Daily infection numbers jump in North America and Australia, while French prime minister likens spread of Omicron variant to ‘lightning’
Last modified on Sat 18 Dec 2021 07.38 GMT
Countries around the world pushed to accelerate booster vaccination programmes to contain the spread of the Omicron variant as daily Covid case numbers in Australia and New York hit records.
French prime minister Jean Castex on Friday likened the spread of the Omicron variant in Europe to “lightning”, adding it would be the dominant strain in France from the start of 2022, according to AFP.
Much remains unknown about Omicron, but authorities are concerned it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant, which has already put pressure on hospitals worldwide.
Castex said the “fifth wave is here and it is here in full force” as he announced new restrictions.
In an effort to stem the rising infections, he said France would also cut the time people become eligible for booster jabs down to four months after their second vaccination, from five months previously.
Calls for people to have booster shots intensified in other countries – including the UK, US and Australia – as Covid infections spiked.
Half of adults in the UK have now had a Covid-19 booster dose, Boris Johnson has said, after the programme was accelerated this week in the face of Omicron. A total of 26.3 million people aged 18 and over have received a vaccine top-up.
Despite the ramp up, the UK is facing rising concern that hospitalisations from Covid may pose major problems for the NHS in the winter.
The UK reported record Covid cases for a third day in a row on Friday, with 93,045 new cases, up 39% on the week. A further 900 people were hospitalised with the virus and 111 people died. The UK Health Security Agency confirmed another 3,201 Omicron cases, bringing the UK total to 14,909.
Other countries also saw Covid cases climb to record levels.
In the US, New York on Friday recorded 21,000 new Covid cases, the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available.
“This is changing so quickly. The numbers are going up exponentially by day,” Governor Kathy Hochul said on CNN.
US officials intensified calls Friday for unvaccinated Americans to get inoculated, while an appeals court moved to allow president Joe Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate for larger private employers. The decision reverses a previous ruling but Republican officials said they will appeal measure to supreme court.
Australia also battled surging Covid infections. The country reported record high new Covid cases on Saturday for a third day, with outbreaks growing in the two most populous states.
New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, recorded its highest ever daily Covid case tally on Saturday as Omicron and Christmas gatherings caused infection numbers to jump. Local health officials are considering shortening the Covid vaccine booster interval to four months, amid concern about Omicron.
Scientists are racing to discover more about the new variant, specifically how transmissible it is and whether it causes severe disease.
In a preliminary study, researchers led by Prof Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London found that vaccines are substantially less effective against Omicron than Delta and saw no evidence that Omicron is intrinsically milder than Delta.
At the same time, Pfizer, one of the chief vaccine makers, on Friday predicted the pandemic would last until 2024 and said a lower-dose version of its vaccine for children ages 2 to 4 generated a weaker-than-expected immune response, which could delay authorisation.
With Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse