Countries see signs of growing community Omicron spread

Crowded Christmas market in France
Crowded Christmas market in France

anitage / iStock

Danish health officials today said the COVID-19 Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant is spreading across the country, following revelations yesterday from the United Kingdom that the variant is spreading in different parts of England.

Meanwhile, several world hot spots continue to battle Delta (B1617.2) variant surges, with some nations in Europe taking new steps to curb the spread in the lead-up to the holidays.

More reports of community spread

At a briefing today, Denmark's Patient Safety Authority Director Anette Lykke Petri, MD, said Omicron variant activity is spreading though the society, with large outbreaks in the east and west, according to Reuters. The country has reported 398 cases so far.

On Twitter today, Mads Albertsen, PhD, who heads a bioinformatics and sequencing lab at Aalborg University, estimated that 2% of the country's cases currently involve the Omicron variant. He added that Denmark is screening about 200,000 people a day, with positive samples tested with an Omicron-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Scientists are sequencing all positive Omicron samples, plus 2,000 random positive samples each day.

So far, hospitals aren't at critical capacity, but the government is considering nonpharmaceutical interventions in the face of a large Delta wave and the spread of Omicron, he said. Denmark is also promoting boosters and just opened vaccination to children ages 5 to 11.

Yesterday, British health minister Sajid Javid told Parliament that community transmission was under way across all of England's regions, but it is too early to say if new variant activity will blunt recovery from the pandemic, according to Reuters. The United Kingdom today reported 101 new cases, raising its total to 437.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told lawmakers that the country's cases have risen 10-fold over the past week, with cases reported in 9 of 14 health areas, according to the BBC.

In South Africa's surge, the country reported 13,147 cases today, and though most are in Gauteng province, where Omicron activity is driving activity, KwaZulu-Natal province—located southeast of Johannesburg—reported a jump in cases, according to the South Africa Times. The country's COVID-19 positivity rate remains high, at 24.9%.

More actions in Europe as Delta surges

In European Delta surge developments, Switzerland announced it is deploying military troops for the third time since the pandemic began to help support the heath system, according to Reuters. Hospital intensive care units are at 79% capacity, with COVID-19 patients occupying about 30%.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said yesterday that the country doesn't need another lockdown, but officials are closing nightclubs for 4 weeks and have ordered new distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus. The government called on people to limit social gatherings and it tightened mask requirements for schools.

Elsewhere, Austria today said it will lift its 2-week lockdown on Dec 12, but only for those who are vaccinated.

More global COVID headlines

  • GlaxoSmithKline today announced that sotrovimab, the monoclonal antibody treatment that it developed with Vir Biotechnology, retains activity against all mutations in the spike protein of the Omicron variant, based on preclinical data that it published in a bioRxiv preprint, which isn't peer viewed. The treatment is has been authorized for emergency use in the United States and a number of other countries.

  • Uganda's health ministry today said health officials have confirmed 7 Omicron cases, including 5 in people with a history of Nigeria travel and 2 in those who had traveled to South Africa.

  • Croatia is the latest country in Europe to confirm and Omicron case, according to an update today from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The ECDC said 1,137 confirmed cases have been reported by 52 countries.

  • In a treatment guideline update, the World Health Organization (WHO) today recommended against the use of convalescent plasma for treating patients who aren't severely ill with COVID-19. It said its expert review found no evidence of benefit for less severe cases, but there was uncertainty about benefits for patients with more serious infections. The WHO said the treatment should be used only in clinical trials for those with severe and critical COVID-19.

  • The global totals today climbed to 266,925,825 cases and 5,268,520 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

This week's top reads