Daily COVID-19 infections have hit record highs in the United States, swathes of Europe and Australia as the new Omicron variant of the virus races out of control, keeping workers at home and overwhelming testing centres.
Almost two years after China first reported a cluster of “viral pneumonia” cases in the city of Wuhan, the regularly mutating coronavirus is wreaking havoc in many parts of the world, forcing governments to rethink quarantine and test rules.
Although some studies have suggested the Omicron variant is less deadly than some of its predecessors, the huge numbers of people testing positive mean that hospitals in some countries might soon be overwhelmed, while businesses might struggle to carry on operating because of workers having to quarantine.
“Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalization and deaths,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Tedros told a news briefing on Wednesday.
“I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases.”
France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Malta all registered a record number of new cases on Tuesday.
Several Canadian provinces — including Quebec, Manitoba and two Atlantic provinces — saw single-day COVID-19 case highs on Tuesday, with fresh highs in several provinces and territories on Wednesday.
Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario all reported single-day highs on Wednesday. Nunavut saw 37 new cases — a single-day high for the territory, which has just one hospital.
The average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the United States has also hit a record high over the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally. The previous peak was in January of this year.
New daily infections in Australia spiked to nearly 18,300 on Wednesday, eclipsing the previous pandemic high of around 11,300 hit a day earlier.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country needed “a gear change” to manage overburdened laboratories, with long walk-in and drive-in queues reported in a number of areas.
Testing bottlenecks have also built in European countries, including Spain, where demand for free COVID-19 testing kits provided by Madrid’s regional government far outstripped supply on Tuesday, with long queues forming outside pharmacies.
A number of governments were also increasingly worried by the huge numbers of people being forced into self-isolation because they had been in contact with a coronavirus sufferer.
“We just can’t have everybody just being taken out of circulation because they just happen to be at a particular place at a particular time,” Australia’s Morrison told reporters.
Italy was expected to relax some of its quarantine rules on Wednesday over fears the country will soon grind to a halt given how many people are having to self-isolate protectively, with cases doubling on Tuesday from a day earlier to 78,313.
However, China showed no letup in its policy of zero tolerance to outbreaks, keeping 13 million people in the city of Xi’an under rigid lockdown for a seventh day as new COVID-19 infections persisted, with 151 cases reported on Tuesday.
–From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 1:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
For more details on the situation in your province and territory — including the latest on hospitalizations and ICU capacity, as well as local testing issues — click through to the local coverage below.
In the North, Nunavut on Wednesday reported 37 new cases, a new single-day high for the territory. The premier said the territory, which is currently living under tough restrictions, has active cases in eight communities.
Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok on Wednesday said the territory is approaching a “breaking point” in terms of health-care capacity. He said he is working with staff to request additional workers and supplies from the federal government, noting that the territory also has an urgent need for more housing to allow people to safely isolate at home.
Health officials in Yukon and the Northwest Territories had not yet provided updated information for the day.
In Central Canada, Quebec on Wednesday reported 13,149 new cases of COVID-19, yet another single-day high. The province also reported 10 additional deaths.
The update came a day after Health Minister Christian Dubé announced measures that would allow certain health-care workers to stay on the job despite testing positive for the virus. The province had little choice but to change its isolation protocols, he said, due to the meteoric spread of the Omicron variant, which has created staff shortages.
“We have no choice,” Dubé said at a briefing, calling the government’s plan the “best alternative” compared to not providing care.
Ontario on Wednesday saw a single-day high of 10,436 new cases of COVID-19, as well as three additional deaths.
In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador health officials reported 312 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, though they noted there are still no COVID-19 patients in hospital.
Provincial officials said that when students return on Jan. 4 it will be to virtual learning, with the situation to be reassessed weekly.
“Now is the time for precaution, not for panic,” Premier Andrew Furey said at a briefing on Wednesday.
Education minister now, next week classes will start on Jan 4 but online.<br>”Our priority remains getting students back in person…as soon as it’s safe to do so”<br>There will be an update every Thursday (starting Jan 6) <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/covid19nfld?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#covid19nfld</a>
Health officials in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island had not yet provided updated information for the day.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba saw another record daily high of 947 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with health officials reporting one additional death. The province has reached a deal with a private lab to increase COVID testing capacity by 30 per cent.
Saskatchewan, which had not been reporting COVID-19 figures over the Christmas holiday, reported on Tuesday a total of 896 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths over a period of five days.
Alberta, meanwhile, reported 8,250 total cases over the same period, bringing the number of active cases in the province to more than 15,000.
“This is spreading so fast and so far that individual case management will not substantially halt the spread,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health.
In British Columbia, health officials reported 1,785 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with detail on deaths and hospitalizations expected on Wednesday.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 12:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday afternoon, roughly 283.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.4 million.
In Europe, the French health ministry on Wednesday will report 208,000 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours — a national and European record, Health Minister Olivier Veran told lawmakers. He said that every second two French people are testing positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, France reported a new high of nearly 180,000 new confirmed cases over a 24-hour period.
In the Americas, New York City will stop quarantining entire classrooms exposed to the coronavirus and will instead prioritize a ramped-up testing program so that asymptomatic students testing negative can remain in school, officials said.
In Africa, South Africa on Tuesday reported 7,216 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 additional deaths.
As of today the cumulative number of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> cases identified in SA is 3 424 534 with 7 216 new cases reported. Today 25 deaths have been reported bringing the total to 90 854 deaths. The cumulative number of recoveries now stand at 3 134 314 with a recovery rate of 91,5% <a href=”https://t.co/bFvS9hVfT3″>pic.twitter.com/bFvS9hVfT3</a>
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported 602 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one additional death.
Daily infections in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf region’s tourism and commercial hub, rose above 2,000 for the first time since June.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Thai authorities warned residents should brace for a potential jump in coronavirus cases after classifying the country’s first cluster of the Omicron variant as a “super-spreader” incident.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 8:25 a.m. ET
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