Dec 16, 2021 - World

U.K.'s climbing case count heralds Omicron winter

Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals 
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals 

It's beginning to look a lot like an Omicron winter wave.

Zoom in: The U.K. recorded a record-high 88,376 cases Thursday, continuing a sharp upward trajectory over the past four days that appears to be driven by the new variant.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson is caught between his scientific advisers, who are issuing increasingly dire warnings, and Conservative backbenchers who resist any additional restrictions.
  • France announced restrictions on travel from the U.K. earlier Thursday, though such steps appear increasingly futile. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said Omicron is likely to be the dominant strain across the continent by mid-January.
  • The U.K. is ramping up its booster program, which has already seen 43% of over-12s get a third shot (more than double the rate in the U.S.).

What to watch: Experts continue to hope infections from Omicron tend to be milder than from the Delta variant. The data paints a mixed picture.

  • Vaccines appear significantly less effective at preventing infection from Omicron, but still by far the best protection against hospitalization and death.

More pandemic headlines:

  • South Korea announced new measures Thursday to combat a surge in cases. Bars will have to close at 9pm and gatherings will be limited to four people. In an unprecedented step, teens will have to be vaccinated to access public buildings.
  • Vaccine passports drive up vaccinations, a new study confirms.
  • The variant is hitting the sports world hard.
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