Coronavirus digest: EU health agency calls for 'strong action' The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Wednesday that vaccinations on their own would not be enough to halt the spread of the omicron COVID-19 variant. The agency has called for "strong action" as it raised the risk assessment for omicron to "very high."
"In the current situation, vaccination alone will not allow us to prevent the impact of the omicron variant, because there will be no time to address the vaccination gaps that still exist," ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said in a statement.
The ECDC has called for the reintroduction of mask-wearing, hand sanitizing, working from home and curbs on crowded spaces to help stop the spread of the virus.
The European health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, said in a tweet that "omicron is a real threat, and will likely become the dominant variant by the start of 2022."as omicron spreads
The United States has now surpassed 800,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Around a quarter of those deaths have been recorded since vaccines were first approved for use last spring. US President Joe Biden called it a "tragic milestone."
"We remember each person and the lives they lived, and we pray for the loved ones left behind," Biden added in a statement late on Tuesday.
"As we head into the winter and confront a new variant, we must resolve to keep fighting this virus together," he said, talking about the new omicron variant.
Health authorities in the Philippines have cautioned people to avoid large gatherings during the Christmas period. The warning comes after the country detected the first two cases of the omicron variant. Many in the country had been hoping for Christmas celebrations with fewer restrictions.
"With the detection of the imported cases of Omicron variant, the department also urges everyone to adhere to minimum public standards and properly wear face masks, frequently wash hands with soap and water or alcohol, observe physical distancing, ensure proper ventilation and avoid crowded areas," the department of health said in an advisory.
South Korea will limit social gatherings and cut restaurant business hours after it recorded another record-breaking day of coronavirus cases on Wednesday.
"The government sees the current virus situation as serious and plans to enforce stronger social distancing measures," said South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum.
The East Asian country reported 7,850 new cases in the last 24 hours on Wednesday, with 964 patients in critical or serious condition and 70 deaths.
South Africa recorded the highest daily amount of new COVID-19 infections. The amount of 26,976 makes it the highest since the pandemic began. The country recorded 54 deaths on Wednesday.
The omicron variant was first detected by South African scientists in November, who then quickly raised the alarm.
The country's President Cyril Ramaphosa has tested positive despite being fully vaccinated.
Around one third of the country's population has been vaccinated.
Australia on Wednesday lifted a nearly two-year ban on international students, skilled workers and others with eligible visas. The global pandemic has meant that international borders have been shut to all except residents and Australian nationals.
In a statement, the country’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said: "Australia is well placed to deal with COVID-19 and its emerging challenges like the Omicron variant."
The World Health Organization warned on Tuesday that the new omicron variant is spreading at an unprecedented rate across the world, urging governments to act to contain it.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said omicron had been reported in 77 countries and could "probably" spread to many countries undetected.