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Denmark, Britain head surge of COVID-19 Omicron variant from South Africa

By Allen Cone
Denmark, Britain head surge of COVID-19 Omicron variant from South Africa
South African citizens wait in line before receiving the vaccine against COVID-19 at a government-run clinic in Hillbrow, Johannesburg on Friday. Photo by Kim Ludbrook/EPA-EFE

Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Twelve days after the first COVID-19 Omicron case was reported in South Africa, the variant has spread to around 42 countries but no fatalities with Britain and Denmark hotspots.

One week ago, 12 nations announced there were variant infections. The United States was added to the list Wednesday and now has around 20 cases.

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On Sunday, Denmark has reported 183 cases from 18 confirmed and 42 suspected Friday though the nation has a sophisticated testing program. Denmark added 3,026 cases Sunday, three days after a record 4,680, for a total of 509,111

Britain has 246 cases, including 86 announced Sunday.

RELATED CDC director: Omicron cases 'likely to rise' as variant detected in 16 states

Europe was designated by the World Health Organization, as "the epicenter" of the virus, fueled by a variant predecessor, Delta, which is highly contagious but not nearly as transmissible as Omicron, experts say.

Nearly two years after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Mainland China, the coronavirus has already killed 5,270,839 people and infected 266,114,671 worldwide, according to Worldometers.info on Sunday. Despite a spike from the Delta variant, the situation had stabilized with a 0.3% weekly increase of deaths and 6% rise in cases.

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Several nations have banned travel from South Africa and other nearby nations. Israel, after discovering one case of the variant, banned all foreign visitors from entering its borders, starting last Sunday night.

RELATED Study: Omicron may share genetic code with common cold coronavirus

On Saturday, health officials in Britain announced that all international visitors will be required to take a COVID-19 test before traveling.

The United States starting Monday will require a test for all fliers within one day of bordering instead of the previous three.

And since last Monday, the United States has banned travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Canada has the same restrictions though it is allowing visitors from Malawi.

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One month ago, the United States had allowed foreign visitors from 30 countries, including South Africa.

The United States has reported a world-high 808,763 deaths and 49,969,856 cases.

No patients have been hospitalized with Omicron infections in the United States.

"We absolutely have community spread in this country," Dr. Anthony Fauci told Bloomberg Television on Friday. "We don't know how many of them, but there's no doubt there's community spread."

Despite being highly contagious, most cases have been mild to moderate though it includes those fully vaccinated.

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South African scientists published a study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, that found omicron carries a higher risk of reinfecting people who previously caught COVID than past variants.

Tests are being conducted on the current vaccines, including Pfizer and Moderna to determine their efficacy against the variant.

"There's every reason to believe that if you get vaccinated and boosted that you would have at least some degree of cross-protection, very likely against severe disease, even against the Omicron variant, Fauci said.

South Africa reported the first case on Nov. 24. The official name for the variant is B.1.1.529, but the World Health Organization has used letters in the Greek alphabet to name the variant. They decided to skip Nu and Xi.

Although there has been a weekly spike in cases in South Africa, numbers are a fraction of records.

Over seven days, cases rose 432% with 62,021 but deaths were down 21% with 174.

On Sunday, South Africa reported one death for a total of 89,966 in 15th place worldwide. Cases were 11,125 for a total of 3,031,694, also in 18th. Records were 26,645 cases on June 3 and deaths hit 819 on Jan. 19.

But the nation's first-time vaccination rate is 29.6% and fully is 24.8%, according to tracking by Bloomberg.

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With young children not allowed to be vaccinated, a disproportionately high number of those under 5 years old have been hospitalized, a top South African government medical adviser said Friday.

"It's clear in Gauteng, the week-on-week increase we're seeing in cases and admissions is higher than we've seen it before," government adviser Waasila Jassat said at a news conference. "We've seen quite a sharp increase [in hospital admissions] across all age groups but particularly in the under 5s."

Guateng province includes Johannesburg.

"The incidence in those under 5 is now second highest, second only to those over 60," she said.

In Africa, deaths decreased 19% for the week with a total of 224,277 and cases were up 161% at 8,820,857.

Tunisia has the second-most deaths with 25,401 ahead of Egypt with 20,727.

Africa has 16.72% of the world's population but its share of vaccinations is 3% at 246.05 million doses, according to Our World in Data.

