COVID-19 Live Updates: Countries Look to 'Plan B' As Omicron Spreads Like 'We've Never Seen Before'

Live Updates

Countries are considering ramping up the rollout of booster COVID shots after early studies show the Omicron variant can still impact double-vaccinated people, though it is too early to fully understand how severe the impacts might be.

Dozens of nations are dealing with the rapid spread of the variant, with infections like "nothing we've seen before" in the U.K., according to the country's Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who said yesterday that it could be spreading to up to 200,000 people each day and become the dominant strain in just weeks.

Some governments are waiting for more evidence to emerge about the severity of Omicron before acting but others - mainly in Europe - have chosen strict vaccine-based restrictions on socializing and employment as booster shots get rolled out at an unprecedented speed.

Live updates have now ended

MacMillan responds to U.K. cancer treatment warning

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that cancer care could be significantly disrupted once again this winter and beyond if Omicron was allowed to take hold in the country without any further measures.

Every one of us can play a vital role in reducing pressure on critical NHS care, including cancer services, by getting vaccines, boosters, and following Covid guidelines. However, the Government also must not fail to ensure NHS cancer services are prioritized and protected this winter to ensure that nobody faces long waits and disruption in vital cancer care"

Over 54 million Americans boosted

The booster rollout has reached at least 54.4 million people according to the latest CDC figures.

The takeup of the booster has been rapidly increasing in recent weeks following the discovery of the Omicron variant - detected in at least 30 states so far.

Scotland 'to limit socializing' at Christmas - reports

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will ask people to stick to a maximum of three households for the period before and after Christmas, reports the Daily Record.

She is expected to outline her plans - among other restrictions - to MSPs in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon.

It is the first of the U.K. nations to announce any type of restrictions to gatherings at Christmas - something unlikely and politically challenging for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to enact in England.

Speaking in advance of the statement, Sturgeon warned that there may be "targeted and proportionate" measures introduced in the coming week.

We need to try to protect peoples' ability to spend Christmas with their families, and I am personally hoping for a more normal Christmas than last year on behalf of everybody across the country.

Senior British MP tests positive for COVID ahead of restrictions vote

Rachel Reeves - a senior member of the opposition - said she will not be able to vote on new restrictions in the House of Commons tonight.

She joins at least two other MPs, according to the Yorkshire Post, who have tested positive today.

Taiwan investigating link between mouse bite and COVID

Officials are scrambling to find a possible connection to a laboratory worker who was bitten by a rodent and later tested positive for the virus.

The worker, a fully-vaccinated woman in her 20s at Academia Sinica's Genomics Research Center, became infected last week following the incident.

Authorities have since confirmed that the woman had been bitten twice by mice that had been infected with the virus.

FULL STORY: COVID Lab Leak Probe After Scientist Bitten by Infected Animal

Pfizer's COVID pill helps prevent severe disease in most cases

PAXLOVID antiviral medication, if approved, could cut the risk of hospitalization or death by up to 89 percent, a report by the company shows.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the recent lab test "underscores the treatment candidate's potential to save the lives of patients around the world" - including those with the Omicron variant.

Emerging variants of concern, like Omicron, have exacerbated the need for accessible treatment options for those who contract the virus, and we are confident that, if authorized or approved, this potential treatment could be a critical tool to help quell the pandemic.

'No evidence' COP26 caused COVID spike in Scotland

Health officials at Public Health Scotland (PHS) have concluded that there was no connection between the rise in Omicron cases in the country and the two-week climate summit.

Thousands of delegates attended the conference but a spike in Scotland's infection rate around the same time was "primarily driven by rising cases among children", the report said.

Although the seven-day incidence rate of infection in Scotland began to increase during the COP26 summit, from 330 cases per 100,000 on 1 November to 389 cases per 100,000 on 13 November, this increase was primarily driven by rising cases among children between 5 and 11 years old. With infections falling in the two weeks following the end of the summit, it is likely that COP26 has had little impact on COVID-19 epidemiology in Scotland.

