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Many countries usher in New Year amid shadow of spreading Omicron variant******
Various countries across the world are welcoming the New Year as the fast-spreading Omicron variant is causing new spikes in COVID-19 infections and disruptions in people's lives and work.
As of Monday, more than 290 million COVID-19 cases and over 5.44 million related deaths have been registered worldwide, according to latest data of Johns Hopkins University.
New Covid-19 records in US
The United States has set several new records in COVID-19 indicators as the pandemic enters its third year, and health experts have warned of a "tidal wave" of the pandemic in 2022.
The country set a new record high of over 640,000 daily COVID-19 cases on Friday, according to data of Johns Hopkins University.
Over the week ending January 1, the country hardest-hit by the pandemic reported more than 2,700,000 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. The weekly increase of cases also registered a new pandemic high, surpassing the previous record set in the first week of 2021.
The country is averaging about 320,000 new cases daily, according to data updated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Thursday. The 7-day average of daily cases also marked a new high.
The Omicron-fueled surge in the United States has also let the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 soar to a record high.
During the week of December 22 to 28, an average of 378 children aged 17 and under were admitted to hospitals per day due to COVID-19, a 66.1-percent-increase from the week before, and a new record for hospitalized children with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to CDC data.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced Sunday that he tested positive for COVID-19.
"I tested positive this morning for COVID-19," Austin said in a statement, adding that he was experiencing mild symptoms and will be quarantined for the next five days.
The pandemic-induced staff shortages at airlines and airports amid a busy holiday travel season in the United States have led to 2,393 canceled journeys within, into, or out of the country, constituting more than half of which were canceled globally. Another 4,519 US flights were delayed on Sunday.
Amtrak, a passenger railroad service that provides medium and long-distance inter-city rail service in the contiguous United States and to nine cities in Canada, said on Thursday that it will reduce its schedule between New Year's Eve and January 6 as it battles bad weather in some parts of the country and a surge in coronavirus cases among its employees.
Top US infectious disease adviser Anthony Fauci said earlier last week that the surge in the COVID-19 Omicron variant in the United States would likely peak by the end of January.
Strict Covid-19 rules in Europe
France has seen a sharp increase since Christmas, with 208,099 cases detected on Wednesday. This set a new record since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the incidence rate passed 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for the first time.
The same day on the other side of the English Channel, Britain reported a new record increase of 189,213 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number in the country to over 12 million.
Total COVID-19 infections in Germany within one day increased by 41,240 cases on Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). The share of the Omicron variant among COVID-19 infections in Germany jumped from 3.1 percent in the previous week to 17.5 percent on Thursday, RKI reported.
The Omicron variant has become the main source feeding the COVID-19 pandemic in Cyprus, representing an estimated 80 percent of new infections, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas said on Sunday.
Amid surging cases and deaths after Christmas, European governments were scrambling to roll out additional restrictions to curb the trend.
The German government implemented contact restrictions both for vaccinated and recovered people, as well as a nationwide ban on gatherings over the New Year.
In Britain, secondary school students in the country are once again being asked to wear masks in classrooms as Omicron continues to spread ahead of children's return to school.
However, dissatisfaction is rising among experts, as new measures will take time to bring any benefits, and may not prevent a surge in cases over the next few weeks.
"Given the very high transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its ability to, at least partially, evade immunity, it should be clear that a rapid response is needed. Instead, we have a policy based almost entirely on increasing vaccination rates that will take weeks to bring any benefit," said Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Other regions hit by omicron
In Asia, India's Omicron tally has reached 1,525 till Sunday, out of which Maharashtra and Delhi have reported 460 and 351 cases respectively.
In South Korea, two people who posthumously tested positive for the highly contagious Omicron variant appear to be the first such reported deaths in the country, Yonhap news agency reported Monday.
Pakistan on Saturday confirmed 594 new COVID-19 cases amid the spread of Omicron, the National Command and Operation Center said Sunday.
When it comes to Africa, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Friday night confirmed that there the new COVID-19 variant called Omicron is present in the east African nation.
As for Latin America, Chile has reduced the number of COVID-19 infections in the last two weeks by 18 percent, however experts are not ruling out an increase in infections due to the Omicron variant.
The Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa in November 2021. The World Health Organization has warned that the Omicron variant was spreading at a rate not seen with previous strains and was likely present in most countries.