Health officials across Europe and the rest of the world are grappling with the incredibly rapid growth of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus on Tuesday, mulling new curbs on movement just days before Christmas.
The mutation has caused travel plans to be upended and even made waves in financial markets as the ramifications of shutdowns cast a long shadow over the holiday period.
According to a statement made by the US’ top epidemiological expert Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday, the number of cases are “doubling every two to three days;” he then called its virulence “extraordinary.”
Omicron is gaining a foothold continually all across the world, including Europe, the US and Asia. Reuters reports that in Japan, one single cluster at a military base has now resulted in a total of 180 cases.
The mutation is increasing with incredible rapidity in some areas, including Houston, Texas, where it now constitutes 82% of coronavirus infections; omicron now represents 73% of all new cases in the the US.
This is an enormous spike, from the less than 1% that it represented at the beginning of December. The US reported its first death from the Omicron variant, that of an unvaccinated man in Texas, on Monday.
The Netherlands, Germany and Ireland have now reimposed the partial or full lockdowns of the past year, with extensive social distancing measures, in the last week. Omicron is now the predominant variant in Denmark, according to Health Minister Magnus Heunicke.
On Tuesday, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases recommended “maximum contact restrictions” be imposed at once in order to stem the tide of Omicron.
The German medical authority also recommended that travel be restricted to only necessary movement; in addition, an acceleration of the country’s vaccination campaign must be undertaken, along with ensuring that enough free coronavirus tests were available.
Germany’s federal and state leaders will meet later on today to decide which other new measures will be instituted; these may include additional restrictions — even for those who are vaccinated and who have recovered from the coronavirus.
German officials urge testing before gathering for Christmas
Reuters reports that a nationwide lockdown in Germany seems to be off the table, but Janosch Dahmen, a health expert for the Greens, told the German broadcaster ARD that leaders must meet again over the holidays to see if further measures are needed.
Dahmen also urged the public to be tested before they gather together for Christmas and to meet up with only the closest relatives during this time.
The nations of Great Britain and Portugal are now considering further measures as well; British PM Boris Johnson said on Monday that he was not ready to institute a full lockdown for the holidays but admitted that he is considering all types of measures to help keep Omicron under control.
Great Britain “reserves the possibility of further action” during holidays
British PM Boris Johnson addressed the public via a videotaped message late on Tuesday, acknowledging that there is “no doubt Omicron continues to surge with a speed that is unlike any we’ve ever seen before” and the situation remains extremely difficult.
He stated that he understood the public has been anxiously awaiting to hear whether or not their Christmas plans will be affected. “Naturally, we cannot rule out any further measures after Christmas,” he explained; however, he noted that “as of today there is no evidence calling for stricter measures” to be taken against the virus for Christmastime.
Johnson stated that he and his team will continue to closely monitor developments, and “if the situation deteriorates they will be ready to take action” immediately. As things are right now, he noted, “people can go head with their Christmas plans; but the situation remains finely balanced, and I would urge everyone to exercise caution, to keep protecting themselves and your loved ones, especially the vulnerable.”
When asked earlier on Tuesday about the likelihood of introducing further measures before Christmas, Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay told BBC radio “We reserve the possibility of further action but it’s a question of looking at that data and weighing that against the other consequences of further restrictions.”
Novavax vaccine approved for use in the EU
Although the variant has proven to make its way past the usual two-dose series of vaccine shots, a third booster dose most often provides a high level of protection, and countries across the world are pushing the third shot for all those who are eligible for the vaccines.
European Medicines Agency executive director Emer Cook stated that as of now, with what is known about the mutation “There is no answer whether we will need to adapt vaccines.”
However, a new vaccine is now on the market in the EU will the authorization on Tuesday of the new inoculation called Novavax, from the US company of the same name. Based out of Gaithersburg, Maryland, the product proved to be 90% effective in its trials.
The latest study undertaken by the Novavax firm, headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, trialed the candidate in the United States as well as Mexico. Earlier studies had been undertaken in Great Britain and in South Africa.
The two-inoculation vaccine proved to be approximately 90% effective overall, and according to the company, the preliminary data so far shows that the shot is safe. The effectiveness figures coming out of the study are parallel to those demonstrated by both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in their studies.
Novavax is still before the USFDA as part of the authorization in the United States.
The Biden administration said that it would open federal coronavirus testing sites in New York this week and purchase 500 million rapid tests that Americans can order online for free and perform in the privacy of their homes.
“If you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk of getting sick,” a senior administration official said on Monday, adding “This variant is highly transmissible and the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 14 times more likely to die from COVID.”
The Omicron mutation of the virus, which was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong, has been reported in at least 89 countries up until now.
The severity of illness it causes as a whole remains unclear, but the World Health Organization maintains that not only is it spreading exponentially faster than the Delta variant, it is also causing infections in those who are already vaccinated and who have recovered from the coronavirus.
As of December 21, over 274 million people across the globe have had the coronavirus since the pandemic began nearly two years ago; more than 5.65 million people have died with the virus.
For an interactive interactive graphic showing the most up to date information on the spread of the coronavirus around the world, please click here.