COVID-19: Fauci warns of danger of hospitalization surge

Chief Medical Advisor to the US president Dr Anthony Fauci speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington DC on Dec 1, 2021. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

WASHINGTON / PARIS / LONDON / RIO DE JANEIRO / BERLIN / WARSAW – Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said there was still a danger of a surge in hospitalization due to a large number of coronavirus cases even as early data suggests the Omicron COVID-19 variant is less severe.

"The only difficulty is that if you have so many cases, even if the rate of hospitalization is lower with Omicron than it is with Delta, there is still the danger that you will have a surging of hospitalizations that might stress the healthcare system," Fauci said in an interview on Sunday with CNN.

The Omicron variant was estimated to be 58.6 percent of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States as of Dec 25, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Omicron variant was estimated to be 58.6 percent of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States as of Dec 25, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The sudden arrival of Omicron has brought record-setting case counts to countries around the world and dampened New Year festivities around the world.

"There will certainly be a lot more cases because this is a much more transmissible virus than Delta is," Fauci said on CNN.

However, "It looks, in fact, that it (Omicron) might be less severe, at least from data that we've gathered from South Africa, from the UK and even some from preliminary data from here in the United States," Fauci said.

Fauci added that the CDC will soon be coming out with a clarification on whether people with COVID-19 should test negative to leave isolation, after confusion last week over guidance that would let people leave after five days without symptoms.

The CDC had reduced the recommended isolation period for people with asymptomatic COVID-19 to five days, down from 10. The policy does not require testing to confirm that a person is no longer infectious before they go back to work or socialize, causing some experts to raise questions.

"You're right. There has been some concern about why we don't ask people at that five-day period to get tested. That is something that is now under consideration", Fauci told ABC News in a separate interview on Sunday. "I think we're going to be hearing more about that in the next day or so from the CDC."

US authorities registered at least 346,869 new coronavirus on Saturday, according to a Reuters tally. The US death toll from COVID-19 rose by at least 377 to 828,562.

A man receives a dose of a vaccine against COVID-19 in a tent at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Dec 31, 2021.
(DANIEL RAMALHO / AFP)

Brazil

Brazilian health agency Anvisa on Sunday warned passengers against boarding cruise ships operating along the Brazilian coast after outbreaks of COVID-19 affecting crew and customers, according to a statement on its website.

The move follows a call for the "immediate temporary interruption of the cruise ship season in Brazil" as they pose a risk to public health.

"In view of recent events, Anvisa does not recommend the embarkation of passengers who have trips scheduled on cruise ships for the next few days," the statement said.

"This recommendation takes into account the rapid change in the epidemiological scenario, the risk to the health of passengers and the unpredictability of operations at this time."

There are five cruise liners operating on the Brazilian coast being monitored by Anvisa, the agency said.

The MSC Splendida, anchored at Santos, was banned from embarking new passengers from late Saturday and the vessel was quarantined from Sunday. The Diadema was ordered to suspend service and all passengers will need to disembark when it arrives at Santos, Anvisa said.

The other three are the MSC Preziosa, Costa Fascinosa, and MSC Seaside, which face a potential boarding ban and service suspension pending further epidemiological investigation, Anvisa said.

France 

France has put the United States on its COVID-19 travel "red list", meaning unvaccinated people coming into the country will have to quarantine for 10 days.

The rules will not change for fully vaccinated people coming into France from the United States: they still have to show proof of a negative test before boarding their flight.

A medical staff wearing personal protective equipment  assists in the room of a patient infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus in the COVID-19 ICU of the University hospital (Bergmannsheil Klinikum) in Bochum, western Germany on Dec 16, 2021. (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Germany

The Omicron coronavirus variant could ease pressure on the German health system if it turns out to produce milder illness, even though infections are rising, the head of the country's association of senior hospital doctors said on Sunday.

VLK President Michael Weber said coronavirus would no longer be a threat to the health system if Omicron became as dominant in Germany as it is in South Africa, Britain or Denmark and if the infections are as predominantly mild as there.

"There is a realistic probability that the pandemic will also become endemic in this country," Weber told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

As Omicron spreads in Germany, daily infections have been rising again in recent days after falling steadily in December, and the number of beds occupied in intensive care wards has also ticked up.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also expressed optimism that Omicron seems to be less dangerous than previous variants, but he noted that it still posed a risk to older people who are not vaccinated.

The highly infectious Omicron variant has caused a surge in coronavirus cases across the globe.

On Sunday, Germany reported 12,515 new infections, with the seven-day incidence per 100,000 people rising to 222.7 from 220.3 the previous day. Another 46 people died, bringing the death toll in the pandemic to 112,155.

Lauterbach also said wearing face masks remained important.

"The viral load of those infected with Omicron is lower, which is why masks are more effective. Everyone should wear masks when meeting other people."

This file photo taken on Dec 12, 2021, shows Paris Saint-Germain's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

Lionel Messi 

Lionel Messi has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in self-isolation along with three other players, his club Paris Saint-Germain confirmed on Sunday.

