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WHO warns of Omicron overload as China, Europe impose new curbs

As WHO issues warning, Europe and China impose measures to check spread of COVID-19 variant

The WHO warned on Tuesday that the Omicron coronavirus variant could lead to overwhelmed healthcare systems even though early studies suggest it leads to milder disease, as China and Germany brought back tough restrictions to stamp out new infection surges.

China put hundreds of thousands more people under lockdown, while infections hit new highs in multiple U.S. states and European countries.

COVID-19 surges have wreaked havoc around the world, with many nations trying to strike a balance between economically punishing restrictions and controlling the spread of the virus.

The United States has halved the isolation period for asymptomatic cases to try and blunt the disruption, while France has ordered firms to have employees work from home at least three days a week.

Contact restrictions were in place in Germany for the second year in a row heading into the New Year, as Europe’s biggest economy shuttered nightclubs and forced sports competitions behind closed doors due to COVID.

Despite facing a much smaller outbreak compared with global virus hotspots, China has not relaxed its “zero COVID” strategy, imposing stay-at-home orders in many parts of the city of Yan’an.

The hundreds of thousands of affected residents there joined the 13 million people in the city of Xi’an, who entered a sixth day of home confinement as China battled its highest daily case numbers in 21 months.

Highly transmissible

The surges in many countries have been propelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The WHO warned against complacency even though preliminary findings suggest that Omicron could lead to milder disease.

“A rapid growth of Omicron… even if combined with a slightly milder disease, will still result in large numbers of hospitalisations, and cause widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services,” warned WHO Europe’s Covid Incident Manager Catherine Smallwood.

To hold back the tide, European nations brought back curbs with painful economic and social consequences.

Sweden and Finland required negative tests for incoming non-resident travellers from Tuesday.

In Germany, private gatherings are now limited to 10 vaccinated people and nightclubs have been closed.

But not all accepted the measures.

Thousands of protesters went on the march across Germany late on Monday against the curbs, with some hurling fireworks or bottles at police and leaving at least 12 officers injured.

President Joe Biden said on Monday that some U.S. hospitals could be “overrun” but that the country was generally well prepared. He stressed that Omicron would not have the same impact as the initial COVID outbreak or the Delta variant surge this year.

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