Report finds COP26 not a COVID superspreader
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry with Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans at COP26 Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Schools begin closing in Norway despite health official's claim it 'can increase infection' - reports

Norway's National Institute for Public Health director, Line Vold, claimed yesterday that closing schools "may not have such a large effect on the spread of infection" among children, reports Norweigan paper VG.

We have reviewed all the measures that are now in place, and made an assessment of where it will be appropriate to make adjustments. And the basis for our recommendations is the strategy where it is emphasized that it is a goal to protect children and young people. We consider closing schools to be a measure that, from experience, may not have such a large effect on the spread of infection. We have experience that infection rates go up after the holidays, so it may not be the most effective thing we do.

Despite this, the news outlet reports that Smestad school in Oslo closed from today due the COVID spike, as well as 30 teachers who have called in sick at a single school in Viken. The country's infection rate has soared in recent weeks, with a rolling seven-day average of over 4,000 cases a day - up from the hundreds in late October.

Number of people wearing a mask drops despite Omicron - poll

A new survey by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 57 percent of respondents always or often wear masks when they are outside or around other people - down a quarter on a poll from February and March.

Despite this, over a third of the respondents said they are very or extremely worried about themselves or a loved one contracting COVID - a nine percent increase from October.

FULL STORY: 57 Percent of Americans Still Wear Masks Around Others When Leaving Home - poll

Top South African politician slams 'nonsense' cartoon depicting 'black and South African' virus particles

Mmusi Maimane, former leader of the main opposition party in South Africa, expressed outrage at the image, shown in the south American newspaper La Tribuna last month.

What difference does three months make between vaccines?

Some countries have opted to drastically cut the six-month waiting time between two COVID vaccines in the wake of the Omicron variant.

The U.K. has chosen to cut the time in half to three months, while Australia has cut it to five - but what difference does it make?

Virologist Professor Lawrence Young told the Guardian has was "a bit worried" about the British tactic, citing studies that show a longer wait for a follow-up shot is generally more effective.

We know that often the longer the gap the better, but it's a fine judgment call in terms of how long you leave it before getting the population fully protected.

But largely the effects are not overly noticeable, with a booster shot delivered three months and above showing above-average levels of protection so far.

Major study finds two Pfizer shots may give 70 percent protection against hospitalization from Omicron

A decent amount of protection against serious disease with the Omicron variant, a major real-world study by the South Africa's largest private health insurance administrator, Discovery Health, has found.

The study was based on over 200,000 positive COVID test results from the three weeks to December 7 - around 78,000 of which were the variant.

Journalists, health workers, academics hit out at Hungary's COVID response

Government officials are facing a backlash in the country, accused of failing to provide clear virus statistics and withholding regional information as infections climb.

The government's website currently lists the number of new infections, hospitalizations, ventilator uses, and deaths, but does not break down the numbers by area or provide any visual tools such as graphs and maps.

Journalist Illes Szurovecz told the Associated Press it would be "virtually impossible" to track the spread of the virus if it was not being reported extensively in the media, while immunologist and emeritus professor at Semmelweis University, Andras Falus, said that the country's pandemic response "would have been much more effective" if more thorough data had been published.

FULL STORY: Hungary's Lack of Transparency Hurting Pandemic Recovery, Media and Health Officials Say

'Get boosted now': Boris Johnson pushes public to get booster shots

The British PM is urging the public to "respond" to his plea to get a booster shot after he announced a plan to ensure that any adult can book an appointment by the end of this year.

It is unclear whether the target will be met, however, with almost one million vaccines needing to be delivered each day until the end of December.

Further restrictions in the U.K. are not being ruled out depending on the latest evidence about Omicron and its potential impact on the country.

10 people in U.K. hospitals with Omicron variant - not 250

Hospitalizations among people with the variant are "a significant number", deputy prime minister Dominic Raab told news channels this morning - but not the 250 he told both Sky News and the BBC.

The deputy PM claimed numbers were "in the low hundreds" to one broadcaster, then suggested only nine were hospitalized with Omicron - but officials soon after clarified that in fact 10 people were currently being cared for.

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

The U.S. and many European countries are considering what actions to take ahead of Christmas and the start of 2022 as the Omicron COVID variant spreads rapidly.

Follow Newsweek's liveblog throughout Tuesday for all the latest updates.