WHO says Omicron risk ‘very high’; Europe faces COVID surge

The risk posed by the Omicron variant is still “very high”, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, after COVID-19 case numbers shot up by 11 percent globally last week.

Omicron is behind the rapid virus spikes in many countries, including those where it has already overtaken the previously-dominant Delta variant, the WHO said in its COVID-19 weekly epidemiological update.

“Consistent evidence shows that the Omicron variant has a growth advantage over the Delta variant with a doubling time of two to three days and rapid increase in the incidence of cases is seen in a number of countries,” the WHO said, including Britain and the United States, where it has become the dominant variant.

The news comes as several European countries, including France, UK, Italy, Greece, and Portugal all hit record daily infections. France reported almost 180,000 cases in a 24-hour period on Tuesday.

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Australia’s Omicron outbreak strains testing clinics as cases hit records

Australia’s COVID-19 infections surged to a new record on Wednesday, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, and overwhelmed testing facilities in the country’s most populous state.

The crush at testing facilities in New South Wales, home to Australia’s largest city, Sydney, has been partly blamed on neighbouring state Queensland requiring interstate tourists to return a negative PCR test result before arriving.

Queensland’s so-called “tourism tests” came under severe criticism from New South Wales after holiday travellers crowded its testing hubs, causing delays in results of several days.

Australia is in the grip of an Omicron-led COVID-19 outbreak but authorities have so far ruled out lockdowns.

California first state to top 5 million cases amid Omicron surge

California became the first US state to record more than 5 million known coronavirus infections, according to the state’s data on Tuesday, which was delayed by the holiday weekend.

California’s caseload is also ahead of other large states. Texas had more than 4.4 million and Florida topped 3.9 million as of Sunday.

California has recorded more than 75,500 deaths related to COVID-19.

Long lines overwhelm testing sites in the US

Long lines are overwhelming coronavirus testing sites across the US amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, with available appointments at pharmacies becoming difficult to find.

“It’s crazy because online they have no available dates at CVS, Rite-Aid (pharmacies) — I can’t even go to my neighborhood drugstore,” Midgalia Dancel, who had been looking to get tested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, told local TV station WPVI.

Dancel stopped by a city-run mobile site in the Rhawnhurst neighbourhood of Philadelphia on Tuesday, but she was unable to get a test.

US President Joe Biden has promised to boost testing capacity in the US to combat the Omicron-driven wave of infections, including the distribution of 500 million at-home tests starting next month.

Quebec to allow some COVID-positive essential workers to continue working

The Canadian province of Quebec will allow some essential workers to continue working even after testing positive for COVID-19, in what Health Minister Christian Dube said was an effort to prevent staff shortages from impeding healthcare services.

“Omicron’s contagion is so exponential that a huge number of personnel have to be withdrawn — and that poses a risk to the network capacity to treat Quebecers,” Dube told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.

“We made the decision that under a certain condition, positive staff will be able to continue working according to a list of priority and risk management.”

Quebec, which has been setting daily records since the Omicron variant started a new wave of rapidly rising infections, recorded 12,833 new cases on Monday — the highest one-day count of any region in Canada during the pandemic.

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