Omicron Image Credit: AP

New York: Almost twice as many people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past seven days as the pandemic’s previous weekly record thanks to a tsunami of omicron that has swamped every aspect of daily life in many parts of the globe.

The highly mutated and infectious variant drove cases to a record 10 million in the seven days through Sunday, almost double the previous record of 5.7 million seen during in a week in late April. The surging number of infections, at a time when many people have given up on testing or are using at-home kits with results that aren’t reported to local authorities, has led to cancelled flights, closed offices and strangled production facilities and supply chains.

Soaring infections — with a record number of cases reported from Australia and the US to Italy and France — disrupted the holiday season a year after vaccines first started rolling out and two years after the emergence of the virus that many initially hoped would be fleeting.

The silver lining is that weekly COVID deaths are still on a downward trajectory, falling to their lowest level in more than a year. The outlook for 2022 depends on whether the death toll follows cases and picks up in the weeks to come, or if early evidence suggesting the omicron wave will be less severe holds up as more real-world data emerges.

Russia reported the lowest number of cases since June, while Germany is weighing new measures in the face of rising infections. In Hong Kong, the pace of vaccinations picked up even as the city’s government denied rumours it will shut down borders or suspend dining-in at restaurants. China reported 101 new COVID cases, mostly in Xi’an, where some residents complained of a lack of access to food.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said he tested positive for COVID and plans to quarantine at home for five days, attending meetings virtually when possible.

The Danish health body expects the surge in the Omicron variant of the coronavirus to peak later this month, with fewer hospitalisation compared with earlier strains leading to an improvement by March, a senior health official told broadcaster TV2.

Patients with the Omicron variant have as much as a 50 per cent bigger chance of avoiding hospitalisation compared to patients with other variants, Tyra Grove Krause, a director of the Statens Serum Institut, was quoted as saying in an interview with the broadcaster on Monday, citing data from the UK and South Africa.

The Nordic nation, among the countries that do the most sequencing of positive tests, has seen some of the highest numbers of Omicron cases since the new variant appeared toward the end of 2021.

Germany is contemplating further measures to contain COVID-19 as the Omicron variant threatens to become the dominant strain in the country by mid-January.

When Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets with state leaders on Friday to discuss the pandemic, the country could shorten quarantine times to prevent staff shortages in critical services like hospitals and police, according to Health Minister Karl Lauterbach. “There are very many questions that need to be settled, and preparations are in full swing,” Lauterbach said late Sunday in an interview with RTL/ntv television.

Russia registered the lowest number of cases since June. There were 16,343 new infections in the past day, according to the government’s reporting centre. The number of deaths stood at 835, the lowest in since early October.

Omicron infections in the Southeast Asian nation have started to creep up, now making up around 17 per cent of local cases and suggesting a wave of this variant is coming, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook posting on Monday.

At the same time, ICU numbers are the lowest in the last quarter and active local cases over the past week are a fraction of what they were at the peak, he said. All these signal the delta variant wave has subsided, at least for now, Ong added. He reiterated that vaccination and boosters remain the key response.

Indonesia cut short the mandatory quarantine period for incoming travellers, bucking the trend in the rest of the region that’s tightening border rules to slow the spread of the Omicron strain.

Those arriving from overseas will need to quarantine for at least seven days, from 10, while those coming in from countries with high COVID-19 infections must quarantine for 10 days, from 14 previously, Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Investment Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, who’s overseeing the pandemic response, said in a briefing on Monday.

Denmark’s doctors aren’t giving patients the 50,000 Covid-19 pills that the country has bought from Merck & Co., the Berlingske newspaper reported.

The Lagevrio pills aren’t being prescribed because there isn’t enough data to show their efficiency, the newspaper quoted Anders Beich, a spokesman for an industry group of Danish doctors, as saying.

Taiwan reclassified two imported cases as local cases in a suspected cluster of infections at a quarantine hotel, according to a statement from Taiwan Centers for Disease Control. Taiwan has reported 88 Omicron cases in total.

Almost twice as many people were diagnosed with Covid-19 in the past seven days as the pandemic’s previous weekly record in late April.

The highly mutated and infectious variant drove cases to 10 million in the seven days through Sunday, up from a previous record of 5.7 million. The surging number comes at a time when many people have given up on testing or are using at-home kits with results that aren’t reported to local authorities.

Weekly Covid deaths are still on a downward trajectory, falling to their lowest level in more than a year.

