Omicron becomes dominant Covid variant in US
The Omicron strain of the coronavirus now accounts for more than 73% of new US cases of Covid-19, up from 13% just a week ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.
Figures for the week ending on December 18, which the CDC released on Monday, showed that Omicron has become the dominant Covid-19 variant in the US less than one month after it was first identified in South Africa. The Delta variant accounts for almost all other new Covid-19 infections, or around 27%.
The Omicron statistics come on the eve of President Joe Biden’s speech on Tuesday, in which he is expected to announce new steps to fight the spread of Covid-19. Major US cities are already tightening pandemic restrictions. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced on Monday that the city will require proof of vaccination to enter indoor businesses, while Washington, DC reimposed a mask mandate and ordered city employees to get booster shots.
White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday predicted “a tough few weeks to months” as Omicron spreads rapidly across the US. Covid-19 infections have surged over the past few weeks, and Biden has warned of a “winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated.”
However, health experts in South Africa – where Omicron was first detected – have said the variant causes relatively mild symptoms. Even as the strain spread like wildfire in the country, Covid-19 hospitalizations didn’t increase. South Africa has had an average of 30 Covid-19 deaths daily over the past week, down from a high near 600 in January and around 400 in July.
South African Medical Association chairwoman Dr. Angelique Coetzee said on Monday that, with Omicron cases now declining in South Africa, the country is “over the curve” with the new variant. She has called international reaction to the new strain, including travel bans on southern African countries, “a storm in a teacup.”