Omicron accounts for 58.6% of US sequenced infections; South Africa registers 7,216 new cases

Omicron accounts for 58.6% of US sequenced infections; South Africa registers 7,216 new cases
A health worker looks for a dose of Sinopharm vaccine during the Burn Samaritano (Good Samaritan) campaign amid the coronavirus pandemic on 28 December 2021 in La Paz, Bolivia. (Photo: Gaston Brito / Getty Images)

South Africa registered 7,216 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,424,534. A further 25 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,854. A total of 27,860,235 vaccines have been administered.

The Omicron variant is causing an increasing share of coronavirus infections in the U.S., though its climb to dominance has been shallower than earlier estimates indicated.

An adviser to the U.K. government at the University of Oxford gave an upbeat assessment on the decreasing severity of Covid-19 cases while noting that patients who do end up in the hospital spend less time there.

Germany, which is facing protests against tighter restrictions, is buying 1 million packs of Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 pill. France, Greece and Portugal reported record daily infections.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection identified 89 cruise ships with Covid-19 cases, and a senator urged companies to stop ships from sailing.

Key developments: 

  • Global Covid cases hit a daily record of more than 1.44 million on Monday
  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 281 million; deaths reach 5.4 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 9 billion shots given
  • Omicron leaves Biden struggling for message as data roll in
  • Goldman mandates boosters as it stands by office-return plan
  • Truck drivers to seafarers quit as Covid shutters borders again

Moderna sheds $98-billion in market value

Vaccine maker Moderna Inc. is on its longest losing streak in more than two years, extending its slump from a record high in August to more than 50%. 

The slide has wiped about $98-billion off the company’s market value since that peak. While the Omicron variant is sweeping the world, Moderna’s shares were pressured as coronavirus pills by Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co., Inc. recently received authorisation from the FDA.

New York wants testing firm to give refunds over missed deadlines

ClearMD Solutions, a private lab offering rush PCR testing in New York City, was slammed by state Attorney-General Letitia James over missed deadlines and told to give full refunds to those who didn’t get their results in time.

According to its website, which boasts that the lab provides “the fastest tests in NYC”, ClearMD charges $150 for next-day results and $389 for results within four hours. There is no charge for a test with results returning in 48 hours.

“ClearMD Solutions has been charging New Yorkers hundreds of dollars for expedited test results but has repeatedly failed to deliver on that promise,” James said. “With Covid-19 positivity rates skyrocketing due to Omicron and New Yorkers gathering with loved ones for the holidays, companies need to stay true to their word and provide Covid-19 test results in the timeframes they are promising.”

The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

CDC sees shorter incubation period for Omicron

Omicron may have a shorter incubation period and may be more likely to cause reinfections than other strains, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention said Tuesday. The agency’s findings are based on a six-person household in Nebraska, which included one person who was fully vaccinated, four previously infected people, and one person who tested positive for the first time.

The median time from infection to the appearance of symptoms among the group was about three days, the researchers said. That’s shorter than the five days or more that was estimated for other variants. People with confirmed prior infections said their symptoms were similar to or milder than before, the CDC said.

Omicron infections estimated at 59% in U.S. 

The Omicron variant is causing an increasing share of coronavirus infections in the U.S., though its climb to dominance has been shallower than earlier estimates indicated, according to an updated federal model.

Omicron accounted for an estimated 58.6% of sequenced U.S. virus cases in the week ending Dec. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Nowcast model showed Tuesday, up from an estimated 22.5% a week earlier. The once-dominant Delta variant accounted for 41.1% of cases in the most recent period, according to the CDC.

The week-earlier figure marks a substantial revision from a previous estimate, which said the Omicron variant was responsible for 73% of sequenced infections. 

New York City to double school testing

New York City will double Covid testing in schools when students return, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

De Blasio and Governor Kathy Hochul both spoke at a virus briefing of the importance of bringing students back to school in January, for kids and for parents. Schools are the “safest places to be in New York City,” de Blasio said.

The new approach for schools in January is called “stay safe and stay open,” the mayor said. Under his plan, the city plans to distribute at-home testing kits to classrooms when a student tests positive. All students who are asymptomatic and test negative will be able to return to schools. Students will take two at-home tests over the course of seven days, he said.

Hochul said she sent 600,000 rapid tests to the city last week. The state and the city are working to make sure there’s no shortage of supply, Hochul said.

Dominican Republic offers extra booster shots

The Dominican Republic will begin providing a second booster shot against Covid-19 for anyone over 60, those with underlying health conditions and front-line workers.

The Dominican Republic was initially the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the Caribbean, but has become a regional leader in vaccinations.