Africa is at 11% with at least one shot, according to The New York Times tracking. Latin America is at 69%, with United States and Canada at 72% with Asia-Pacific 66%, Europe at 63%, Middle East 47% and Africa 10%.

Worldwide, vaccination doses grew by 190 million in one week to 8.09 billion with the world's population of 7.9 billion, according to tracking by Bloomberg.

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China, which has the world's largest population at 1.5 billion, has administered the most doses at 2.5 billion, ahead of India at 1.3 billion and the United States at 462 million. About 87.5% of Mainland China's population has received at least one vaccine dose.

The European Union is at 71.4%.

Though European nations have been heavily vaccinated, the continent is experiencing another wave but is stabilizing in many parts.

In one week, Europe's cases rose 2% to 75,575,802, second behind Asia, and deaths were up 0.7% to 1,434,070. Last week, Europe was the only continent to rise in both categories.

Coronavirus had been spiking Germany. Deaths rose 23% to 2,190, which is fourth behind Russia, Ukraine and Poland. Though cases declined 1%, the 399,339 amount was the most in Europe.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 485 deaths, the most since Feb. 19. Sunday's gain was 74 for 103,604 in 14th. Deaths are nowhere near the record of 1,249 on Dec. 29.

Cases hit a record 76,132 on Nov. 25 in Germany. Until Nov. 4, the record was 32,546 on April 14. On Sunday, Germany reported 35,983 for a total of 6,175,838, which is eighth in the world, passing Iran in the past week.

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On Thursday, Germany announced a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated, including nonessential services. Large events are all banned.

Leaders also backed plans for mandatory vaccinations in February.

"We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to those already taken," Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at Thursday's news conference, a week before she officially departs. "The fourth wave must be broken and this has not yet been achieved."

Germany is encountering vaccine hesitancy but its 71.6% percent of the population with at least one dose is more than the United States at 70.4%.

Germany's rate is lower than other European cities. Britain has vaccinated 76.4% of its population with at least one dose.

In the European Union, the one-shot vaccination rate is 71.4%, including 82.5% in Spain, 80.2% in France, 78.3% in Italy.

"Two or three years ago, I would never have thought to witness what we see right now, that we have this horrible pandemic, we have the vaccines, the life-saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere," European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a press briefing Wednesday.

"How we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union, this needs discussion. This needs a common approach but it is a discussion that I think has to be led."

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Russia is lagging the world in vaccination with 45.7% of its population with at least one dose of a domestic-produced vaccine, including Sputnik 5.

Two other Eastern European nations have low vaccination rates: Ukraine at 32.4% and Romania at 40.0%. Poland's rate is 55.0%, Czech Republic's is 62.6% and Austria 71.8%.

On Sunday, Russia reported 1,206 deaths, with the record 1,254 on Nov. 19, for a total of 281,278 in fifth place. And the nation added 32,602 cases for 9,801,136, also in fifth place, including a record 41,335 on Nov. 6. Russia's deaths are only down by 2% for a total of 8,541, which is the most in the world, and a 4% drop in cases to 232,186, which is fifth.

Russia has exceeded 1,000 deaths every day since Oct. 16. Also, Russia hasn't been below 700 since July. Last year, deaths reached 635 on Dec. 24.

In Austria, where there is a partial lockdown, cases were down 33% with the total overall 1,198,478 and deaths rose 13% for a cumulative 12,796. On Sunday, Austria reported 43 deaths and 5,192 cases.

Poland's deaths increased 20% with 45 reported Sunday for a total of 85,675 in 18th. Cases were up 0.6% with 22,389 added Sunday for 3,671,421 in 16th.

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Czech Republic's deaths rose 3% with 48 reported Sunday for 33,365 in 24th. And cases were down 8% with 10,967 most recently after a record 27,924 Nov. 26 and 2,240,721 total in 23rd.

Ukraine added 278 deaths for a total of 88,280 in 17th place with a 14% weekly drop. Romania's deaths rose by 73 Sunday for a total of 57,099 in 20th but a 34% seven-day decline.

In Britain, deaths decreased 4% at 827, with cases up 3% to 312,162 in second place on the continent.

Overall, Britain is seventh in the world with 145,605, including 54 Sunday. Cases are fourth at 10,464,389 with 43,992 most recently. The record is 67,794 in January in the United Kingdom.

"If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there's community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it's that community transmission that will drive a next wave," Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told the Independent on Sunday.

