Daily COVID-19 infections have hit record highs in the United States, swathes of Europe and Australia as the new Omicron variant of the virus races out of control, keeping workers at home and overwhelming testing centres.
Almost two years after China first reported a cluster of “viral pneumonia” cases in the city of Wuhan, the regularly mutating coronavirus is wreaking havoc in many parts of the world, forcing governments to rethink quarantine and test rules.
Although some studies have suggested the Omicron variant is less deadly than some of its predecessors, the huge numbers of people testing positive mean that hospitals in some countries might soon be overwhelmed, while businesses might struggle to carry on operating because of workers having to quarantine.
France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Malta all registered a record number of new cases on Tuesday.
Several Canadian provinces — including Quebec, Manitoba and two Atlantic provinces — saw single-day COVID-19 case highs on Tuesday, as health officials across the country struggled with strains on testing and tracing systems.
The average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the United States has also hit a record high over the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally. The previous peak was in January of this year.
New daily infections in Australia spiked to nearly 18,300 on Wednesday, eclipsing the previous pandemic high of around 11,300 hit a day earlier.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country needed “a gear change” to manage overburdened laboratories, with long walk-in and drive-in queues reported in a number of areas.
Testing bottlenecks have also built in European nations, including Spain, where demand for free COVID-19 testing kits provided by Madrid’s regional government far outstripped supply on Tuesday, with long queues forming outside pharmacies.
A number of governments were also increasingly worried by the huge numbers of people being forced into self-isolation because they had been in contact with a coronavirus sufferer.
“We just can’t have everybody just being taken out of circulation because they just happen to be at a particular place at a particular time,” Australia’s Morrison told reporters.
Italy was expected to relax some of its quarantine rules on Wednesday over fears the country will soon grind to a halt given how many people are having to self-isolate protectively, with cases doubling on Tuesday from a day earlier to 78,313.
However, China showed no letup in its policy of zero tolerance to outbreaks, keeping 13 million people in the city of Xi’an under rigid lockdown for a seventh day as new COVID-19 infections persisted, with 151 cases reported on Tuesday.
–From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
For more details on the situation in your province and territory — including the latest on hospitalizations and ICU capacity, as well as local testing issues — click through to the local coverage below.
Health officials in Nova Scotia, which reported 561 new cases on Tuesday, outlined a plan for a return to school in the new year. Education Minister Becky Druhan announced that students would be back in classrooms on Jan. 10, a delay form the original return date of Jan. 6.
In New Brunswick, health officials on Tuesday reported 306 new cases of COVID-19.
In Central Canada, Quebec on Tuesday reported a single-day high of 12,833 cases of COVID-19, with 15 additional deaths. The update came as Health Minister Christian Dubé announced measures that would allow certain health-care workers to stay on the job despite testing positive for the virus. The province had little choice but to change its isolation protocols due to the meteoric spread of the Omicron variant, which has created staff shortages, he said.
“We have no choice,” Dubé said at a briefing, calling the government’s plan the “best alternative” compared to not providing care.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 8,825 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths. The update came as the province said it was temporarily pausing general visitors from entering long-term care homes starting Thursday, with two designated caregivers per resident exempt from the new rule. Rod Phillips, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, said Tuesday that there were 41 homes with outbreaks across the province, up from 37 the previous day.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba saw a daily high of 825 cases of COVID-19, with health officials reporting five additional deaths. Saskatchewan, which had not been reporting COVID-19 figures over the Christmas holiday, reported a total of 896 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths over a period of five days.
Alberta, meanwhile, reported 8,250 total cases over the same period, bringing the number of active cases in the province to more than 15,000.
“This is spreading so fast and so far that individual case management will not substantially halt the spread,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health.
Across the North, health officials in Nunavut reported 11 additional cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. There were no formal updates from officials in the Northwest Territories or Yukon.
In British Columbia, health officials reported 1,785 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with detail on deaths and hospitalizations expected on Wednesday.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday morning, roughly 282.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.4 million.
In the Americas, New York City will stop quarantining entire classrooms exposed to the coronavirus and will instead prioritize a ramped-up testing program so that asymptomatic students testing negative can remain in school, officials said.
In Europe, France reported nearly 180,000 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a daily record, and is bracing for the number to keep increasing, with forecasts warning of more than 250,000 daily infections likely by January. France has vaccinated more than 75 per cent of its population and is rushing out booster shots, but more than four million adults in the country remain unvaccinated.
In Africa, South Africa on Tuesday reported 7,216 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 additional deaths.
As of today the cumulative number of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> cases identified in SA is 3 424 534 with 7 216 new cases reported. Today 25 deaths have been reported bringing the total to 90 854 deaths. The cumulative number of recoveries now stand at 3 134 314 with a recovery rate of 91,5% <a href=”https://t.co/bFvS9hVfT3″>pic.twitter.com/bFvS9hVfT3</a>
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported 602 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one additional death.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesian health authorities were conducting contact tracing on Tuesday after detecting the Southeast Asian country’s first case of the Omicron variant in the community.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET