The United States, Britain, France, Australia and other countries break records of coronavirus cases reported daily as the highly transmissible omicron has shattered hopes of a return to a certain version of normalcy in some parts of the world.
The “overall risk associated with the new variant … remains very high,” said the World Health Organization in its weekly epidemiological report Tuesday, citing “consistent evidence” that omicron has a growth advantage over the delta variant, which remains dominant in parts of the world.
It came as the United States hit a record 7-day average of 262,034 cases on Tuesday, eclipsing a record 252,776 cases set on January 11, according to an NBC News data analysis. (The data can be skewed by days with abnormal data entries, which are common around the holiday period.)
A total of 1.8 million cases were reported in the United States last week, which is an increase of 69.3% from the previous week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omicron accounted for 58.6% of all Covid cases in the United States during the week ending Dec. 25, while the delta variant accounted for 41.1% of cases.
The omicron variant appeared to represent a lower share of cases than expected, with the CDC also having revise downward its estimates for the week ending December 18 from 73 percent of cases being the omicron variant to 23 percent.
Meanwhile, the WHO said on Tuesday that the number of recorded Covid cases worldwide rose 11% last week from the previous week, with the largest increase occurring in the Americas.
The United Nations health body said there were nearly 4.99 million new cases reported worldwide between December 20 and 26.
However, he said early data from Britain, South Africa and Denmark suggested there was “a reduced risk of hospitalization for omicron compared to the delta variant”, although that he stressed that more data was needed.
The UK also reported record numbers on Tuesday, registering 129,471 new cases, the highest number of daily cases to date. The data was not complete, however, as it did not include figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland due to differences in reporting practices during the holiday period.
Despite the increase in cases, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will not introduce new coronavirus restrictions in England until the New Year.
Meanwhile, in Europe, France, Portugal and Greece all reported record numbers.
In France, 179,807 daily new cases were confirmed on Tuesday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
Portugal reported a record 17,172 cases Tuesday. Government data showed that the omicron variant already accounted for 61.5% of all new cases in the country, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. About 87 percent of the population is fully bitten.
Greece also recorded its highest number of daily cases, with 21,657 new ones identified on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for a “change of gears” as nearly 18,300 new daily infections were recorded on Tuesday, far surpassing the previous country’s previous record of around 11,300.
Morrison called an instant national cabinet meeting on Thursday to see what changes could be made to reduce pressure on testing labs and get people out of isolation faster.
“We just can’t get everyone off the road because they happen to be in a particular place at a particular time,” he said. in a press briefing Wednesday.
As part of its plan, clinically urgent cases would be prioritized to reduce wait times for tests and lab results, with PCR testing only required for people with symptoms.
It comes as a number of countries, including the US and UK, have shortened isolation periods for people who test positive with Covid.
The CDC updated its isolation guidelines on Monday to allow those who have tested positive for Covid-19, but have no symptoms, to self-isolate for five days, down from the previous recommendation of 10 days.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the government has reduced isolation times for people with Covid, allowing those who have tested positive to come out of self-isolation after seven days, instead of 10, if they have received two negative lateral flow test results.