially suggesting the outbreak had peaked.
Although case numbers had been rather high, hospitalisations were lower than expected. Shirley Collie, a statistician from Discovery Health, told The BMJ the risk of hospital admissions for newly diagnosed adults is 29 per cent lower than in the first wave. In addition to this, she said adults admitted to hospital currently had a lower propensity to be admitted to ICU, compared to earlier waves.
For children, however, the rate of hospital admission was up 20 per cent. Collie pointed out that these cases were “mostly mild” and the overall risk in children remained low.
Deaths were also lower than previous surges – 48 were reported on Saturday – but the WHO in Africa cautioned that could change.
Health officials were citing vaccinations and high levels of previous infections for the reason this variant appeared to be milder in the community.
© 2021 Stuff Limited
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort