Omicron detected in 89 countries and doubling every 1.5 to 3 days, says WHO

US hospitalisations’ weekly average is at 60,000 while the UK is bracing for tougher restrictions

Shweta Sharma
Sunday 19 December 2021 07:21
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<p>Registered nurse Emily Yu gestures to Paul Altamirano, 50, while treating him in a Covid-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Monday</p>

Registered nurse Emily Yu gestures to Paul Altamirano, 50, while treating him in a Covid-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Monday

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has now spread across 89 countries and cases are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission, the World Health Organisation hasaid.

The UN health agency said that the variant – with an unprecedented number of mutations – is spreading rapidly even in the countries with high vaccination rates or where a majority of people have recovered from Covid-19.

With its "substantial growth advantage,” the Omicron will likely become a dominant variant in the countries where the variant is spreading locally, it added.

However, it is still unclear if the rapid rise in Omicron cases is because of the variant’s vaccine escaping capabilities or if it is inherently more transmissible than previous variants, or a combination of both, WHO said.

The US is now bracing for the fallout of another highly transmissible mutation as hospitals across the country are overwhelmed and doctors are coping with burnout.

The infections in New York state continued to rise unabated as it saw yet another record-breaking spike on Saturday with 21,908 new cases, in an increase over the 21,027 cases reported the day before.

Ohio became the latest state to summon the National Guard to help overwhelmed medical facilities while experts in Nebraska warned that its hospitals soon may need to ration care.

Medical officials in Kansas and Missouri are delaying surgeries, turning away transfers and desperately trying to hire traveling nurses, as cases double and triple in an eerie reminder of last year’s holiday season.

"There is no medical school class that can prepare you for this level of death," said Dr Jacqueline Pflaum-Carlson, an emergency medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. "The hits just keep coming."

The national weekly average of Covid hospitalisations was 60,000 by Wednesday, which is 50 per cent higher than what it was in early November, but far off last winter’s peak.

The situation is more acute in cold-weather regions, where people are increasingly gathering inside and new infections are piling up.

"We are in a situation where we are now facing a very important delta surge and we are looking over our shoulder at an oncoming omicron surge," Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said of the two Covid-19 variants.

Meanwhile, the UK is bracing for tougher restrictions soon which could be introduced to break the chain of rapidly-spreading Omicron variant.

This comes as the latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency recorded 10,059 additional confirmed cases of the Omicron variant across the country, bringing the total tally of variant related cases to 24,968.

In England, the death toll with the Omicron variant has risen to seven while hospitalisation rose to 85.

Additional reporting by agencies

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