The fast-spreading Omicron variant is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, health authorities said as the WHO called for greater efforts to ensure the pandemic ends next year.
The new variant has helped fuel record case surges, forcing a return to harsh restrictions in some countries. But in the United States, President Joe Biden does not plan on “locking the country down,” press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier in the day.
Omicron now accounts for 73.2 percent of new US cases over the past week ending Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. In some regions of the country – the Pacific Northwest, South and parts of the Midwest – it already comprises more than 90 percent of new infections.
With Biden set to deliver an address on COVID-19 Tuesday (Wednesday Manila time), the White House reported that a mid-level, fully vaccinated and boosted staff member had tested positive for COVID-19 after spending 30 minutes in proximity to the president three days prior. Biden has so far tested negative.
Early data suggests Omicron could be more infectious and possibly have higher resistance to vaccines, despite indications that it is not more severe than the Delta variant.
Since it was first reported in South Africa in November, Omicron has been identified in dozens of countries, dashing hopes that the worst of the pandemic is over.
The United States will give $580 million in additional aid to international organizations to fight COVID-19 in the face of surging Omicron cases, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday.
“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant reinforces that we must all continue to accelerate our efforts to end this pandemic and that none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” Blinken said in a statement.
“The world is at a critical point in our global response to this virus. I call on my counterparts to fulfill and bolster their commitments in fighting the pandemic. We must work together, and we must act quickly,” he said.
The additional funds to seven multilateral agencies bring overall US assistance to $19.6 billion, according to the State Department.
In addition to the 330 million vaccines Washington has given to the rest of the world, the $580 million “is a significant contribution to turn vaccines into vaccinations; strengthen public health capacity; support communities in need, and provide urgent, life-saving relief,” Blinken said.
Meanwhile, Thailand reimposed mandatory coronavirus quarantine measures for foreign tourists on Tuesday, nixing a quarantine-free travel scheme as the kingdom seeks to stifle the spread of the Omicron variant.
In early November Thailand reopened to fully vaccinated travelers – who had to isolate for a night until they received a negative PCR test – from more than 60 countries.
But the government announced Tuesday the so-called “Test and Go” scheme will be suspended for at least two weeks.
Visitors will have to undergo hotel quarantine for 10 days, or 14 days if they are unvaccinated.
Thailand has detected 63 cases of the Omicron variant this week, including one community case.