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Biden to announce new Covid measures Tuesday as Omicron variant spikes across US


President Joe Biden will deliver a speech on Tuesday to announce new Covid measures to fight the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant.

It’s anticipated that he will go beyond his already revealed ‘Winter Plan’ and address booster shots, lockdowns and mask mandates. 

Earlier this month Biden announced a Covid plan to battle the virus throughout the colder months, which included booster shots for all adults, vaccinations for kids in efforts to keep schools open and expanding free at-home Covid testing. 

As of Saturday morning the number of confirmed Omicron cases in the US has nearly doubled in a period of 24 hours, with the variant confirmed in all but six states.  

As of Saturday morning, there were 830 cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant confirmed by DNA sequencing across the country, a 97 percent increase from Friday morning’s tally.

In reality, the true number of Omicron cases is much higher, as only 1 to 2 percent of all cases are sequenced for variant markers, but the testing data shows a disturbing national trend.

The CDC estimates that Omicron accounts for at least 13 percent of all new cases in New York, which on Friday recorded its highest single-day tally of new Covid-19 cases ever at 21,027. 

‘The winter Covid-19 surge is here,’ warned New York Governor Kathy Hochul, urging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted. 

Though New York’s hospitalizations, which tend to lag new cases, remain below their peaks, they have climbed 25 percent in the past two weeks, straining the state’s healthcare system. 

Testing has now confirmed the presence of Omicron in every US state except for Oklahoma, Montana, North and South Dakota, Indiana, and Vermont, though the eventual confirmation of the highly transmissible variant in every state now seems assured. 

President Joe Biden will deliver a speech on Tuesday to announce new Covid measures to fight the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant

A huge line formed at the Barclays Center Saturday as demand for Covid testing soars in New York City

A huge line formed at the Barclays Center Saturday as demand for Covid testing soars in New York City

The spread of the variant, which appears highly transmissible and able to evade immune response from vaccination or prior infection, has already pushed Europe to the brink of new lockdowns.

Dutch health experts are advising the Netherlands to impose a hard national lockdown before Christmas, and the country is expected to close all but essential stores from Sunday, sending panicked shoppers flocking to round up last-minute gifts before the restrictions descend. 

As case numbers escalated, alarmed ministers in France, and Austria tightened travel restrictions. Paris cancelled its New Year’s Eve fireworks. 

Denmark closed theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums. Ireland imposed an 8pm curfew on pubs and bars and limited attendance at indoor and outdoor events. 

However in New York, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio remains intent on holding his New Year’s Eve celebration at full capacity in Times Square. The party will mark the end of his eight-year reign, which expires on January 1. 

De Blasio, like Governor Hochul, insisted on Friday that vaccination and precaution is the best way to combat the city’s Covid surge. 

‘No, no, no,’ de Blasio told WNYC on Friday when asked about possible shutdowns of public schools and other activities.

‘Don’t fight yesterday’s war,’ he added. ‘This is not March of 2020. We’re one of the most highly vaccinated places in the United States of America.’

‘The more we vaccinate, the more we can get through this,’ De Blasio said. Another lockdown ‘would really destroy, in so many ways, people’s livelihoods and it would, I think, after everything people have been through – it would be traumatizing.’   

New York City's outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio remains intent on holding his New Year's Eve celebration at full capacity in Times Square, and vows not to follow Europe in a return to lockdowns

New York City’s outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio remains intent on holding his New Year’s Eve celebration at full capacity in Times Square, and vows not to follow Europe in a return to lockdowns

People line up to await the opening of a CityMD health clinic as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in Manhattan, New York City on Saturday

People line up to await the opening of a CityMD health clinic as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in Manhattan, New York City on Saturday

Lines of people wait on Friday to get tested in New York's Times Square, where demand for the tests get bigger every day due to a sweeping Covid-19 surge that is battering the Northeast

Lines of people wait on Friday to get tested in New York’s Times Square, where demand for the tests get bigger every day due to a sweeping Covid-19 surge that is battering the Northeast

Hospitalizations have been rising in New York City as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly

Hospitalizations have been rising in New York City as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly

Meanwhile residents in The Big Apple are now struggling to even get a Covid test as the city suffers a surge of infections and each new positive test is kicking off frantic text messages to friends and colleagues warning them to get tested. 

The looming Christmas holiday is prompting people to seek more tests than ever before prior to traveling to be reunited with family members across the country. 

The spike in supply demand has stretched the city’s testing capacity to the limit, with wait times of more than two hours on Saturday at some city testing centers and pharmacies in Manhattan running out of at-home test kits amid huge demand. 

Furious New Yorkers are now questioning why De Blasio’s administration was not prepared for the crisis, nearly a month after Hochul declared a state of emergency over the Omicron threat.  

‘New York City’s test sites don’t have enough capacity, staffing or supervision,’ tweeted New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay. ‘Almost two years in, there is no excuse for making sick New Yorkers – or any sick people, anywhere – wait for hours in cold rain to get tested.’

According to the Walgreens website, no Walgreens or Duane Reade pharmacy locations in Manhattan had home test kits or appointments for PCR or rapid testing available on Saturday afternoon. 

