Coronavirus digest: Omicron variant less severe but not 'mild,' WHO says

World Thursday 06/January/2022 22:08 PM
By: DW
Coronavirus digest: Omicron variant less severe but not 'mild,' WHO says
The omicron variant of COVID-19 is leading to a new wave of infections around the globe.

As the omicron variant of the coronavirus drives up infections worldwide, cases do not initially appear as severe as with the delta variant, the World Health Organization said on Thursday. Still, the global health body warned against categorizing omicron as "mild."

"Just like previous variants; Omicron is hospitalising people and it is killing people," said a WHO tweet quoting its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world."

A record 9.5 million cases of COVID-19 were confirmed around the world over the last week, a 71% surge in the weekly count of infections, the WHO reported at the Thursday press conference.

WHO emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, said speculation that omicron might be the last variant of the pandemic was "wishful thinking," adding that "There still is a lot of energy in this virus."

Austria announced stricter mask-wearing rules to start Saturday as the omicron variant spreads across the country. Medical masks will have to be worn in crowded areas outdoors whenever people cannot stay two meters (about 6.5 feet) from each other. The new rules also require retail store owners to check shoppers' vaccination or recovery status.

France recorded 332,200 new infections in a 24-hour period on Wednesday, which is Europe's highest single-day number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. It was also the first time that French infections breached the 300,000 mark as the country continues to break daily case records during an omicron-driven surge.

The number of COVID hospitalizations has seen an uptick, with 72% of French ICU beds occupied by people with the virus, the Associated Press reported. While hospitals prepare for a potential surge in patients, authorities remain hopeful that France's high vaccination rate will prevent many people from developing severe infections.

Italy has approved mandatory COVID vaccinations for people over the age of 50 as the country struggles with a new surge of infections fueled by the omicron variant of the virus.

"We want to put the brakes on the growth of the curve of contagion and push Italians who are still not vaccinated to do so," Prime Minister Mario Draghi reportedly told his ministers at a cabinet meeting.

Germany is looking at cutting down on self-quarantine times of those who test positive for COVID-19 in order to keep critical services up and running.

Under draft proposals being considered by regional leaders, workers in critical sectors, like hospitals and public utilities, could end their isolation after five days if they test negative on a PCR test.

Isolation for the general population could also be reduced to seven days with a negative PCR test.

Currently, the government has a 14-day isolation policy.

Meanwhile, Germany reported 64,340 new COVID infections on Wednesday, taking the country's total tally to 7,361,660, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. With 443 deaths over the past 24 hours, the total toll has risen to 113,368.


In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of unvaccinated people who go outside in violation of a stay-at-home order intended to slow coronavirus infections driven by the omicron variant. Unvaccinated people in Manilla were ordered to stay home after infection numbers tripled in the last two days.

New infections surged to more than 17,000 on Thursday, rising more than threefold from Tuesday's toll, according to Health Department data. The disease has infected 2.9 million people in the country, nearly 52,000 of whom have died.

US military bases in Japan are strengthening COVID-19 measures after the Japanese government asked US authorities to impose stricter countermeasures at its military installations in Japan.

"The mitigation measures we have instituted ... are intended to protect our force's readiness, the well-being of our families, and the health of Japan’s citizens," US Forces Japan said in a release. "We recognize we all have a part to play in keeping our communities safe."

This comes after a call between Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A flight from Milan, Italy, to Amritsar, India, landed with 70% onboard testing positive for the coronavirus. Despite having to show a negative COVID-19 test before boarding the aircraft, 125 of the 160 adults on the plane tested positive upon arrival and were put into quarantine, according to Indian media reports.

After suffering a pandemic wave in the spring and summer, India had, until recently, seen low numbers of infections and deaths. The country recorded 90,928 new infections in the last 24 hours, a 57% increase from the day before. The Health Ministry said 325 new deaths were reported in the same period.

Thailand has raised its COVID-19 alert level from three to four to help curb the spread of the omicron variant. Experts say the change could set the tone for further restrictions, including closing high-risk areas and restrictions on domestic travel or public gatherings.