The total number of recorded Covid-19 cases worldwide surpassed 300 million on Friday, with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant setting new infection records in dozens of countries over the past week.
In the past seven days, 34 countries have recorded their highest number of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic, including 18 countries in Europe and seven in Africa, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Although much more contagious than previous variants of the coronavirus, Omicron appears to cause less severe disease than its predecessors.
Even though this prompted the world to register 13.5 million cases in the last week alone – 64% more than the previous seven days – the global average of deaths has fallen 3%.
The French public health authority said on Friday that the risk of hospitalization was about 70% lower for Omicron, citing data from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Israel.
However, with a global average of two million new cases detected every day, experts warn that the sheer number threatens to overwhelm health systems.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Omicron should not be classified as gentle because it “hospitalizes people and it kills people”.
“In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and rapid that it is overwhelming health systems around the world.”
HERE TO STAY
Omicron’s dizzying spread since its detection six weeks ago has prompted many countries to push harder for more vaccinations and some to impose restrictions.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Friday that access to bars and restaurants across the country will be limited to those who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from the virus and can also provide a negative test result.
However, people who have received a recall will be exempt from the testing requirement.
In neighboring Austria, Chancellor Karl Nehammer has tested positive for Covid.
“No need to worry, I’m fine,” he said. “I continue to plead: get vaccinated.”
In the United States, challenges to the vaccine mandates imposed by President Joseph Biden’s administration were heard by the Supreme Court on Friday.
The warrants, requiring Covid strikes at businesses that employ 100 people, have been attacked by some Republican lawmakers and business owners as a violation of individual rights and an abuse of government power.
But Supreme Court Judge Elena Kagan asked, “Why is it not necessary to reduce serious risk?”
“This is by far the greatest danger to public health that this country has faced in the last century,” she added.
As cases skyrocket in the United States – which also broke its daily caseload record this week – Biden said Covid “as we are treating it now is not here to stay.”
“But having Covid in the environment – here and in the world – is probably here to stay.”
In France, President Emmanuel Macron has backed controversial comments in which he pledged to “piss off” unvaccinated people until they get stung.
“People may be upset by a way of speaking that sounds familiar, but I fully support it,” he said, adding: “I am upset by the situation we find ourselves in.”
World number one in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic, has been at the center of his own controversy after being significantly denied entry to play in Australia due to his vaccination status.
From inside an immigrant detention center in Melbourne awaiting an appeal, Djokovic posted on Instagram his thanks to “people around the world for their continued support.”
In India, the growing number of cases led by Omicron has raised fears of a return to the country’s darkest pandemic days last year.
Gautam Menon, a professor at the Indian University of Ashoka who has worked on modeling the Covid infection, told AFP that “It could potentially stress health systems to levels comparable or worse than the second wave”.
However, the Calcutta High Court has rejected an offer to cancel a major festival, despite fears the virus could spread quickly.