WHO warns of Omicron overload as France reports record nearly 180,000 Covid cases

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WHO warned on Tuesday that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus could lead to overwhelmed health systems even as early studies suggest it triggers milder disease, as countries reintroduced strict restrictions to eradicate outbreaks of Covid -19 and France has reported a new record number of cases.

The outbreaks of Covid-19 have wreaked havoc around the world, forcing many countries to make difficult choices between economically punitive restrictions and controlling the spread of the virus.

France reported a record 179,807 new confirmed cases in a 24-hour period on Tuesday, by far the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

The previous record of 104,611 was set on Saturday.

To quell the growing numbers, the country has also ordered companies to make their employees work from home at least three days a week.

The United States has cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases in half in an attempt to limit the disruption.

Contact restrictions were in place in Germany for the second year in a row in the run-up to the New Year, as Europe’s largest economy closed nightclubs and forced sports competitions behind closed doors.

Despite facing a much smaller outbreak compared to global virus hot spots, China has not relaxed its “zero Covid” strategy, imposing stay-at-home orders in many parts of the city of Yan’an.

The hundreds of thousands of residents affected there joined the 13 million residents of the city of Xi’an, who entered a sixth day of home lockdown as China battles its highest number of cases daily in 21 months.

China extends lockdowns as Covid cases rise

“I’m about to starve,” a Xi’an resident wrote on the Weibo Twitter platform.

“There’s no food, my accommodation won’t let me go out, and I’m about to run out of instant noodles … please help me!”

Many Xi’an residents have also complained on social media about the restrictions, which include banning driving and allowing only one member of a household to go out to buy groceries every three days.

The lockdown is the most drastic in China since the similar-sized city of Wuhan was cut off from the world at the start of the pandemic.

‘Widespread disturbance’ The highly transmissible variant of Omicron has propelled outbreaks in many countries, with the Netherlands and Switzerland both saying on Tuesday that it has become the dominant strain in their countries.

France, Britain, Greece and Portugal all reported a record number of daily cases on Tuesday.

The WHO has warned against complacency even though preliminary results suggest that Omicron causes milder illness.

Despite the studies, Omicron’s rapid growth “will still result in a large number of hospitalizations, especially among unvaccinated groups, and will greatly disrupt health systems and other critical services,” warned Catherine Smallwood, head of health services. WHO Europe Covid incidents.

To contain the tide, European nations have brought back the brakes with painful economic and social consequences.

Finland announced on Tuesday that it would ban entry to unvaccinated foreign travelers. Only residents, essential workers or diplomats will be exempt.

The Nordic country, like Sweden, had started requiring negative tests for inbound non-resident travelers from Tuesday, a day after Denmark – which currently has the world’s highest per capita infection rate – applied the same measure.

In Germany, private gatherings are now limited to 10 vaccinated people – or two households where unvaccinated people are present – and nightclubs have been closed. All sports competitions will now take place behind closed doors.

But a Belgian court thwarted Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s plan to introduce new restrictions by suspending an order to close entertainment venues.

Travel chaos Beyond the social conflicts, the pandemic has penalized economically, in particular for sectors such as travel.

Some 11,500 flights have been canceled worldwide since Friday, and tens of thousands more delayed, during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

Several airlines have blamed staff shortages caused by spikes in Omicron cases.

The outbreak in the United States has been fueled by the Omicron variant, along with large pockets of unvaccinated residents and a lack of access to quick and easy testing.

But US President Joe Biden gave the travel industry some breathing space on Tuesday by announcing the end of a travel ban in eight southern African countries imposed in response to Omicron’s emergence.

Biden said Monday that some US hospitals could be “overwhelmed” but the country was generally well prepared.

He pointed out that Omicron would not have the same impact as the initial Covid outbreak or the Delta variant push this year.

To avoid massive labor shortages during the outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the isolation period for asymptomatic cases from 10 days to five days on Monday.

(AXADLETM with AFP and REUTERS)

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