UK says Covid situation ‘extremely difficult’ as Omicron sweeps across Europe – Reuters

Omicron infections are increasing rapidly in Europe and the United States

People enter the Westerstede Clinical Center, a military-civilian hospital in Westerstede, northwest Germany. —AP

By Reuters

Published: Tue 21 Dec 2021, 00:17

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he would take more action to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus if necessary, after the Netherlands began a fourth lockdown and other European countries consider restrictions of Christmas.

Speaking after UK media reported that Britain could impose new restrictions after Christmas, Johnson said the situation was “extremely difficult” and hospitalizations were rising sharply in London.

“I have to say to the British public, and I say to everyone, we will not rule out the possibility of going further if we have to do things to protect the public,” Johnson said after a cabinet meeting.

Omicron infections are growing rapidly across Europe and the United States, doubling every two or three days in London and elsewhere and taking a heavy toll on financial markets, which fear the impact on the global economic recovery.

The variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong and has so far been reported in at least 89 countries. The severity of the disease it causes remains unclear.

Any move to limit how people can celebrate Christmas would come at a high political cost for Johnson, whose authority has been eroded by questions over whether he and his staff broke lockdown rules last year.

Asked about speculation the government is banning indoor socializing and limiting tourism, Johnson said: “I can definitely say we’re looking at all sorts of things…to keep Omicron in check, and we won’t rule anything out. “

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a closure on Saturday, ordering the closure of all but essential shops, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places from Sunday until at least January 14.

Germany plans to limit private gatherings from December 28 to a maximum of 10 people vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19, according to proposed draft measures. The document also says that access to restaurants would remain limited to people who can provide proof of vaccination or recovery.

Ireland on Friday ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. and reduced capacity for all public events. Italy is also considering new measures, newspapers reported on Sunday.

Coronavirus cases spiked in New York and the United States over the weekend, dashing hopes of a more normal holiday season and stretching the country’s testing infrastructure – just days before many families don’t get together to celebrate Christmas.

In Washington DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city would reinstate an indoor mask mandate beginning Tuesday and continuing through the morning of Jan. 31. All District of Columbia government employees, contractors and beneficiaries must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and have a booster shot, she says.

In Geneva, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Omicron variant spreads faster than the Delta strain and causes infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid-19 .

China needs to be more open with data and information related to the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, Tedros added. “We have to keep going until we know the origins, we have to push harder because we have to learn from what happened this time in order to (do) better in the future.”

Wall Street’s major indexes opened lower on Monday, dragged lower by concerns about the impact of tighter Covid-19 restrictions on the global economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 143.32 points, or 0.41%, at the open at 35,222.12.

European stocks fell 1.33%. The number of shoppers on Britain’s high streets fell 2.6% over the weekend of December 18-19 compared with the previous weekend, researcher Springboard said.

Last week, the European Central Bank lowered its eurozone growth forecast for next year to 4.2% from 4.6% previously, citing the pandemic among the “headwinds”.

ECB President Christine Lagarde said that while economies learn to adapt to life with Covid-19, tighter restrictions could delay the recovery.

Israel has added the United States to its “no-fly” list, citing concerns about the Omicron variant. US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said Omicron is “raging across the world” as it urges Americans to get vaccinated.

Since the start of this month, US cases of Covid-19 have increased by 50%, according to a Reuters tally.

New York State recorded its third consecutive day of record cases with more than half in New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the United States to “go to war” to fight Omicron with vaccinations.

Booster shots, in addition to two-shot vaccinations, seem essential to combat the variant. Moderna Inc said a booster dose of its vaccine appeared to protect against Omicron in lab tests, and the current version of the vaccine would remain Moderna’s “first line of defense.”

More than 274 million people are believed to have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019. More than 5.65 million people have died.

The World Economic Forum on Monday postponed its annual meeting in Davos due to the spread of Omicron, postponing the planned January event to mid-2022.