Cases surge again in US as new Omicron subvariant takes hold

A sign about COVID-19 test is displayed at a testing site as people are seen inside for testing in Morton Grove, Illinois on Jan 9, 2022. (NAM Y. HUH / AP)

BERLIN / RIO DE JANEIRO / LOS ANGELES  / PARIS – COVID-19 cases are surging again in the United States, powered by a rising tide of Omicron subvariants circulating rapidly across the country.

A new form of the Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2.12.1, has become the dominant strain among new US COVID-19 cases, according to the latest estimates released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to rise in the country as the death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed one million

The new subvariant made up about 58 percent of all new U.S. cases for the week ending May 21, according to the CDC.

The data increased from 49.4 percent a week before, and 39.2 percent two weeks prior, CDC data showed.

BA.2.12.1 spreads more rapidly than previous versions of Omicron. The new version evolved from BA.2, which was more contagious than any previous coronavirus variant.

Yet there was no indication that the new subvariant causes more severe disease than earlier forms did, health experts said.

As Americans approach their Memorial Day weekend, the country is averaging more than 100,000 new confirmed cases per day for the first time since February, according to CDC data.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to rise in the country as the death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed one million.

Many regions have moved from low COVID-19 community levels into medium and high levels, according to the CDC.

The country is averaging over 3,000 new COVID-19 hospitalizations each day, up 24.2 percent from a week before, CDC data showed.

The surge came as many of the country's pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Some infectious disease experts said the virus' unpredictable nature could lead to a fickle COVID-19 summer.

Summer surges may hopefully be much less severe this year, because many more people now carry some form of vaccine- or infection-induced immunity, said Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Still, it is hard to project exactly what will happen, Barouch said.

Health experts urged the public to wear masks on public transportation and indoor public spaces, even though the country no longer has a federal mask mandate.

The CDC said people who are up to date on vaccines have much lower risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 compared with people who are unvaccinated.

CDC's COVID Data Tracker showed that in March, adults ages 18 years and older who were unvaccinated were about 5 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who were up to date.

In the same month, people ages 12 years and older and unvaccinated were 17 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who were up to date. 

Military police officers stand outside a supermarket as its manager closes the store during an operation in the Lapa neighborhood, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 6, 2021. (ANDRE COELHO / AFP)

Brazil

Brazil registered 132 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the national death toll to 666,037, the Ministry of Health said Wednesday.

A total of 9,787 new cases were reported in the period, bringing the total caseload to 30,846,602, according to the ministry.

Brazil has the world's second-highest COVID-19 death toll following the United States, and the third-largest caseload behind the United States and India.

Currently, the mortality rate of the virus in Brazil is 317 per 100,000 inhabitants, while the incidence rate is 14,679 per 100,000 inhabitants.

France

The French National Authority for Health on Wednesday published its COVID-19 vaccination strategy for this autumn targeting people at risk of developing serious illness.

In a press release, the HAS said it was considering a periodic recurrence of viral infections.

Immunocompromised patients, people over the age of 65 and those with comorbidities are especially at risk of developing severe outcomes of COVID-19, the HAS said.

The HAS will specify the type of vaccine to be administered depending on the patients' medical condition and on the availability of authorized vaccines.

The authority recommends combining the COVID-19 and flu vaccination campaign this autumn.

People line up outside a COVID-19 vaccination center at the 'Arena Treptow' in Berlin, Germany, Feb 1, 2021. (MICHAEL SOHN / AP)

Germany

Germany will relax its COVID-19 travel restrictions during the summer months, so that proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test result (cumulatively known as the 3G rule) will no longer be required upon entering the country.

Germany has therefore joined the last countries in the European Union to ease their rules for travelers from the other EU member states or Schengen-associated countries

Germany has therefore joined the last countries in the European Union to ease their rules for travelers from the other EU member states or Schengen-associated countries. Most COVID-19 restrictions in Germany were dropped in April.

"Until the end of August, we will suspend the 3G rule on entry," German Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach told Funke Mediengruppe on Wednesday.

Tougher rules continue to apply to travelers arriving from countries designated as "high-risk" or "virus variant." However, no country is currently designated as a virus variant area, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

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Following the Omicron wave that saw daily COVID-19 infections peak at close to 240,000, figures have declined continuously in the country.

On Wednesday, 49,141 new daily cases were recorded, compared to one week ago when the figure stood at 72,051, according to the RKI.

The country announced last week that it would invest 830 million euros (888 $million) in the procurement of a new COVID-19 vaccine that protects against different variants of the virus.

"We have to be prepared for all eventualities," Lauterbach said.