Here are the latest updates on the new coronavirus variant:

  1. London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Saturday declared a “major incident” to help ease the pressure on the hospitals in the capital amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom because of the Omicron variant, the BBC reported. The declaration of a major incident will enable authorities to work more closely. It also acts as a warning that emergency services and hospitals are unable to guarantee their normal level of response due to unusual circumstances.
  2. Khan’s announcement came after Omicron cases in the country rose sharply to almost 25,000, while the number of deaths due to the new strain jumped to seven, Reuters reported, citing the UK Health Security Agency. “Hospital admissions are going up, but also staff absences are going up by a massive level,” the mayor said. “What we can’t afford to see is even more of our crucial key workers going off sick because they have this virus.”
  3. Two passengers in Gujarat who returned from the United Kingdom tested positive for the Omicron variant of coronavirus, officials said on Sunday according to PTI. The health ministry on Friday warned that he number of daily Covid cases being reported from the UK and France could translate to 13-14 lakh cases in proportion to India’s population. So far, Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of Omicron infections at 43. Delhi, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have also recorded cases of the new strain.
  4. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries as of December 16 and the number of cases is doubling in 1.5 to 3 days in areas with community transmission, the World Health Organization said. Though it was unclear if the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases was due to “immune evasion, intrinsic increased transmissibility or a combination of both”.
  5. Indian virologist Gagandeep Kang said that the country has a better chance to tackle the Omicron variant in comparison to last year as there was no vaccination or an infection history, reported The Hindu. She said it was still not clear if the variant causing reinfections in vaccinated people would result in severe cases.
  6. Henrietta Fore, the outgoing executive director of United Nations Children’s Fund, said that closing schools should be the last resort in the fight against the Omicron variant, reported IANS. She said that another widespread school closures would be “disastrous for children”.
  7. Germany’s federal agency for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute, said that it will classify the United Kingdom as an area of variants of concern due to the rapid spread of Omicron there, reported DW. The country enforced a two-week quarantine on all travellers from Britain, including those who are vaccinated. The decision will be effective from Monday.
  8. The Netherlands caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that from Sunday, all non-essential stores, bars and restaurants in the country will be closed till January 14, reported AP. Schools and universities will also remain shut till January 9, he said.
  9. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said that the Omicron variant would be the dominant strain in the country from the start of the next year, reported AFP. Castex said that a lot of things are not known about the variant but it did not seem to be more dangerous than the Delta variant, which was first identified in India earlier this year and accounts for over 99% of Covid-19 cases globally.
  10. Meanwhile, India on Saturday registered 7,081 new cases, taking the infection tally in the country to 3,47,40,275. As many as 264 deaths were also recorded in 24 hours. Globally, the coronavirus has infected over 27.42 crore people and caused more than 53.50 lakh deaths since the pandemic broke out in December 2019, according to Johns Hopkins University.