The World Health Organization (WHO) warned tuesday that the rapid spread of the omicron variant could increase hospitalizations, even though early studies suggest it causes milder symptoms and as China and Europe implement new restrictions.
“A rapid increase in omicron, such as the one we see in several countries – even if combined with a slightly less severe disease – will lead to a large number of hospitalizations, especially among the unvaccinated,” Catherine Smallwood, one of WHO Europe’s top officials, told AFP.
The emergency response specialist asked that preliminary data on a lower risk of hospitalization be taken “with caution”,as at present the cases observed mainly refer to “young and healthy populations in countries with high vaccination rates”.
Early studies in South Africa, Scotland and England indicate that omicron appears to cause fewer hospitalizations than the previous variant.
But the data is still very incomplete and some experts stress that greater contagion can negate the advantage of a less dangerous variant.
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Experts also don’t know if this seemingly lower severity comes from the intrinsic characteristics of the variant, or if it is related to the fact that it affects already partially immunized populations.
Faced with these uncertainties and a new acceleration of the pandemic in the world, countries are trying to find a balance to minimize economic damage and control the rise of infections.
China extends lockdowns
China on Tuesday placed hundreds of thousands more citizens under lockdown orders to try to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus, tiny compared to the record numbers of infections detected in the United States and european countries.
After recording more than 200 new cases across the country on Tuesday, a record since March 2020, the government ordered hundreds of thousands of residents in the northern city of Yan’an to stay home.
Since the containment of the first wave of covid-19 detected in Wuhan, the Asian giant has applied a strategy of eradication of the virus consisting of the closure of borders and strict measures in the face of any outbreak.
The residents of Yan’an now join the thirteen million people who have been confined to the nearby city of Xi’an for six days.
New restrictions in Europe
In Europe, many governments are trying to speed up the inoculation of booster doses and are implementing new restrictive measures.
Finland announced that as of Tuesday, foreign travelers not vaccinated against covid-19 will not be able to enter the territory even if they have a negative test.
In Sweden and Denmark, neighboring countries, authorities require non-resident travelers to test negative, in addition to being vaccinated. Austria is asking for the same.
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In France, the government announced on Monday that the “health passport” will only be available to fully vaccinated people and will no longer be valid with a recent negative test. The document allows access to restaurants, cinemas and other places.
Germany, for its part, will introduce new restrictions on Tuesday such as limiting gatherings to ten people in vaccinated people and two for the unvaccinated, the closure of nightclubs and the holding of sporting events behind closed doors.
“Something has to be done to lower the contagion figures,” a Berlin resident told AFP TV.
But not everyone accepts the measures. Thousands of protesters protested late Monday across Germany against the restrictions, with some throwing fireworks or bottles at police, leaving at least 12 officers injured.
Beyond social restrictions, the pandemic has economically punished some sectors such as travel.
Some 11,500 flights were suspended worldwide since Friday and tens of thousands suffered delays in one of the most frantic periods of the year. Many airlines pointed to staff shortages in the face of the wave of positives for omicron.
In an attempt to avoid labor shortages, the main U.S. health agency reduced the isolation period for asymptomatic cases from ten to five days.
Although daily infections are approaching the record 250,000 recorded in January, President Joe Biden said the rebound would not have the same impact as that caused by the delta variant months ago.
“Ómicron is a source of concern, but it shouldn’t be a source of panic,” he said.
The covid-19 pandemic has left more than 5.4 million people dyingCough in the world since December 2019, according to a count on Tuesday by AFP from official sources, but the WHO considers that the balance could be between two and three times higher.
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