US single-day COVID-19 cases surpass record 1 million

In this file photo taken on July 20, 2020,
tourists wearing facemasks walk on the reopened Liberty Island in front of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. (JOHANNES EISELE / AFP)

WASHINGTON / COPENHAGEN / LONDON / NICOSIA / MAPUTO / PARIS / BRUSSELS / RIO DE JANEIRO/ ADDIS ABABA / LUSAKA / SANTIAGO / MOSCOW – The United States shattered a single-day record with over 1 million COVID-19 cases on Monday amid the rapid spread of Omicron variant and government decisions to ease prevention and control measures in the country.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has doubled in the last seven days to an average of 418,000 a day, local media reported

As of 0500 GMT Tuesday, the country registered about 1.07 million confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The United States remains the country worst hit by the pandemic, with the world's most cases and deaths. The number of new COVID-19 cases has doubled in the last seven days to an average of 418,000 a day, local media reported.

"The United States reported more than 2 million coronavirus cases in one week, breaking yet another record as the Omicron variant surges across the country," reported USA Today on Saturday.

However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has decided to shorten the recommended times that people should isolate when they have tested positive for the virus from 10 days to five days if they don't have symptoms, a move that drew criticism from some medical experts and created confusion among the public.

The rise of US COVID-19 infections to record levels in recent days has resulted in thousands of canceled flights, prompted retailers to train available employees on new jobs or close some stores altogether, companies were quoted as saying.

According to Johns Hopkins, more than 292 million COVID-19 cases and over 5.44 million related deaths have been registered worldwide.

According to Johns Hopkins, more than 292 million COVID-19 cases and over 5.44 million related deaths have been registered worldwide

Across the Atlantic, the Omicron variant has sent Britain's daily new caseload surging over Christmas and the New Year, with 157,758 infections reported in England and Scotland on Monday.

On Monday, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that January would "be tough" for French hospitals due to the spread of the Omicron variant and other diseases.

In neighboring Germany, daily COVID-19 infections increased to 18,518 cases, roughly 4,600 more than last week, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Monday.

More than 7.2 million COVID-19 infections have been officially registered in Germany, while the death toll climbed to more than 112,000, according to Johns Hopkins.

A medical staff member assists a patient infected by COVID-19 at the intensive care unit of the Centre Hospitalier Regional de la Citadelle in Liege on Dec 21, 2021. (JOHN THYS / AFP)

Belgium

Belgium has agreed to buy 10,000 courses each of the COVID-19 antiviral oral treatments developed by Pfizer and Merck & CO, a spokesman for the health ministry told Reuters in an emailed statement on Monday.

Governments around the world are scrambling to buy Paxlovid, the pill developed by Pfizer.

Molnupiravir, jointly developed by Merck with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, faces setbacks after disappointing trial data and France said in December it had cancelled its order for the drug.

Belgium's health minister said in early December that the government was in talks with Merck to buy molnupiravir, and Belgian health authorities had advised that both molnupiravir and Paxlovid should be purchased.

"Both talks are finalized and we will buy 10,000 of both," Arne Brinckman, a spokesman for the Belgian health ministry told Reuters on Monday, when asked about the possible purchase of courses of both treatments.

Pfizer's regimen is three pills in the morning and three pills at night. Merck's drug is taken as four pills in the morning and four at night.

The EU drug regulator has not authorized either, but has issued advice on how to use both as emergency treatments, as the bloc grapples with an exponential rise in cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Brazil

Brazil registered 76 COVID-19 deaths on Monday and 11,850 additional cases, according to data released by the nation's Health Ministry.

The South American country has now registered a total of 619,209 coronavirus deaths and 22,305,078 total confirmed cases.

Chile

Chile saw a rise in COVID-19 cases due to the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, after months of sustained decline, the Ministry of Health said Monday.

Infections increased by 27 percent in seven days, due to the high level of transmission of the Omicron variant, first detected in the country at the end of November, said the ministry.

In this file photo taken on March 23, 2020,
a researcher works on a vaccin against the COVID-19 at the Copenhagen's University research lab in Copenhagen, Denmark. (THIBAULT SAVARY / AFP)

Denmark

The Omicron coronavirus variant is better at circumventing vaccinated peoples' immunity than the Delta variant, according to a Danish study published last week, helping explain why Omicron is spreading more rapidly. 