U.S. senator urges halt to cruise ships

Cruise ships are “repeating recent history as Petri dishes of Covid-19 infection”, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said, urging the companies and health agencies to curb operations.

Cruise line operators like Carnival Corp. have implemented Covid-19 safeguards, such as masking and proof of vaccination. Still, the fast-spreading Omicron variant triggered reports of ships being turned away at the ports due to infections on board.

The Carnival Corp. Panorama cruise ship sits docked in Long Beach, California on March 7, 2020.

Netherlands girds for Omicron wave

Omicron has become the dominant coronavirus strain in the Netherlands and infections are expected to rise further, health authority RIVM said in a statement on its website.

The Dutch government introduced new restrictions on social contact on Dec. 19, closing non-essential stores and shuttering hospitality businesses at 5 p.m. The lockdown is in place until at least Jan. 14.

Germany buys Pfizer pills

Germany is buying 1 million packs of Pfizer Inc.’s newly approved pill to treat Covid-19, securing supplies as infections from the fast-spreading Omicron variant rise rapidly.

The Paxlovid drug is “extremely promising” because it can help people who are at risk of falling seriously ill, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told German news agency DPA. The country’s health authorities reported a total of 10,443 Omicron cases as of Tuesday, a 43% jump from the previous day.

Thousands of people across Germany gathered for illegal protests against the government’s Covid rules and the prospect of a vaccine mandate. Stricter limits on private gatherings took effect on Tuesday, with as many as 10 vaccinated and recovered people allowed to meet. If unvaccinated people are involved, only two people from another household are allowed.

U.K. adviser upbeat on outlook

Omicron is “not the same disease we were seeing a year ago” and high Covid death rates in the U.K. are “now history”, according to John Bell, a Oxford University professor advising the government. Although hospitalisations have increased in recent weeks along with Omicron’s spread, the disease “appears to be less severe and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital”, the Guardian newspaper cited Bell as saying. Fewer patients need high-flow oxygen and the average length of stay was down to three days, he said.

A quiet street in the Soho district of central London, U.K. on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. The U.K. Treasury said on Friday it will do “whatever it takes” to support hospitality and other businesses hit by mass cancellations as households voluntarily isolate before Christmas.

India faces short, intense outbreak

India may see a spurt in Covid-19 growth rate within days and head into an intense but short-lived wave as the Omicron variant moves through the crowded nation of almost 1.4 billion, according to a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge who developed a Covid-19 India tracker.

As Omicron-related infections rise, New Delhi will close cinemas, schools and gyms and introduce other restrictions on public gathering, according to a government statement. 

The measures include a night curfew between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., 50% occupancy in bars and restaurants and all public transport. Shops in markets and malls selling non-essential items will open on alternate days and schools will only function online. 

A technician uses a pipette while preparing test samples inside a Covid-19 Genome Sequencing Laboratory at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences in New Delhi, India, on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. India will bolster Covid-19 genome sequencing efforts, hoping early detection of the newly emerged Omicron variant will help avoid a repeat of the Delta-fuelled wave of infections that brought its health system close to collapse earlier this year. 

Omicron infection can strengthen immunity against Delta

Infection with Omicron can strengthen immunity against the Delta strain, reducing the risk of severe disease, according to a paper released by South African scientists. The study, which is based on 15 participants, has not been peer reviewed.

While Omicron has been shown to be highly transmissible and can evade some antibodies, after two weeks of getting symptoms immunity to subsequent infections from the strain rose 14-fold. A smaller improvement was found against Delta, they said. 

Abu Dhabi tightens entry rules

Abu Dhabi tightened entry requirements after cases in the United Arab Emirates rose to the highest level in six months.

Vaccinated individuals will require a green status on their mobile-phone health app, while those who aren’t inoculated will need a negative PCR test to enter the emirate from Dec. 30. On Monday, Abu Dhabi tightened rules for hosting indoor and outdoor social events as well as family celebrations.

Indonesia weighs up travel ban

Indonesian President Joko Widodo discussed a plan to ban citizens from leaving the country in a recent Cabinet meeting on concern over surging Omicron cases. The government also sought the possibility of tightening health protocols, including ensuring mask wearing in public areas, and expediting booster jabs. No time frame was given for a decision.

At the same time, neighboring Malaysia decided to lift its travel ban on eight African nations. Restrictions “make no sense any more because Omicron is coming from all the other countries”, according to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddinin. DM

– With assistance from Chris Reiter, Shaji Mathew, Christoph Rauwald, Fred Pals, Juan Pablo Spinetto, Kasia Klimasinska, Laura Nahmias, Jim Wyss, Angelica Peebles, Sotiris Nikas, Joao Lima, Samy Adghirni and Chris Dolmetsch.


"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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