Evidence so far suggests that the Omicron variant generally leads to less severe illness than previous strains of the virus. But the travel cancellations show how even a milder but rapidly spreading version of Covid-19 can disrupt people’s businesses and plans.
The flight cancellations also raise questions about government policies, which may put additional pressure on authorities to relax Covid-19’s quarantine guidelines so workers who are not seriously ill can return to work sooner.
This weekend, the seven-day average of Covid-19 cases surpassed the high point of the earlier march of the Delta variant across the country.
The average of Covid-19 cases hit 184,802 on Saturday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. The number of hospital stays in the US increased during the month. The last time the seven-day average of reported cases was higher was on January 21, when the US passed the peak of winter spikes.
In Europe, France passed 100,000 new infections every day for the first time on Saturday. In Great Britain, where the Omicron variant has prevailed, the infections have also reached a new high in the last few days.
Before the holiday weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised their isolation and quarantine policies for health care workers who contract the virus so that if they test negative, they can go back to work in seven days instead of ten.
In New York state, critical workers – including those in education, health care, transportation, grocery, and plumbing – who tested positive for the virus can now conditionally return to work five days after a decision by Democrat Governor Kathy Hochul .
Airline executives have asked the CDC to ease the quarantine period for workers to deal with staff shortages. The CDC declined to comment on their request and the White House referred a request for comment to the CDC.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the senior medical advisor to President Biden, said in a television interview that data from South Africa and the United Kingdom suggest that the Omicron variant poses a lower risk of serious illness than previous strains.
Even so, Dr. Fauci that US officials are focused on making sure there are enough staff and resources to make sure “we don’t overflow hospitals”.
“The multi-part component of the president’s response is to ensure that we have adequate military, medical, nurse, and other health care support for hospitals to ensure there is enough.” [personal protective equipment] and that there will be enough ventilators in the national strategic supply when needed, “said Dr. Fauci during an appearance on ABC’s” This Week with George Stephanopoulos, “which aired on Sunday.
He said the government was particularly concerned about the impact of the variant on the tens of millions of Americans who are unvaccinated and more susceptible to the virus.
The number of hospital admissions has increased this month. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Health, the seven-day average of patients in American hospital beds with confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases – including the Omicron and Delta variants – was over 71,000.
That’s nearly 19,000 more than a month ago, but fewer than in late August and early September when federal data reported that more than 100,000 patients were hospitalized.
Airlines cleaned more than 2,000 U.S. flights over the course of the holiday weekend, including over 1,200 on Sundays, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking website.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, around 5.4 million people passed security checks at US airports on Thursday, Friday, and Christmas Day, compared with 2.6 million on the same three days of the week last year and 7.6 Million in the same period in 2019.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health, praised the Biden government’s focus on delivering vaccines and booster shots, but said it had not done enough to ensure an adequate supply of Covid-19 tests.
“The two places where I have to say the government needs to do a better job: communicate more effectively with the American people and certainly make tests much, much more widely available,” he said on Fox News Sunday.
He said he hoped the president’s promise to hand out half a billion Covid-19 test kits from January would help meet demand.
Dr. Fauci said on ABC, “There are still some problems now with people having trouble getting tested, but we’re tackling the testing problem,” and he noted that it would be fixed soon.
In Europe, France passed 100,000 new infections for the first time on Saturday, the third record in a row.
French President Emmanuel Macron will hold a meeting with his cabinet on Monday to discuss a response to the worsening outbreak, including changing the country’s health passport, which is used for access to cafes, restaurants and other public spaces require a third booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Some parts of the country have already put in place new protective measures, including Savoie in south-eastern France, which mandates the wearing of face masks.
Italy, which has also recorded record infections with the spread of the Omicron variant, has introduced a mandate for the wearing of face masks outdoors. The Netherlands also rolled out tough measures ahead of the holidays, closing non-essential retail stores and imposing a 5 p.m. curfew on the hospitality industry.
New restrictions went into effect in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Sunday, restricting the number of people who can gather in pubs and restaurants and effectively banning large New Year’s Eve events.
After another day of record infections on Saturday, England has not yet decided whether to impose new measures to slow the spread of the virus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure from lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party not to announce any further restrictions.
In the United Arab Emirates, one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world, new infections with Covid-19 have risen sharply. The number of new cases exceeded 1,800 on Sunday, down from less than 50 about three weeks ago. The seven-day average is now the highest in more than three months.
Authorities have not disclosed how widespread the Omicron variant is in the country.
The Persian Gulf country has remained relatively open since the early days of the pandemic, with Dubai business hub maintaining an open border policy and defying quarantine regulations. With its high vaccination rates and low taxes, Dubai has become a pandemic boom town, attracting the ultra-rich, entrepreneurs and tourists, even as Omicron rocked global markets.
Tennis star Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, tested positive after arriving in Spain 10 days ago from a tournament in Abu Dhabi, the capital, as did a passenger on the flight home of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett from the United Arab Emirates earlier this month. Israel then banned travel from the UAE
The Emirati government announced last month that it had given at least one syringe to the entire eligible population, with 93% receiving two doses and a third receiving an additional syringe.
A government spokeswoman said last week that 55% of hospital and intensive care beds in the UAE are free and only about 3% of patients in hospitals are being treated for Covid-19.
India will start giving booster vaccinations to health care workers from January 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday. Those over the age of 15 can be vaccinated starting January 3, while those over 60 with other illnesses will be offered booster vaccinations.
China, meanwhile, reported the largest number of new infections in 21 months as infections spread to the northwestern city of Xi’an – 155 new domestically transmitted cases were reported on Sunday, more than double the number from the previous day.
This story was published through a news agency feed with no changes to the text
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