The World Health Organization has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, as France, Germany and Brazil posted new records of infections in the past 24 hours.
The highly transmissible Omicron strain has spread unabated around the world, pushing some governments to impose fresh measures while speeding up the rollout of vaccine booster shots.
“This pandemic is nowhere near over,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
Europe is at the epicenter of alarming new outbreaks, with Germany’s cases soaring past 100,000 for the first time on Wednesday and France reporting nearly half a million cases.
The UN health chief warned against dismissing Omicron as mild, as the dominant COVID strain continues to flare new outbreaks from Latin America to East Asia after it was first detected in southern Africa in November.
“Omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” he said.
Japan’s government approved new coronavirus restrictions on a large part of the country, including Tokyo, on Wednesday as it battles record infections fueled by Omicron.
The restrictions in 13 regions, which mainly target nightlife and are far less strict than a blanket lockdown, will be in place from Friday until mid-February.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government aimed to be “fully prepared” in the fight against the latest wave of COVID-19.
“We will not have excessive fear, and will work in close coordination with regional governments. With scientific assessments from experts, the cooperation of medical workers and above all else, the cooperation of the Japanese public, we will overcome this situation,” he said.
Elsewhere in the world, Brazil registered a new record number of daily cases of more than 137,000 on Tuesday.
The country suffered a devastating second wave last year with deaths topping 4,000 a day, pushing its death toll to the second highest in the world behind the United States.
China partially relaxed transport restrictions in the megacity of Xi’an where millions have been confined to their homes for weeks.
China’s resumption of some inter-city train routes in Xi’an from Tuesday comes just before the Lunar New Year holiday later this month, traditionally a period of mass travel.
It also comes as Beijing battles multiple clusters that are testing its enforcement of a strict “zero-COVID” approach ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics.