Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

India has started administering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine to frontline workers and the elderly with the Omicron variant that has fueled an almost eightfold increase in daily infections since the beginning of the year.

In Europe, hospitalizations caused by COVID-19 have increased significantly as healthcare workers in Spain, Britain, Italy and beyond found themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances.

Meanwhile, the major port of Tianjin China’s first local outbreak of Omicron could face less than a month before the Winter Olympics open in nearby Beijing.

Here are the latest updates for January 6:

Omicron causes almost eightfold increase in India

The fast-spreading Omicron variant has led to an almost eightfold increase in daily infections since the beginning of the year.

India on Monday reported 179,723 new cases, most in the country’s largest cities – New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata – where Omicron Delta overtook it as the most common strain of the virus.

146 deaths have been reported, bringing the toll to 483,936 since the pandemic hit India for the first time in early 2020, the third highest in the world.

A healthcare worker collects coronavirus disease test swab in IndiaA healthcare worker collects a coronavirus test swab in New Delhi [File: Reuters]

Europe’s healthcare under Omicron pressure

Europe’s healthcare systems are again strained by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant over the holiday season.

Despite early studies showing a lower risk of serious illness or hospitalization of Omicron compared to the previously dominant Delta tribe, healthcare networks across Spain, Britain, Italy and beyond found themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances.

Britain on Friday began deploying military personnel to support hospitals experiencing staff shortages and extreme pressure due to record COVID-19 cases in the country.

“Omicron means more patients to treat and fewer staff to treat them,” Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of the National Health Service (NHS), said in a statement.

Dutch hospital staff are increasingly infected

In the Netherlands, infection rates are also rising sharply among hospital staff, especially nurses and nursing assistants, reports the Dutch daily De Telegraaf, following a survey among eight large hospitals.

In the worst cases, one in four tested positive in the run-up to Christmas. At Amsterdam’s University Medical Center, 25 percent of staff now test positive, compared to five percent a week ago.

Hospitals are considering changing their quarantine rules so that infected staff who do not have symptoms can come to work, as Dutch daily case numbers break records despite a strict closure since 19 December.

Spain unprepared for Omicron boom

Rafael Bengoa, co-founder of Bilbao’s Institute of Health and Strategy and a former senior official of the World Health Organization, says Spain has failed to take adequate measures to strengthen essential services and pressure will continue to increase for several weeks.

“Spain has a few weeks – basically the whole of January – of rising business … then hopefully we will reach a plateau that is falling just as fast,” he told the news agency Reuters.

Bengoa says it considers it unlikely that a more contagious variant that is also more deadly than Omicron will appear and is optimistic that the current wave could mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

“Pandemics do not end with a big surge, but with small waves because so many are infected or vaccinated … After Omicron, we should not worry about anything more than small waves.”

People wait in line to be vaccinated in SpainPeople queue to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Madrid [File: Sergio Perez/Reuters]

China’s Tianjin in partial lockdown

China’s major port of Tianjin may face the country’s first local outbreak of Omicron less than a month earlier the Winter Olympics open in nearby Beijing.

State broadcaster CCTV says the government has divided Tianjin and its 14 million residents into three levels of restrictions, starting with lock-up areas where people are not allowed to leave their homes at all.

The city began mass testing of all its residents on Sunday after a group of 20 children and adults tested positive for COVID-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant. Another 20 people tested positive on Sunday.

Australia to ‘push through’: PM

Australia needs to ‘push through’ a fast-growing Omicron outbreak, says Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as the country’s total COVID-19 cases exceeded one million – more than half were recorded in the past week alone.

The situation is a reversal for Australia, which has suppressed previous waves of the pandemic through restrictions and strict border controls and quarantines.

“Omicron is a gear shift and we have to push through,” Morrison told a media briefing in the capital, Canberra. “You have two choices here: you can push through or you can lock up. We are in favor of pushing through. ”

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