Omicron variant doubles in UK; South Africa registers 18,035 new cases

Omicron variant doubles in UK; South Africa registers 18,035 new cases
A Covid-19 rapid PCR test site sign at Cape Town International Airport in South Africa on Friday, 3 December 2021. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africa registered 18,035 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,167,497. At least 19,840 retrospective cases were registered due to late reporting by labs. A further 21 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,137. A total of 27,090,975 vaccines have been administered.

The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in the UK, with infections doubling in the last day and now making up a third of new cases in London. The UK aims to accelerate its vaccine booster programme, as hospitals admit patients with the new strain.  

Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Omicron appears able to evade vaccines and some Covid-19 treatments but that a booster shot can increase protection. 

Austria ended a nationwide lockdown for most people, while keeping restrictions for the unvaccinated. Russia’s total infections topped 10 million, even as cases dropped to their lowest level in almost two months. 

Key developments 

 Boris Johnson warns of ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron infections

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the UK is facing a “tidal wave” of Omicron infections and set an end-of-year deadline for the country’s booster vaccination programme.

“Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year,” Johnson told the nation in a hastily-arranged address on Sunday night.

Too early to call Omicron mild, says SA scientist 

Omicron can’t be assumed to be less severe than other variants, said Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa. 

“It’s a little bit early to say it’s mild,” De Oliveira said on CBS’s Face the Nation. He said it “normally takes a few weeks between infection and the need for hospitalisation” and that admissions are rising. He also said a “large number” of young children are being hospitalised. 

Fauci says boosters are the best protection for Omicron 

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said that the Omicron variant appears able to evade vaccines and some Covid-19 treatments, but that a booster shot can increase protection. 

“It appears to be able to evade some of the immune protection of things like monoclonal antibodies, convalescent plasma and the antibodies that are induced by vaccines,” Anthony Fauci said on ABC’s This Week. “That’s the sobering news.”

“The somewhat encouraging news is that preliminary data show that when you get a booster, for example, a third shot of an mRNA, it raises the level of protection high enough that it then does do well against” Omicron.

He also said that, so far, illness caused by Omicron appears to be less severe, though he called that “preliminary data”. The variant is spreading rapidly in South Africa and the UK, but there have been few reports of serious illness or hospitalisation. The variant has caused no deaths in the EU area, European health officials said on Saturday.  

UK moves to daily tests for vaccinated Covid contacts 

The UK government said that double-vaccinated people who come into contact with a Covid-19 case from Tuesday should take a daily rapid lateral flow test for seven days to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant. 

The government said on Sunday the move follows a significant rise in Omicron cases, which it expects to become the dominant strain by mid-December. This replaces the requirement for Omicron contacts to isolate for 10 days, though unvaccinated people will still have to isolate if they are in contact with any Covid-19 case.

The UK confirmed 1,239 new Omicron cases on Sunday, almost double the 633 cases reported the day before. 

South African hospital numbers edge higher 

South African hospitals have 5,563 Covid-19 patients, including 7.3% in intensive care units, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a report on Sunday. The numbers compare with 5,434 who were in the hospital a day earlier.

While admissions have risen in the past month, it’s still a fraction of the total at the height of earlier infection waves. The country’s three biggest private hospital groups have said that so far cases appear to be milder than in previous infection waves.

One in three London cases are now Omicron 

UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said one-third of new Covid infections in London are now the Omicron variant, and cases of the strain in the UK are doubling every two to three days. “Very quickly Omicron will be the dominant variant,” Zahawi, the UK’s vaccine minister until mid-September, told Sky News. 

‘No red lines’ to fight against Covid, says Scholz 

Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said his government is ready to take all necessary measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 if the situation doesn’t improve quickly. 

“There must be no red lines, this pandemic has really shown us that. We must always be prepared to rethink if circumstances demand it. And then act quickly and decisively,” he told the Sunday edition of the Bild newspaper.

New cases dropped under 400 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past seven days for the first time since November 23. The country recorded 32,646 new cases and 132 deaths in the last 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute. This compares with 42,055 new cases and 94 deaths a week ago. 

Johnson faces damaging Christmas report 

Boris Johnson, engulfed by a string of crises that have angered Tory lawmakers, could face more ire over a report he personally breached Covid lockdown rules a year ago. 

The Mirror reported Saturday night that the UK prime minister hosted a Christmas quiz from his Downing Street residence on December 15, when London was under a “no mixing” order. 

Polarised Austria ends lockdown 

Austria ended a nationwide lockdown for most people, while keeping restrictions for the unvaccinated as it pressed ahead with the boldest incentive in Europe to boost inoculations.

Starting on Sunday, vaccine rejectors can only leave their homes to go to work, where they’ll need to provide a negative coronavirus test every two days, and for essential shopping and daily exercise. Entry to other venues will be barred. 

Life will slowly return to normal for people who’ve had a vaccine or have recently recovered from the virus, with regions implementing a patchwork of easing schedules. Concerts are set to restart, museums and restaurants will throw open their doors again and Christmas markets will return to life. 

Police estimate about 44,000 people turned out in Vienna for the third large protest in the past month against mandatory vaccinations, organised by the far-right Freedom Party and its leader, Herbert Kickl. Several arrests were reported. 

Korea sees record number of critical cases 

South Korea reported a record number of critical patients on Sunday – 894 – as officials struggle with nearly 80% of intensive care hospital beds occupied. The Asian nation added 43 deaths, following a record 80 on the previous day, raising concerns in a country where more than 90% of adults are fully vaccinated. 

Daily cases stood at 6,689, falling slightly from the previous day but still the highest level for a weekend, when fewer testings occur. Cases of the Omicron variant rose by 15, to a total of 90. Officials have urged people over 60 to get a booster, as about 92% of deaths have come from that group.

Omicron found in Japan quarantine case 

In Japan’s Gifu prefecture, a man travelling from Sri Lanka has tested positive for the Omicron variant, Japan’s Health Ministry announced. Though several Omicron infections have been detected via screenings at airports, the new case is Japan’s first to be confirmed in a person quarantining at home, according to the Asahi newspaper. 

The case highlights the difficulty even a country implementing some of the most stringent border controls faces trying to contain the newly discovered variant. Last month, Japan moved to close its borders to new foreign arrivals and have its own citizens isolate on arrival from countries where the Omicron variant has been found. 

The foreign national tested negative in initial screenings but came down with symptoms after returning to his home in Gifu last week, according to the Health Ministry. DM 

With assistance from River Davis, Heejin Kim, Alex Sazonov, Mariajose Vera, Jeff Sutherland and Antony Sguazzin.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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