UK, Germany opt not to add strict COVID measures ahead of Christmas

"Get boosted now" sign in England
"Get boosted now" sign in England

Tim Dennell / Flickr cc

Amid rapid Omicron variant spread and uncertainty about its impact, leaders in the United Kingdom and Germany have ruled out imposing strong new COVID-19 measures before Christmas, though measures are being planned or considered for the following week as New Year's Day nears.

At a media briefing yesterday for Geneva-based media, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said evidence is consistent that Omicron (B.1.1.529) is spreading faster than Delta (B1617.2) and that it's more likely that vaccinated or recovered people can be infected or reinfected.

He said there's no doubt that increased social mixing over the holidays will lead to more cases, overwhelmed healthcare systems, and deaths. Tedros said the quickest way to get back to normal is for leaders and individuals to make difficult decisions to protect themselves and others.

"In some cases, that will mean cancelling or delaying events," he said.

UK to reconsider measures after Christmas

In a video message posted on Twitter, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there isn't yet enough evidence to justify imposing tough measures before Christmas, but he didn't rule out ordering new steps after Dec 25. He said the situation is complex, but added that people need to make their Christmas plans.

Johnson also said the government will constantly monitor the data and will do whatever it takes to protect the public, but so far there are uncertainties about the hospitalization rate, severity, and impact of vaccines and boosters.

The announcement follows a cabinet meeting yesterday, with the group divided on whether to take immediate steps or wait for more evidence to back up the new measures, according to The Guardian.

The UK's Health Security Agency today reported 90,629 new cases, along with 15,363 newly confirmed Omicron cases. Of the 60,508 cases reported so far, hospitalizations remained at 129 and deaths stayed at 14, due to lack of updates related to technical problems.

Germany curbs New Year's gatherings

In Germany, federal and state leaders today agreed to impose contact restrictions starting after Christmas, according to Deutsche Welle. The measures are slated to start on Dec 28 at the latest and are aimed at discouraging large New Year's parties.

Private gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 vaccinated or recovered people, access to restaurants will be limited to vaccinated or recovered people, and spectators will be banned from large events.

For New Year's celebrations, fireworks are banned, and clubs will be closed.

The country's Robert Koch Institute today issued recommendations for reducing Omicron spread, which include maximizing contact restrictions, infection prevention, and vaccination, as well as reducing travel and enhancing communication about the situation.

In other European developments, Denmark—one of Europe's hardest hit Omicron hot spots—reported a new daily record high of 13,558 cases today, according to Reuters. Hospitalizations declined slightly, and hospitalizations and deaths are below levels Denmark experienced last year at this time.

Sweden's government today, amid rising Omicron activity and pressure on its health system, urged people to work from home, if possible, and announced restrictions for large gatherings.

More global headlines

  • The WHO today announced an emergency use listing for Nuvaxovid, the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax and the Center for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. The vaccine is the originator product for the Covovax vaccine, produced by India's Serum Institute, which received WHO emergency listing on Dec 17. The vaccines, given in two doses, are made using the same subunit technology. The WHO has now listed 11 vaccines, and the designation paves the way for wider distribution and use in developing countries.

  • In its latest weekly snapshot of the pandemic today, the WHO said global cases last week remained at the same level as the week before, though deaths declined. Cases in the African region rose 53%, followed by the Western Pacific region, where cases were up 12%. Africa was the only region to see an increase in deaths. As of today, 106 countries have detected the Omicron variant.

  • The European Commission today approved rules for a 9-month digital vaccine certificate for travel within the European Union. It requires booster doses to be considered fully vaccinated.

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