Omicron cases account for 73.2 percent of new US infections over the past week as Texas reports first death linked to the variant.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading faster than the Delta variant and is causing infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from the COVID-19 disease.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued the warning as US health officials reported that Omicron now accounts for 73.2 percent of new cases over the past week, and as the country’s first known death linked to the variant is reported in the state of Texas.
“There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant,” Ghebreyesus told a news briefing in Geneva on Monday.
Meanwhile, Israel has added the United States to its “no-fly” list, citing concerns over the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.
New Zealand also announced on Tuesday that it would delay its re-opening plans until the end of February fearing a rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Here are the latest updates:
Australia PM rules out lockdowns despite Omicron surge
Australia must move past “the heavy hand of government” and authorities must stop shutting down people’s lives with COVID-19 lockdowns, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as daily infections in the country shot up to a new pandemic high.
“We have got to get past the heavy hand of government and we have got to treat Australians like adults,” Morrison told reporters, urging authorities to shift from “a culture of mandates” when it comes to masks and social distancing rules.
“We’re not going back to lockdowns. We’re going forward to live with this virus with common sense and responsibility.”
First Omicron-linked death reported in the US state of Texas
Texas’ Harris County has reported its first death related to the Omicron COVID-19 variant, a man who was unvaccinated, the county health department said in a statement.
It is believed to be the first known recorded Omicron death in the United States, ABC News reported.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not immediately respond to a Reuters news agency request for comment on the issue.
The victim, aged between 50-60 years old, was at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 as he was unvaccinated, the health department said in a statement.
BREAKING—First #Omicron US death in Texas—in an unvaccinated man **reinfected** after previously having #COVID19. New convalescent blood? studies of survivors (of Alpha, Beta, or Delta variants) show little to no neutralization defense against Omicron. Please #Vaccinate& Boost? pic.twitter.com/SjB39XxjNU
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 21, 2021
New Zealand delays re-opening plans over Omicron concerns
New Zealand said on Tuesday that it would delay its re-opening plans until the end of February, fearing a rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
New Zealand had previously announced that non-quarantine travel would reopen by mid-January for New Zealand citizens and residents in Australia, and to foreign tourists by April.
“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans,” COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement.
Singapore finds suspected Omicron cluster in gym
Singapore’s Ministry of Health has announced that it has detected a cluster of three COVID-19 cases linked to a gym, of which two have tested preliminarily positive for the Omicron variant. The result for the remaining case is pending.
All three people were fully vaccinated and have mild symptoms.
The health ministry is ring-fencing the cases through contact tracing, it added.
Omicron now dominant Covid-19 variety in US: Health authorities
The fast-spreading Omicron variant is now the main coronavirus strain in the United States, accounting for 73.2 percent of new cases over the past week for which data is available, according to health authorities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the spike for the week ending on Saturday.
Over the same time period in the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, Omicron accounted for 96.3 percent of new cases.
Al Jazeera and news agencies