Records tumble as Omicron continues spread across Europe

(Update: adds details on Bulgaria protest)

Madrid Desk, Jan 12 (EFE).- Several countries in Europe, including Germany, Austria and Turkey, have reported record breaking numbers of Covid-19 infections largely due to the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

On Wednesday, German health authorities reported 80,430 new cases, up from 58,512 a week ago, the highest tally since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Germany’s previous peak was in mid-November, when 63,371 infections were registered.

Some 72 percent of the population has received two doses of the vaccine, while 43.5 percent has received a booster shot and 74.7 percent have at least one dose.

While the infection numbers are record breaking, Germany’s advanced vaccination program has resulted in fewer hospitalizations and deaths, and the number of coronavirus patients being treated in ICUs fell by 14 percent over the past week.

But the situation in hospitals is still considered critical due to significant numbers of medical personnel having to undergo quarantine if they test positive or come into contact with a confirmed case.

Neighboring Austria also registered its highest number of new Covid-19 infections after reporting 17,006 cases in the last 24 hours, up 47% since Tuesday, while the seven-day infection rate on Tuesday was up 83% since the turn of the year.

People in Austria must be vaccinated or have recently recovered from Covid-19 to be able to access non-essential stores, cultural events, bars and restaurants.

The coalition government of the conservative People’s Party and ecologist Greens still intends to impose mandatory vaccination from next month and fines for those who refuse.

Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest country and with the bloc’s lowest vaccination rates, registered a record 7,052 new positive cases in the last 24 hours, a sevenfold increase since New Year.

In the last 24 hours, 89 people have died of Covid while the number of hospitalized patients rose by 23% in the last 10 days. Intensive care beds are already estimated at 83% occupancy.

Bulgaria, which has vaccinated only 28.1% of its 6.5 million inhabitant – far below the EU average of 68.7% – has one of the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world and twice the EU average.

Bulgarian police prevented dozens of demonstrators from storming parliament during a large protest against Covid-19 certificates that are required to access bars and other entertainment venues.

Turkey also reported a total of 74,266 new Covid-19 cases, the highest daily figure since the pandemic began.

Tevfik Ozlu of the scientific committee advising the government has warned that infections have not yet reached their peak and pointed out that although the Omicron variant is not overburdening hospitals, the number of patients requiring intensive care and intubation is increasing.

Meanwhile in France, health minister Olivier Véran said that authorities expect the number of Covid infections, which has been at record levels for more than a week, to decrease or at least stabilize in the coming days, in view of the experience in the United Kingdom.

“More time is needed” to know if the peak has been reached, Véran pointed out in an interview with the radio station France Info, in which he was cautious but stressed that “for now it seems that the curve of hospitalizations is less high than it could have been”.

The reason is that the Delta variant “seems to be clearly decreasing, and that is good news” because it is driving many of the most serious cases, while Omicron, although much more contagious, “causes fewer serious cases”. EFE


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