The Omicron strain of the coronavirus is spreading quickly around the world. After the US surpassed one million new cases per day earlier this week, now the EU, as well, is passing that unfortunate milestone.
Following the New Year’s weekend, the US on Monday reported 1,082,549 new cases of coronavirus infections inside its borders, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Although the number of cases reported on Mondays is typically higher than those on other days, due to delays in how tallying is processed over the weekend, this still marked a very worrying record. The figure was double that of the previous Monday.
Judging from previous data (leading up to the week ending on December 25th, 2021), the Omicron variant accounts for roughly 60% of these cases.
The European Union, as a whole, also reported passing this milestone yesterday, Wednesday 5th. Countries such as Britain and France have announced record numbers of daily new cases; Britain reached 200,000 on Tuesday, while France reported in excess of 270,000. Both of these figures are higher than any previously-seen number of new daily cases.
According to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Cyprus now has the highest infection rate per capita, after reaching a record new 5,457 cases on Tuesday.
As in the US, the more infectious Omicron variant is behind a large portion of the new cases in the EU. Although this strain seems to produce less severe symptoms and generally results in fewer hospitalizations than previous variants, governments are still ill at ease over the growing number of cases. Hospitals and health services are still under immense pressure, and can easily become overwhelmed if a large number of patients seek help at the same time; the high number of infected individuals definitely raises the possibility that this can happen.
But the rampant spread of the virus also raises a chilling possibility: that of mutations taking place. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of this possibility on Tuesday, in response to the numbers reported by the US and of the deteriorating situation in Europe.
“The more Omicron spreads, the more it transmits and the more it replicates, the more likely it is to throw out a new variant,” said WHO senior emergencies officer Catherine Smallwood in an interview for the AFP. “Now, Omicron is lethal, it can cause death […] maybe a little bit less than Delta, but who’s to say what the next variant might throw out? Even in well-capacitated, sophisticated health systems there are real struggles that are happening at the moment.”
On Tuesday, the British government announced that hospitals have switched to “war footing” due to staff shortages. Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to take measures to address staff shortages in the most heavily affected areas, ranging from drafting medical volunteers to calling for army support.
Australia is also facing a record-high number of new cases, reaching almost 65,000 daily as of Wednesday.