The Argentinian striker will now miss PSG's French Cup clash against third-tier side Vannes on Monday, with his teammates Juan Bernat, Sergio Rico and Nathan Bitumazala having also contracted the virus.

"The four players that tested positive for COVID-19 are Lionel Messi, Juan Bernat, Sergio Rico and Nathan Bitumazala. They are currently in isolation and are subject to the appropriate health protocols," the club said in a statement.

With the fast-spreading Omicron variant hitting Europe, France has reported more than 200,000 COVID-19 daily cases for four days in a row.

Neitherlands

Dutch police used water cannon and batons on Sunday to disperse a crowd of anti-lockdown protesters gathered at a field in the center of The Hague a day before general elections.

The demonstration was broken up after the crowd violated social distancing rules and ignored a police warning to leave.

Poland

Poland may decide to introduce new restrictions if cases of new coronavirus infections continue to grow, Polish health minister Adam Niedzielski told radio station RMF FM on Monday, as the country prepares for the spread of the Omicron variant.

Poland has been dealing with persistently high daily case numbers in a fourth wave that forced authorities to tighten restrictions in December.

"If we see this week that we have a continuation of the upward trend in infections, with roughly 20,000 hospital beds taken, which is still very high, yes, we will be making further aggravating decisions," Niedzielski said.

"We will talk about schools, the closure of shopping malls, for example, but I do not want to prejudge," he added.

Niedzielski said that any decisions could be announced later this week – on Wednesday or Friday.

Poland, a country of around 38 million people, has reported more than 4.1 million cases of the coronavirus and around 97.6 thousand deaths.

In this file photo taken on Oct 23, 2017,
Brazil's former player Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima arrives for The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony in London. (GLYN KIRK / AFP)

Ronaldo

Dual World Cup winner Ronaldo has missed a celebration marking the 101st anniversary of Cruzeiro, the Brazilian club in which he acquired a controlling stake last month, after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The 45-year-old has only mild symptoms but will rest and isolate in line with health protocols, Cruzeiro said on Sunday.

"Cruzeiro announces that this Sunday morning Ronaldo Nazario tested positive for COVID-19," read a club statement. "This makes it impossible for him to go to Belo Horizonte for the commemorative festivities."

The event had been earmarked as Ronaldo's first public appearance since he completed the purchase of a majority stake in Cruzeiro for 400 million reais (around $70 million) last month.

In this file photo taken on March 17, 2021,
year 6 students take a class at Park Lane Academy in Halifax, northwest England.
(OLI SCARFF / AFP)

UK

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading among over-50s, but data do not suggest further restrictions are needed because of the high uptake of booster jabs by older people, British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Monday.

"We're seeing leakage into the over-50s in terms of infection," he told BBC radio. "They are boosted – 90 percent of the over 50s are boosted."

He said the government would assess the situation in England on Wednesday. "There's nothing in the data at the moment that would make me believe we need to go further."

Meanwhile, children in secondary schools in England will be told to wear face coverings when they return after the Christmas holiday next week to tackle a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday.

"We want to maximize the number of children in school and college for the maximum amount of time," he said in an article in the Sunday Telegraph.

"One of the additional, temporary measures that will help achieve this in light of the Omicron surge is recommending face coverings are worn in secondary school classrooms and teaching spaces for the coming weeks – although not for longer than they are needed."

England was the only one of the four UK nations where face coverings were not previously recommended in the classroom.

With daily infection numbers at record highs and people who test positive required to isolate for at least seven days, schools and other public services are facing disruption from staff shortages.

The government has asked public sector managers to prepare for a worst-case scenario of 25 percent of staff absent in the weeks ahead.

Zahawi said some remote learning would be necessary given the number of pupils and teachers who would have to self-isolate.

But he added that face-to-face teaching would continue to be the expected norm and exams would go ahead as planned this month.

ALSO READ: PSG's Messi and three others test positive for COVID-19

In this file photo taken on Oct 20, 2021, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin addresses a press conference with the Romanian Defence Minister (not pictured) at the Romanian Defence Ministry's headquarters in Bucharest, Romania. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU / AFP)

US

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday with mild symptoms, but would retain all authorities as he quarantined at home for the next five days.

Austin, who is vaccinated and has received a booster, said in a statement he last met US President Joe Biden on Dec 21, more than a week before he started experiencing symptoms.

"As my doctor made clear to me, my fully vaccinated status — and the booster I received in early October — have rendered the infection much more mild than it would otherwise have been," Austin added.

Austin said he requested a test earlier on Sunday after having symptoms while at home on vacation.

The rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections.

US authorities registered at least 346,869 new coronavirus on Saturday, according to a Reuters tally. The US death toll from COVID-19 rose by at least 377 to 828,562.

ALSO READ: France sixth country with more than 10m COVID-19 infections

"To the degree possible, I plan to attend virtually this coming week those key meetings and discussions required to inform my situational awareness and decision making. I will retain all authorities," Austin said.

He added that his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, would represent him in some matters.