Since the discovery of the heavily mutated Omicron variant in November, scientists have been racing to find out whether it causes less serious disease and why it appears more contagious than the previously dominating Delta variant.

A virus can be more transmissible due to a number of reasons, such as the time it lingers in the air, its ability to latch onto cells, or its evasion of the body's immune system.

Investigating nearly 12,000 Danish households in mid-December, the scientists found that Omicron was 2.7 to 3.7 times more infectious than the Delta variant among vaccinated Danes.

The study, conducted by researchers at University of Copenhagen, Statistics Denmark and Statens Serum Institut, suggests the virus is mainly spreading more rapidly because it is better at evading immunity obtained from vaccines.

"Our findings confirm that the rapid spread of the Omicron (variant) primarily can be ascribed to the immune evasiveness rather than an inherent increase in the basic transmissibility," the researchers said. The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

The study also found that booster-vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus, regardless of the variant, than the unvaccinated.

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

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 2,140 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 428,796 as of Monday evening, the country's health ministry said.

Meanwhile, the ministry reported 11 new related deaths and 1,490 recoveries from COVID-19, bringing the national death and recovery counts to 6,969 and 356,997, respectively.

A picture taken on Jan 1, 2022 shows the European Union flag under the Arc de Triomphe, on the Place de l'Etoile in Paris.
(ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

EU

Around one in five European Union citizens have received a third COVID-19 vaccine dose, European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides has said.

Kyriakides, a Cypriot psychologist and politician, said that the ratio now stands at 19 percent in a telephone interview with Cyprus' CyBC state radio on Monday.

Medical experts say that a third vaccine dose is necessary to boost the protection of older people and those with chronic medical problems, such as diabetes, against COVID-19.

Kyriakides also said that close coordination among EU member states is needed to cope with the new wave of the pandemic.

She warned that the situation ahead promises to be "problematic."

"I cannot say exactly how the situation will develop, but I expect the Omicron mutation, which is much more contagious, to exacerbate the problems," she said.

Kyriakides urged EU citizens to get vaccinated and to meticulously observe the personal protection measures to prevent the spread of infection.

Cyprus has a higher than the EU average rate of people who have received either two or three vaccine doses, but the rate is low (25 percent) among people under 18 years of age, according to the latest figures quoted by an official from the Health Ministry.

Also on Monday, Malta's Health Minister Chris Fearne said more than two-thirds of new COVID-19 cases being detected in his country are down to the Omicron variant.

"Two-thirds (67 percent) of new COVID-19 cases currently sequenced in Malta are now Omicron," the minister said on Twitter, adding that vaccination with booster doses "remains vitally important." 

French MPs attend a session at The National Assembly in Paris on Jan 3, 2022. The session will focus on the bill reinforcing the tools for managing the health crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

France

French government officials on Tuesday vowed to enact by mid-January as planned a law to block unvaccinated people from hospitality venues, despite the legislation hitting a procedural hitch in parliament overnight.

"January 15 remains our goal," for the law coming into force, European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told LCI television.

Until now France has enforced a COVID-19 health pass, which means in order to get into restaurants, cafes or cinemas or board trains, people need to either show a fresh negative test, or proof of vaccination.

The legislation will remove the option of showing a negative test, effectively barring unvaccinated people from hospitality venues or trains.

It has faced fierce resistance from anti-vaccination campaigners and far-right and far-left groups, but is backed by the government which has a majority in parliament.

Tense discussions in parliament on the new law were halted after midnight on Monday after a majority of deputies voted to suspend the session. Pro-government lawmakers were caught by surprise, and were not present in the chamber in sufficient numbers to block the motion.

The heads of the various parliamentary groups must now set a new date for debates to resume, said Annie Genevard, the Vice-President of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

Once voted in the lower house, the new law needs to be voted on by the Senate, before it comes into force on Jan 15.

In this file photo taken on May 18, 2021,
Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi poses before the opening session of the Summit on the Financing of African Economies in Paris. (LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL / AFP)

Mozambique

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and his wife Isaura Nyusi have tested positive for COVID-19, the presidential office announced in a statement on Monday night.

