WORLD: The total number of recorded COVID-19 cases worldwide surpassed 300 million yesterday (January 7), the rapid spread of the Omicron variant setting new infection records in dozens of countries during the week last.
A woman waits for her turn to take a COVID-19 swab test at the urban bus station in downtown Brasilia, Brazil, yesterday (January 7). Photo: AFP
In the past seven days, 34 countries have recorded their highest number of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic, including 18 countries in Europe and seven in Africa, according to a AFP count on the basis of official figures.
Although much more contagious than previous variants of the coronavirus, Omicron appears to cause less severe disease than its predecessors.
Even though this prompted the world to register 13.5 million cases in the last week alone – 64% more than the previous seven days – the global average of deaths has fallen 3%.
The French public health authority yesterday said the risk of hospitalization was about 70% lower for Omicron, citing data from the US, UK, Canada and Israel.
However, with a global average of 2 million new cases detected every day, experts warn that the sheer number threatens to overwhelm health systems.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Omicron should not be classified as gentle because it “hospitalizes people and it kills people”.
“In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and rapid that it is overwhelming health systems around the world.”
‘Here to stay ‘
Omicron’s dizzying spread since its detection six weeks ago has prompted many countries to push harder for more vaccinations and some to impose restrictions.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said yesterday that access to bars and restaurants across the country will be limited to those who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from the virus and can also provide a negative test result.
However, people who have received a recall will be exempt from the testing requirement.
In neighboring Austria, Chancellor Karl Nehammer has tested positive for COVID.
âNo need to worry, I’m fine,â he said. âI continue to plead: get vaccinated. “
In the United States, challenges against vaccination warrants imposed by President Joseph Biden’s administration were heard by the Supreme Court yesterday.
The warrants, requiring COVID hits at businesses that employ 100 people, have been attacked by some Republican lawmakers and business owners as a violation of individual rights and an abuse of government power.
But Supreme Court Judge Elena Kagan asked, “Why is it not necessary to reduce serious risk?”
“This is by far the greatest danger to public health that this country has faced in the last century,” she added.
As cases skyrocket in the United States – which also broke its daily workload record this week – Biden said COVID “as we are treating it now is not here to stay.”
“But having COVID in the environment – here and around the world – is probably here to stay.”
In France, President Emmanuel Macron has backed controversial comments in which he pledged to “piss off” unvaccinated people until they get stung.
“People can get upset about a way of speaking that sounds familiar, but I fully support it,” he said, adding: “I am upset with the situation we find ourselves in.”
World number one in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic, has been at the center of his own controversy after being significantly denied entry to play in Australia due to his vaccination status.
From inside a Melbourne immigration detention center awaiting an appeal, Djokovic posted on Instagram his thanks to “people around the world for their continued support.”
In India, the rise in the number of cases led by Omicron has raised fears of a return to the country’s darkest pandemic days last year, when thousands of people died from COVID every day.
Gautam Menon, professor at Indian University of Ashoka who has worked on modeling the COVID infection, said AFP that “it could potentially stress health systems to levels comparable or worse than the second wave”.
However, the Calcutta High Court has rejected an offer to cancel a major Hindu festival, despite fears the virus could spread quickly among the expected 500,000 attendees.
âPeople from all states of the country will attend the religious holiday and take a holy bath,â said environmentalist Subhash Dutta. AFP.
“They can carry variant viruses and this religious holiday could end up being the biggest superpropagator in the next few days.”