Australia secured an additional 46,000 doses of sotrovimab, used for mild to moderate cases of the virus, taking the national stockpile to 81,000, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

Sotrovimab has a “79 per cent effectiveness rate in reducing serious illness, hospitalisation and loss of life,” Hunt told reporters. “It’s not for everybody. It’s based on clinical advice, but it’s one of the reasons that we are seeing significantly lower ventilation rates.”

Australia recorded its highest number of infections since the pandemic began, with more than 37,000 daily cases.

India added 33,750 new infections Monday, more than five times the cases it reported a week ago, pointing to a new virus wave building in the country.

The South Asian nation, which has confirmed almost 35 million cases in total, reported 123 more deaths Monday, taking the total tally of Covid-related fatalities to 481,893. India will start vaccinating 15-18 year-olds Monday. The country has administered about 1.46 billion doses overall.

Pakistan reported 3,520 coronavirus cases in week ended Jan. 2, the highest in two months, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

There is now clear evidence of the start of another Covid wave, which has been expected for a few weeks, particularly in Karachi, Asad Umar, the minister overseeing the nation’s Covid-19 response, wrote on Twitter.

About 3,700 domestic and international flights in the Asia-Pacific region were cancelled over the weekend, and a further 970 are expected to be dropped Monday, according to the tracking firm China Eastern Airlines, Air China and Spring Airlines had the most cancellations.

Globally, more than 9,100 flights were cancelled over the weekend.

Some local residents in Xi’an, the epicentre of China’s current outbreak, complained on social media about a lack of access to food supplies during lockdown, as well as government efforts to censor their grievances.

Two virus control officers in the city were fined and put in detention for seven days for beating a man who had gone out grocery shopping on Friday, according to local media, citing a police statement.

China reported 101 positive Covid cases for Sunday, 90 of which were in Xi’an.

The Philippine capital region’s mayors agreed to pass ordinances to forbid unvaccinated people from leaving home except for buying essential goods, and to bar them from entering malls and restaurants.

The curbs will be put in place to avoid overwhelming hospitals and to allow the economy to remain open as cases rise, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr said during a televised briefing. The capital region accounts for a third of the nation’s economic output.

Hong Kong administered over 7,000 initial injections on both Saturday and Sunday, the most since the end of November, as more citizens signed up for vaccinations following the discovery of a cluster of infections at a restaurant.

The number of people getting their first shots was surpassed by those getting boosters as access expanded to all adults on Jan. 1, with some 8,000 and 10,600 given on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Hong Kong is set to launch an expanded vaccine mandate that will require an inoculation in order to patronise restaurants, gyms and cinemas later this month. The government denied rumours it will shut down borders from midnight or suspend dining-in at restaurants starting Monday evening, according to official statement.

The producer of a new musical adaptation of “Mrs. Doubtfire” has decided to close down the show for nine weeks, saying he sees no other way to save the production, the New York Times reported.

Kevin McCollum said he would close the musical comedy on Jan. 10, with a plan to reopen on March 14. The move will cost 115 people their jobs for that period, and McCollum said he is committed to rehiring those who want to return, according to the report.

US. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said he tested positive for Covid and plans to quarantine at home for the next five days, attending meetings virtually when possible.

Austin said he last met with Biden on December 21, more than a week before he began to experience symptoms. The last time he was in the Pentagon was December 30, where he said he only met briefly with a few members of staff while everyone was masked and socially distanced.

The defence secretary is fully vaccinated and received a booster shot in early October.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged parents to “put your children in school” when the U.S.’s largest school system reopens Monday after the holiday, despite a third of Covid tests coming back positive across the city and no requirement to test before attending classes.

Adams said he thinks tests should be required but he didn’t have authority to mandate them. That rests with New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who is encouraging testing but not requiring it. Other cities, including Washington, D.C., are requiring proof of a negative test to re-enter school buildings.

Israel will start offering a fourth vaccine dose to people older than 60 as the Omicron strain has caused a surge in new cases in the country.

The fourth dose will also be made available to medical staff for whom at least four months have passed since their last jab, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a press conference on Sunday. Last week, Israel approved the extra shot for people who are immunocompromised, as well as residents of nursing homes, and patients at geriatric hospitals.

Israel expects new coronavirus cases to climb to tens of thousands per day soon, Bennett said at the opening of a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The US. Centers for Disease Control is considering adding a negative test to recommendations on a shortened isolation period for people with asymptomatic infections, Biden’s chief medical adviser said on ABC’s “This Week.”

US health officials have cut the recommended isolation time to five days from 10 after a positive test. Anthony Fauci acknowledged “pushback” to the shortened span without any further test that might indicate if a person is still infected.