They president and first lady, both asymptomatic, got a positive result from a routine test on Monday afternoon and are currently under quarantine, according to the statement.

"Considering the current context dominated by high levels of infection caused by the Omicron variant, the head of state and his wife underwent the rapid test, the results of which were positive for SARS-CoV-2," read the statement.

 The document said that the president carried out activities including visits to different locations, as well as holding meetings with several delegations at national level and beyond, during the last days of 2021.

 "In compliance with the current sanitary guidelines, even though they are asymptomatic, President Nyusi and his wife took the immediate decision to strictly comply with the quarantine protocol, while awaiting the definitive PCR results," read the document.

Russia

Russia registered 16,343 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 10,554,309, the official monitoring and response center said Monday.

The nationwide death toll grew by 835 to 311,353, while the number of recoveries increased by 24,037 to 9,548,076.

A child receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Principe de Asturias de Alcala hospital en Madrid on Dec 15, 2021. (OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Spain

Spain's Health Ministry reported a new record in the national 14-day COVID-19 infection rate on Monday, as the figure climbed to 2,295.8 per 100,000 people from 1,775.27 registered last Thursday, before a long weekend.

The number of COVID-19 sufferers to have died in the last seven days stands at 249, the ministry said in a statement.

Sweden

Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the palace said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The King and Queen, who are fully vaccinated with three injections, have mild symptoms and are feeling well, given the circumstances," the palace said in a statement.

The palace said the King, 75, and the Queen, 78, were self-isolating and that work to trace those that they had been in contact with was underway.

Sweden set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases, registering 11,507 cases on Dec 30, health agency data showed on Tuesday, as a fourth wave of the virus swept across the country and put healthcare under renewed pressure.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on as he welcomes Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq for talks in 10 Downing Street in London on Dec 16, 2021. (FRANK AUGSTEIN / POOL / AFP)

UK

New measures are not needed now in Britain to fight the Omicron variant, which is "plainly milder" than earlier forms of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.

"The way forward for the country as a whole is to continue with the path that we are on," he told broadcasters. "Of course we will keep all measures under review, but the mixture of things that we are doing at the moment is I think the right one."

Despite a huge surge in infections, Johnson has so far mainly resisted imposing new restrictions in England, which accounts for more than 80 percent of the UK population. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which control their own rules, have imposed some new measures.

Johnson said pressure on hospitals would be "considerable" in the next couple of weeks, but Omicron was "plainly milder" than previous variants, and the country was in a stronger position than it was earlier in the pandemic.

Britain had a "very, very high level" of vaccination, he said, and it was continuing to build up its defenses with the booster program.

"The majority of people who are in ICU have not been vaccinated and the vast majority – about 90 percent – have not been boosted," he said during a visit to a vaccination center in Buckinghamshire, south east England.

Johnson imposed limited measures in England, known as "Plan B", last month, including the wearing of face coverings on public transport and in shops, but stopped short of ordering restrictions on gatherings or closing businesses.

The government said on Sunday that older school children in England would be required to wear face coverings when they return after the Christmas break.

WHO

More evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant is affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants and resulting in a "decoupling" in some places between soaring case numbers and low death rates, a World Health Organization official said on Tuesday.

"We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike other ones, the lungs who would be causing severe pneumonia," WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud told Geneva-based journalists.

"It can be a good news, but we really require more studies to prove that."

Since the heavily mutated variant was first detected in November, WHO data shows it has spread quickly and emerged in at least 128 countries, presenting dilemmas for many nations and people seeking to reboot their economies and lives after nearly two years of COVID-related disruptions.

However, while case numbers have surged to all-time records, the hospitalization and death rates are often lower than at other phases in the pandemic.

"What we are seeing now is….the decoupling between the cases and the deaths," he said.

His remarks on the reduced risks of severe disease chime with other data, including a study from South Africa, which was one of the first countries where Omicron was detected.

However, Mahamud also sounded a note of caution, calling South Africa an "outlier" since it has a young population, among other factors.

Zambia

Zambia has rescheduled the reopening of schools due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, its education ministry said on Monday.

Schools were scheduled for reopening on Jan 10, but this has since been moved to Jan 24.