In deaths, Italy is ninth with 134,195, including 43 Sunday. In the top 20: France is 12th with 119,535, an increase of 29 Sunday; Spain 16th with 87,955 and no data on weekends.

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The Netherlands remains under a partial lockdown, including early closures for hospitality and cultural events amid a shortage of intensive care beds. Netherlands reported 26 deaths and 23,078 cases Sunday with the infection record 23,709 Nov. 24.

In Asia over the past week, deaths decreased 10% with a current 1,223,335 and cases were down 4% with 82,544,348, the most of the continents.

India's deaths declined 29% to 2,066 five weeks after a surge of 83%. Cases were down 2%.

On Sunday, India reported 2,796 deaths for a total of 473,3264, third in the world, but 2,679 were a reconciliation of fatalities in Bihar and Kerala provinces.

Cases were 8,895, among the least since Feb. 3 when it was 2,992 for a total of 34,633,255, in second worldwide.

India holds world daily records, not including major reconciliations: 6,148 deaths in June and 414,188 cases in May.

The nation's cases have been under 20,000 for 58 days in a row and below 50,000 for 161 consecutive days.

India, which is the prime manufacturer of vaccines for the world, has a one-shot rate for the entire population of 57.9% in a ramped-up effort.

India, with the second-largest population in the world at 1.4 billion, is lagging behind other big nations.

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India's outright ban on commercial international flights ended last Tuesday but all international passengers must have a 14-day travel history and a negative test taken within 72 hours before departure. There is a seven-day quarantine for travel from "at-risk" countries, including South Africa as well as other countries, including Britain.

India's first two Omicron cases were reported Friday with the initial one in Delhi, the nation's capital territory announced Sunday.

Indonesia ranks eighth in the world at 143,867 with an increase of four deaths Sunday, way down from a record 2,069 on July 27. The Asian nation's cases are 14th at 4,257,685, including 196 Sunday, also a fraction of the record 54,000 in July. Indonesia has vaccinated 52.5% of its population with at least one dose.

Iran is 10th at 130,200 deaths, including 76 Sunday. Iran's one-shot vaccination rate is 68.9%, up from 43.6% eight weeks ago.

Turkey is sixth in the world for cases at 8,901,117, including 19,357 reported Sunday and 19th in deaths at 77,830, including 185 most recently. Turkey has a 67.7% vaccination rate.

Japan reported no deaths again Sunday and seven total in the past week, with a total of 18,376.

And there were 115 cases Sunday compared with the record of 25,492 on Aug. 21 after the Summer Olympics ended on Aug. 8. On Nov 22 there were only 50 cases.

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Japan has a relatively low 13,721 infections per million and 146 deaths per million. Worldwide, it's 34,119 cases per million and 675.7 per million deaths. The United States' figures are 2,423 fatalities per million and 149,610 infections per million.

Japan, which didn't administer its first vaccine doses until February, has vaccinated 79.1% of the 129.4 million population.

The pandemic began in late 2019 in Mainland China, but the nation's death toll has stood at 4,636 for several months and 81st behind Zimbabwe at 4,709. China added 59 cases Sunday.

China reported its first Omicron case on day after South Africa.

South Korea's cases rose 5,127 Sunday three days after a record 5,262 with 2020's highest 1,237 on Dec. 25. The nation has 3,852 deaths, including 43 on Sunday.

This week, the Seoul capital area has banned private gatherings of more than seven people and nine in other regions. The cap was 10 people in the capital area and 12 in other regions.

And public facilities, including restaurants and cafes, will be added to businesses requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for entry.

"The government will focus on firmly reinforcing the dike for the next four weeks," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Friday. "Even after today, the government will regularly assess all antivirus conditions and, if necessary, take swift measures to strengthen the antivirus campaign at any time," he added.

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On Friday, the first Omicron two cases were confirmed and were associated with a church. They had worshiped alongside two travelers after a trip to Nigeria, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.

South Korea's vaccination rate is 82.4%, after getting off to a late start like Japan.

The nation's one-shot vaccination rate is 73.1%. Israel has approved vaccines for children 5 to 11 years old.

Israel has a death toll of 8,204 with none reported Sunday, and 89 cases most recently with the record 20,523 on Sept. 1. Israel has among the world's worst infection rates: 144,283 per million.

