The new variant has so far been detected in 89 countries as the World Health Organization reported on Saturday and that the cases of infections caused by Omicron are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission.
The United Nations health agency said Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over other coronavirus variants means it is likely to be the dominant form of the virus.
The resurgent variant has forced Europe to reimpose tougher measures to stem the new wave of COVID-19 infections through mandatory vaccinations and lockdowns.
European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the Omicron variant could be dominant in Europe by mid-January.
Omicron spreading like ‘lightning’
French authorities urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before the holiday festivities in Christmas as infections surge across the country.
“The fifth wave is here and it is here in full force,” France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex told a news conference on Friday, likening the spread of Omicron in Europe to “lightning.”
Castex added that the fast-spreading and highly transmissible variant is expected to dominate infections in the country at the start of January.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Omicron is now suspected to be responsible for up to 10 percent of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.
France plans to curb the spread of the virus during the holidays by banning public concerts and fireworks displays at New Year’s celebrations. The French government has also urged people to avoid large gatherings and limit the number of family members at Christmas gatherings.
Moreover, French authorities have accelerated vaccinations, including a massive push to administer as many booster shots as possible before Christmas.
UK Omicron surge ‘tip of iceberg”
Britain reported on Saturday a surge in cases of Omicron infections, with government advisors saying the hike could be just the “tip of the iceberg.”
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the number of Omicron cases recorded across the country hit almost 25,000 on Friday, up by more than 10,000 cases from 24 hours earlier.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” to help the city’s hospitals cope.
British headteachers warned of “chaos” in schools as Omicron cases surge, with high levels of staff and pupil absences and reports that parents are planning to keep children home to avoid the virus before Christmas.
School leaders and unions called on the government to introduce more protective measures, including masks in classrooms, better ventilation and tougher isolation rules to try to slow the spread of the virus before the holidays.
Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, wrote to the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, and called for immediate action to curb the resurgent strain.
“We ask you to avoid a repeat of the confusion and chaos which last year impacted negatively on public and parental confidence and hampered the hard work of teachers and school and college leaders in their preparations at the start of 2021,” he said.
“An immediate announcement from the government on additional measures for schools and colleges is, we believe, essential before the majority of schools and colleges close for the Christmas break.”
School unions have been told that British parents are planning to keep their children out of school to avoid infection.
Ireland: We are all exhausted with COVID
In an official statement, Ireland announced the imposition of an 8:00 p.m. curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the new restrictions were needed to protect lives and livelihoods from the resurgent virus.
“None of this is easy,” Martin said Friday night. “We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires. The twists and turns, the disappointments and the frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But it is the reality that we are dealing with.”
Meanwhile, Germany’s health authority announced that the UK had been added to its list of COVID high-risk countries as Europe tries to rein in the rising number of infections.
Netherlands announces stringent lockdown
In the Netherlands, the government plans to impose a strict lockdown over the Christmas holidays to try to stop a surge of the Omicron variant. The measure will include a complete shutdown of businesses with the exception of essential retailers.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said all non-essential shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums and theaters must shut from Sunday until January 14, while schools must close until at least January 9.
Rutte added that people are only allowed two guests at home, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, December 26 and the New Year period when four guests are permitted.
“I stand here tonight in a somber mood,” Rutte told a televised press conference. “To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands will go back into lockdown from tomorrow. It is inevitable with the fifth wave and with Omicron spreading even faster than we had feared. We must now intervene as a precaution.”