Omicron drives surge in global Covid cases as health authorities weigh new restrictions

The Omicron variant is driving a new wave of coronavirus infections around the world, but health authorities in several nations remain optimistic it is not translating into higher hospitalisation rates.

Despite record cases numbers in France, from Monday fully vaccinated people will only have to isolate for seven days and can leave quarantine after five days with a negative test, French Health minister Olivier Veran told Le Journal du Dimanche.

Unvaccinated people will have to quarantine for 10 days, however, this can be cut to a week with a negative result. Fully vaccinated contacts will no longer need to quarantine provided they test themselves every second day for six days, while unvaccinated contacts have to isolate for seven days.

The change is designed to allow a “benefit-risk balance aimed at ensuring the virus is controlled while maintaining socio-economic life,” the health ministry said.

It comes after authorities announced children six and over will have to wear masks inside public places after cases surged past 200,000 for the fourth day in a row. This was previously set at age 11 and aims to avoid having to shut schools after the Christmas break. On Saturday, France recorded more than 219,000 infections, following the record-breaking 232,200 on the last day of 2021.

France has also suspended non-essential travel to halt the spread of Omicron (PHOTO: Joshua Bratt/PA)

In Germany, health minister Karl Lauterbach delivered an upbeat New Year message, saying people “can have their lives back” following the pandemic.

While Omicron is challenging, Lauterbach said: “It looks as though this variant could be somewhat less dangerous than the delta variant”. He said “at no point in time” would there be a risk the health system is overwhelmed.

“I do believe that we can live with the coronavirus. That we can get our normal life back completely. That’s what we’re fighting for,” he added.

His comments were backed by Germany’s association of senior hospital doctors who said Covid would no longer be a threat to the health system if it became as dominant as it is in South Africa, Britain or Denmark.

“There is a realistic probability that the pandemic will also become endemic in this country,” VLK President Michael Weber told the Welt am Sonntag, a German newspaper.

Italy recorded 141,262 covid cases in the last 24 hours, with the positivity rate rising to 13 per cent of all tests. In the last 7 days there have been 983 deaths, a decrease of -0.3 per cent compared to the previous week, Rai reported.

The Italian broadcaster said cases are surging among those under 19s who are still in the vaccinations phase.

In Portugal, a cruise ship carrying over 4,000 people has been held off Lisbon after a Covid outbreak among the crew. Portugese media said 52 members of the crew of over 1,000 workers tested positive but none of the 3000 passengers on board had yet. The ship is waiting for the arrival of new crew members to continue its journey to Spain’s Canary Islands, dpa said.

Saudia Arabia’s daily cases have climbed above 1,000 for the first time since August and crossed 2,500 per day in the United Arab Emirates.

It comes as the UAE said on Saturday it would ban citizens that had not had two jabs and a booster from travelling abroad from January 10.

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India has reported more than 27,000 Covid-19 cases on Sunday, rising sharply for the fifth day in a row. Although the number of active cases in Delhi has tripled in just the last three days, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that hospitalisations had not gone up.

“This means that most people who are coming down with (COVID-19) are not requiring hospital care. They are mild cases,” Kejriwal said in an online briefing.

“Cases are going up but there is no reason to worry. There is no need to panic,” he said.

Delhi was among hardest-hit cities during the second wave of the pandemic in India last year, with hospitals running out of beds and life-saving oxygen, leaving patients gasping for breath.

India has recorded a total of 34.88 million COVID-19 infections, with 27,553 new cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Sunday. The country’s total death toll stands at 481,770.

Israel’s recent surge in Omicron infections could see the country reach herd immunity, the top health official said on Sunday. Israel had managed to hold off Omicron until late December but infections are now gathering pace. Health Ministry director general Nachman Ash said it could lead to herd immunity.

“The cost will be a great many infections,” Ash told 103FM Radio. “The numbers will have to be very high in order to reach herd immunity. This is possible but we don’t want to reach it by means of infections, we want it to happen as a result of many people vaccinating,” he said.

Herd immunity is the point at which a population is protected from a virus, either through vaccination or by people having developed antibodies by contracting the disease.

Around 60 per cent of Israel’s 9.4 million population are fully vaccinated – almost all with Pfizer /BioNTech’S vaccine – according to the health ministry, which means they have either received three doses or have had their second dose recently. But hundreds of thousands of those eligible for a third inoculation have so far not taken it.

With agencies

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