The nation's one-shot vaccination rate is 70.1%.

Before Israel's travel ban, the nation and Turkey were among 25 non-European Union nations that participate in the 27-nation EU vaccine certificate program, meaning people who have been fully vaccinated can visit other member countries, including England, without needing to quarantine. Each nation can implement restrictions.

The United States is now allowing entry to fully vaccinated foreign travelers from 33 nations, including by air and land. Travel for U.S. residents was allowed earlier.

Canada earlier ended its advisory against non-essential travel for vaccinated citizens. Canada reopened its border to vaccinated Americans in August.

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In North America, the deaths are 1,201,115 with a 19% weekly decrease, and cases are 59,710,641, increasing 24%.

The United States' deaths rose 29% and cases also 29%. On Sunday, the United States reported 155 deaths and 35,065cases though most states don't report data on weekends.

Mexico is fourth in the world in deaths at 295,202 with a 12% weekly decrease and 48 recorded Sunday. The nation's cases dropped 16% with 970 most recently for 15th at 3,901,263.

Canada ranks 27th worldwide in deaths with 29,768 including two Sunday and 26th in cases with 1,807,703, including 2,633 most recently. Canada's deaths record is 257 on Dec. 29 and the cases mark is 11,383 on Jan. 3.

Canada's cases rose 0.1% and deaths went down 7%.

Canada has around one-third the rates per million than the United States with deaths 779 and cases 47,237.

Canada has the best one-shot vaccination rate of the three largest countries in North America at 79.9% with children 5-11 now able to get the Pfizer vaccine. The United States is at 70.4% for one shot. Mexico's percentage is 60.4%, though it was the first Latin American nation to begin vaccinating people.

In South America, cases decreased 6% in one week with a total of 39,085,115 and deaths were down 11% to 1,183,754.

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Brazil's deaths dropped 15% to 615,636, and down 5% in cases to 22,143,091, which ranks third. Brazil reported 68 deaths and 4,844 cases Sunday. On Monday, Brazil reported 3,843, and seven days earlier 2,594 cases, the fewest since April 21 one year ago when it was 2,350.

Also in the top 10 for deaths, Peru is sixth at 201,379. Colombia is 11th at 128,780, Argentina is 13th with 116,646 and Chile 22nd with 38,501.

On Sunday, Chile reported 36 more deaths with Peru 19, Colombia 47 and Argentina 3. These numbers are way down from records: Peru with 1,154, Colombia with 754, Argentina with 791, Chile with 316.

Peru has the world's highest death rate at 5,981 per million people.

Chile has the highest vaccination rate on the continent at 88.3% with Brazil at 78.1%, Argentina 81.8%, Colombia at 74.1% and Peru 67.8%.

On Friday, the Brazilian Supreme Court announced it has ordered an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro's false claims that receiving a COVID-19 vaccination can increase the risk of contracting AIDS.

Oceania, with only 42.3 million people, has 4,264 deaths with a decrease of 43% in seven days and cases are 377,187 with a drop of 1%.

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New Zealand's deaths rose by two in one week to 44 with none Sunday. Australia's toll increased to 2,050, with eight reported Sunday and 52 in a week.

New Zealand added 108 cases Sunday after a record 222 No. 16. Australia was up 1,267 with a record 2,688 reached Oct. 14.

Australia has a vaccination rate of 78.5% with New Zealand at 79.2% among the entire population. On Friday, New Zealand's capital, Auckland, ended its 107-day lockdown though unvaccinated people are mostly shut out of public places. Also, Auckland will remain largely cut off from elsewhere in the nation until Dec. 15.

New Zealand has been in a nationwide lockdown since August after a single case, the country's first in six months. The nation is now on a traffic light system based on vaccinations

About 83% of New Zealanders age 12 and over are fully vaccinated.

In Australia, Victoria and New South Wales are no longer in lockdowns after months-long ones.

Fiji, with a 72.8% vaccinated rate, has 697 deaths, with one in a week. On May 3, there were four fatalities. Cases have climbed from 121 on May 3 to 52,543, with 49 in a row. Fiji has 903,457 residents.

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Guam, a territory of the United States with fewer than 200,000 residents, has 266 deaths, three in a week, and 19,247 cases, including 8 daily most recently. Its vaccination rate is 80.1% for the entire population, including 99.9% of those eligible, which is 12 and older, and also 99.9% 18 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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