A 1970s-themed prom night in Australia which was attended by 650 people may be “one the highest transmission events in the world” according to a public health professor, after 150 people have since tested positive for Covid-19.
Many of those who contracted the virus since the super-spreader event in the New South Wales city of Newcastle last Wednesday are believed to have the new Omicron variant, believed to be much more transmissible than previous ones.
The event at the Argyle House nightclub, however, has not deterred New South Wales authorities from going ahead with plans to ease restrictions, such as allowing the unvaccinated to access services in the state.
After pursing a Covid elimination strategy for much of 2021, much of Australia entered a lockdown after an outbreak of the Delta variant. Restrictions are now being lifted following a vaccination rollout, leading to a 10-week high in cases in New South Wales, with 804 new infections reported on Tuesday.
Public health professor Dr David Durrheim told ABC: “The high level of transmission at this event, it’s going to probably be one of the highest-transmission events this year in any single venue, probably anywhere in the world.”
Fears have been growing over the spread of Omicron, which has now been found in more than 60 countries since it was first detected in South Africa last month.
While case numbers in South Africa are set to surpass the peak of the third wave within days, data seems to indicate that Omicron is less lethal than previous variants, with lower levels of hospitalisation from the strain. A recent real world study of vaccines in South Africa found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine appears to give good protection against severe illness from Omicron, reducing the risk of hospitalisation from Covid by 70 per cent.
The new strain has forced countries worldwide to announce booster or additional immunisation programmes and reimpose restrictions on social distancing and travel, to curb the tide of infections.
After reporting its deadliest day since the pandemic began with 94 patients dying on Monday, South Korea has scrambled to speed up the rollout of boosters by slashing the interval time between the second and third jab from an average of four or five months to three, effective next week.
Austria, meanwhile, has lifted the national lockdown that took effect three weeks ago amid widespread protests. Theatres, museums and other cultural and entertainment venues largely reopened on Sunday, while shops followed on Monday, although all of the country’s nine regions were given the freedom to tighten or loosen restrictions as they liked.
Some regions in Austria – which became the first Western European country to mandate vaccines from February – will not be reopening hotels and restaurants till the end of the month. In all cases, there will be an 11pm curfew for restaurants, and masks will still be required on public transportation and inside stores and public spaces.
Across the pond, the US Air Force has discharged 27 of its airmen over their refusal to comply with Covid vaccination requirements imposed on the military by the Pentagon, NBC reports. None of those discharged had exemptions keeping them from being jabbed by the 2 November deadline.
Israel announced it would add the UK and Denmark to its red list of countries that people are forbidden to visit amid concerns over the spread of Omicron. The ban, which comes amid 55 reported Omicron cases in Israel, will take effect on Wednesday.
Israel has already banned the entry of foreigners to try to stem Covid-19 infection rates and has imposed three-to-seven day self-isolation orders for Israelis returning from abroad.
Health officials in Denmark expect Omicron to become the dominant variant in the country this week, and have introduced a new set of measures aimed at tackling the soaring number of cases that will take effect on Friday. They include students up to the 10th grade being asked to learn from home in the lead up to Christmas, while adults have also been urged to work from home.
Nightclubs, bars and restaurants have also been ordered to close at midnight as part of a four-week plan aimed to reduce cases. There will also be a ban on concerts with more than 50 people standing and face masks will have to be worn in eateries when not seated.
Norway has also reimposed restrictions as Omicron “becomes established” in the country” and will soon dominate”, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said in a statement. The government on Monday announced a four-week ban on serving alcohol in bars and restaurants, the closing of gyms and swimming pools to most users and mandatory work-from-home orders for those who can.
Meanwhile in Germany, six police officers were injured during a protest against more restrictions in the southwest city of Mannheim. The protest, attended by some 2,000 people, took place on Monday after being organised on the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Thousands more protested in the cities of Magdeburg and Rostock in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, both cities of former East Germany. Dozens of banned demonstrations also took place in the eastern state of Thuringia as well as in Saxony and Dresden.
It comes after the German government decided at the start of the month to block the unvaccinated from accessing all but essential services such as grocery shops and pharmacies.
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