Health Chiefs Fear ‘Gathering Storm’ As Omicron Variant Sweeps World

JEDDAH- The world was braced on Tuesday for another wave of deadly COVID-19 infections as the omicron variant of coronavirus spread at an unprecedented rate.

Omicron infections are multiplying across Europe, the US, the Middle East and Asia — including Japan, where a single cluster of COVID-19 cases at a military base has grown to at least 180.

“We can see another storm coming,” said Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s European chief, warning European countries to brace for a “significant surge” in COVID-19. Kluge said omicron would soon be the dominant virus strain, “pushing already stretched health systems further to the brink.”

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia more than doubled in the past two days, from 104 on Sunday to 222 on Tuesday. The Health Ministry urged all residents to receive vaccinations and booster shots.

The UAE, where 99 percent of the population is vaccinated and all adults have been offered booster shots, reported 452 infections in the past 24 hours, including two deaths — an increase not seen since mid-September. A week ago infections had plummeted to record lows, around 50 a day, contributing to a sense that the worst of the pandemic was over and life could return to normal.

A nationwide mask mandate remains in place outdoors, but Dubai’s bars and restaurants have been packed and most luxury hotels are fully booked over the December holidays.

But a couple traveling from the UAE to the Indian state of Kerala tested positive for omicron on arrival, and Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal tested positive in Spain after returning from a tournament in Abu Dhabi.

Two COVID-19 doctors at private hospitals in Dubai said they were alarmed by the increase in cases fueled by omicron. But they said most newly infected patients had mild to moderate symptoms and were being treated at home.

Germany, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and South Korea are among countries to have reimposed partial or full lockdowns or other social distancing measures.

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, canceled the giant annual New Year celebration in Edinburgh, and banned crowds from football matches.

In the US, the Biden administration opened COVID-19 testing sites in New York and bought 500 million at-home rapid tests that Americans can order online free of charge. Omicron now accounts for 73 percent of all new coronavirus cases in the US, up from less than 1 percent at the beginning of the month.

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