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20th Jan 2022

Record-breaking Omicron wave sweeps across Europe

  • The EU's medicine agency raised concerns over the strategy of giving boosters every four months (Photo: The Focal Project)
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Record number of new coronavirus infections were reported across Europe on Wednesday (12 January) as the milder but highly-contagious Omicron Covid-19 variant sweeps through the continent.

Germany reported 80,430 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, the highest recorded in a single day since the pandemic began. The previous daily record, on 26 November last year, was more than 76,000.

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The German death toll also rose by 384 on Wednesday, to reach 114,735, while around 75 percent of the population has had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, figures from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious disease showed.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz told lawmakers again on Wednesday he was in favour of mandatory vaccination.

The choice to be vaccinated was "not a decision you make just for yourself, and that's why mandatory vaccination is the right thing to do," Scholz said.

Almost two-thirds of Germans support mandatory vaccination, polls show.

After a parliamentary debate on the issue at the end of the month, a bill on making vaccination mandatory is expected to come to a vote in March.

Austria's daily coronavirus infections have also hit a new record, with the number of infections rising above 17,000 for the first time on Wednesday, to 17,006. The previous peak was last November.

Austria currently has in place a lockdown for the unvaccinated, and a 10PM closing time for bars and restaurants.

In Bulgaria, daily infections also reached a record high, at 7,062 on Wednesday - in the EU's least-vaccinated country.

More than 5,200 people were in hospital, including 580 in intensive care. In Sofia, planned operations have been suspended as hospitals prepared for Covid-19 patients.

Bulgarians have to wear masks indoors and have to show a health pass - vaccination or negative test - to go to restaurants and shopping malls.

The new government has offered a one-time cash reward for pensioners who get vaccinated or take a booster.

Around a thousand anti-vaccine protesters, organised by the ultra-nationalist Revival party, rallied against the health pass, and tried to storm the parliament in the capital on Wednesday.

Heavy police presence prevented the from entering the building while several people, including police officers, were injured during the clashes, AP reported.

The country's prime minister, Kiril Petkov, plus president Rumen Radev and senior ministers have gone into precautionary self-isolation on Tuesday after a participant at a meeting they all attended tested positive for the virus.

Belgium, France, and Italy too

Belgium, France, and Italy, meanwhile, also reported record number of new cases on Tuesday.

France reported 368,149 new Covid-19 cases, the highest single-day record of the pandemic.

"We have never before seen such numbers since the start of the health crisis," health minister Oliver Veran said.

The numbers reflect those registered by health authorities, and does not include self-tests or infected people who develop no symptoms, and are not aware of their contagiousness.

Nevertheless, the spread of Omicron variant is pushing the virus towards an endemic phase, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Tuesday.

"With the increase of immunity in population, and with Omicron, there will be a lot of natural immunity taking place on top of vaccination, we will be fast moving towards a scenario that will be closer to endemicity," Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy told reporters.

The EMA also expressed doubts about giving a fourth vaccine shot to people, saying repeated boosters were not a "sustainable" strategy in terms of immune response and the population's tiredness of repeated vaccination.

WHO: Omicron to infect over half of Europeans in two months

The World Health Organization said Omicron is likely to infect more than half of the population in Europe within the next two months, threatening healthcare systems. It warned that it is too early to consider Covid as an endemic virus.

WHO 'good news': more proof of milder Omicron symptoms

A World Health Organisation official said hospitalisations and death rates linked to the spread of Omicron tend to be lower than with previous strains. The more transmissible variant appears to affect mostly the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms.

Christmas travel disrupted by Omicron variant

The spread of the more transmissible Omicron variant of coronavirus has triggered a flurry of flight cancellations, hampering Christmas plans for millions of people.

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