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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.

Go deeper

Updated 23 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters, WHO says — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older.
  5. Variant tracker

Worker shortage unleashes a forever jobs crisis

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Workers are in the driver's seat in the labor market, and that doesn't look likely to change anytime soon. It's also starting to alter the competitive landscape across the business world.

Driving the news: The terms of competition are shifting, especially in labor-intensive industries. The advantage goes to companies that have some distinct advantage in their ability to attract the best workers.

33 mins ago - Health

CDC: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines overwhelmingly prevented hospitalizations from the Omicron variant, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention data out Friday.

Driving the news: Pfizer and Moderna boosters were 90% effective at preventing Americans infected with the Omicron variant from ending up in the hospital, per the data.