Omicron boosts COVID-19 surges in Denmark, UK

Christmas shoppers outdoors in Copenhagen
Christmas shoppers outdoors in Copenhagen

Kristoffer Trolle / Flickr cc

Two European countries—Denmark and the United Kingdom—reported new daily highs for COVID-19 cases, partly fueled by the more transmissible Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant.

Denmark sees 2-day doubling time

Denmark, one of the countries reporting brisk Omicron spread, reported 9,999 new COVID-19 cases in the past day, according to Reuters. Government officials are scheduled to meet with Parliament tomorrow to discuss options for curbing the outbreak.

Troels Lillebaek, MD, DMSc, with Denmark's Statens Serum Institute, told CNBC that Omicron cases are doubling every 2 days, a pace poised to overtake the Delta variant within a week. He said Omicron cases currently make up 10% of sequenced cases. Of the country's Omicron patients, 75% were fully vaccinated, and 9% had received a booster shot. About 80% of the Danish population is fully vaccinated.

Lillebaek said Denmark's Omicron trends appear similar to patterns reported from Britain.

In a related development, a research team from Denmark today described the epidemiologic characteristics of the country's first 784 Omicron cases. Two days after World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron as a variant of concern, Danish officials identified the country's first two case-patients, both of them travelers from South Africa. By Dec 9, the country had identified 785 cases.

Writing in Eurosurveillance, the group said a major driver of the steep increase was a large party of young adults. Despite mitigation steps and contact tracing, within a week and a half, widespread community transmission was already underway. Nine people have been hospitalized, and one was treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). No deaths were reported.

They said it is concerning that about 83% of cases occurred in fully vaccinated or boosted patients, and it's too early to say if the signal is an artefact. Also, they reported that the country's earlier Omicron cases occurred before South Africa announced the variant and that travel-related cases involving the variant were also found in those from other European nations, hinting that community spread was occurring earlier than reported.

Omicron drives sharp UK increase

Elsewhere, the UK's Health Security Agency (HSA) today reported 88,376 new cases today, another daily record high. It also reported 1,691 new Omicron cases, raising its total to 11,708.

Steven Riley, PhD, the HSA's data director, said, "We are now seeing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant. We need to take action to stop the spread."

He added that steps include booster doses; rapid tests before meeting with people; wearing face coverings in crowded, encloses spaces; ventilating rooms; and staying home when sick.

More global headlines

  • France today reported its highest daily total since Nov 20, 2020, with 65,713 new cases, and its government today—in an effort to slow the spread of Omicron—announced restrictions on nonessential travel from the United Kingdom.

  • The European Commission today announced a deal with Moderna to speed the delivery of mRNA vaccine doses for short-term needs, especially to Germany, which is reportedly running low on booster doses.

  • South Korea yesterday reimposed strict distancing measures to curb its COVID surge, which start Dec 18 and are in effect until Jan 2, according to Reuters. Cases are near record levels, with 87% of ICU beds full in the Seoul area and 81% in use nationally.

  • At a WHO Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) briefing yesterday, officials said cases in the region were up 18.4% in the past week, mainly led by rises in the United States and Mexico. In South America, cases were up in Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay, but they held steady and Brazil and Peru.

  • Norwegian officials today reported their latest investigation findings into an Omicron superspreader event linked to a work Christmas party in Oslo. Writing in Eurosurveillance, they said 66 of the 111 attendees who were interviewed tested positive, which most having received two doses of mRNA vaccine. All had tested negative in the 1 to 2 days before the event. Incubation period was short, at 3 days, and almost all patients had at least one symptom, with half reporting fever. They said the findings show that Omicron is highly transmissible in fully vaccinated young and middle-aged adults, but urged caution in interpreting the findings, given that further investigation is under way.

  • So far at least 85 countries have reported Omicron cases, with the total number of confirmed cases at 15,778, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in its daily update on the variant. The latest countries reporting their first cases include Indonesia and New Zealand.

  • The overall global totals today are 272,728,990 cases, along with 5,334,798 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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