‘We have recently seen an elevated demand for testing, and our teams are working to ensure our customers are being cared for to support this demand,’ a Walgreens spokesman told DailyMail.com in a statement. 

City-run Health + Hospitals free testing sites were overwhelmed with demand, with the Fort Hamilton site in Brooklyn reporting a wait time exceeding two hours.

Daily new cases in New York City set a record this week since widespread testing was available

Daily new cases in New York City set a record this week since widespread testing was available

City-run testing sites reported huge wait times Saturday as New Yorkers struggled to find testing

City-run testing sites reported huge wait times Saturday as New Yorkers struggled to find testing 

The city is responding to the pressure by opening H+H testing sites seven days a week, opening five new sites, and the city sites are also offering free at-home test kits, according to state Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and a spokesman for H+H did not immediately respond to inquiries from DailyMail.com on Saturday afternoon. 

In Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood alone, more than a dozen bars and restaurants have had to close temporarily amid a recent surge in infections among their workers and patrons.   

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant entered the league’s COVID protocol on Saturday, making him the eighth man on the team taken out of action by the virus, even as a huge line formed at a testing station outside the team’s Barclays Center arena. 

The Rockettes on Friday canceled the remained of their Christmas Spectacular performances and a wave of Broadway productions have gone dark due to breakthrough infections in vaccinated performers. 

‘It feels very reminiscent of March 2020,’ said Spencer Reiter, a 27-year-old Brooklyn resident who works in finance as he waited for a rapid test at a medical van near McCarren Park.

Reiter and his friend Katie Connolly, a student who is also 27, had come to be tested after friends tested positive.

‘Seeing these lines… it’s kind of back to where we began,’ Reiter said. Connolly concurred, saying, ‘It’s definitely eerie.’

New York City had been mostly spared the worst of the big surge in Covid-19 cases that has taken place across the northeastern and midwestern US since Thanksgiving, but the situation has been changing rapidly in recent days

New York City had been mostly spared the worst of the big surge in Covid-19 cases that has taken place across the northeastern and midwestern US since Thanksgiving, but the situation has been changing rapidly in recent days

People wait in line to get tested for Covid-19 at a mobile testing site in Times Square on Friday in New York

People wait in line to get tested for Covid-19 at a mobile testing site in Times Square on Friday in New York

Kevin Durant (seen Thursday) went on the Covid protocol on Saturday after becoming the eighth Nets player infected

Kevin Durant (seen Thursday) went on the Covid protocol on Saturday after becoming the eighth Nets player infected

The Omicron coronavirus variant has been reported in 89 countries and the number of cases is doubling in 1.5 to 3 days in areas with community transmission, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday.

Omicron is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity, but it is unclear if this is due to the virus’ ability to evade immunity, its inherent increased transmissibility or a combination of both, the WHO said in an update.

The agency designated Omicron a variant of concern on November 26, soon after it was first detected, and much is still not known about it, including the severity of the illness it causes.

‘There are still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron,’ the WHO said. ‘More data are needed to understand the severity profile and how severity is impacted by vaccination and pre-existing immunity.’

It added, ‘There are still limited available data, and no peer-reviewed evidence, on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to date for Omicron’.

The WHO warned that with cases rising so rapidly, hospitals could be overwhelmed in some places.

‘Hospitalizations in the UK and South Africa continue to rise, and given rapidly increasing case counts, it is possible that many healthcare systems may become quickly overwhelmed.’

In the US, highly vaccinated states in the northeast seem to be struggling the most at the moment, as cold weather, waning vaccine immunity and the new variant all contribute to a new case surge. 

In Connecticut, 74 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in America. The state has also seen its Covid situation spiral out of control in recent weeks. New cases are up 162 percent over the past two weeks, with 72 out of every 100,000 residents testing positive for the virus every day.

Rhode Island currently has the highest Covid rate in America, with 99 out of every 100,000 residents testing positive for the virus every day – up 63 percent over the past two weeks. It is also the second most vaccinated state in America with 75 percent residents fully jabbed.

The most vaccinated state in America is Vermont, where 76 percent of residents are fully immunized. The state is experiencing a surge of its own still, though, with 69 out of every 100,000 residents being infected everyday.

To credit the vaccine, though, deaths in all three states have remained low despite recent case surges. 

Other nearby states like Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, all with more than 70 percent of their populations fully vaccinated, are dealing with cases surges as well.

‘I think the only thing that it can come down to is behaviors and waning immunity,’ Dr Chris Thompson, an infectious disease expert at Loyola University of Maryland, told DailyMail.com about the increasing rate of infections in highly vaccinated states.

‘So the boosters will help to overcome the waning immunity and it’s up to us to become vigilant about those behaviors of handwashing, masking, social distancing, testing, vaccinations and those sorts of things. 

‘[There are] also colder temperatures up there, so people are probably gathered together more indoors again, and that gathering can can lead to easier spread, especially with Omicron.’

New York and New Jersey have become early Omicron hubs. According to CDC data, the new strain accounts for around 13 percent of sequenced cases in those states.

Cases in New York have increased by 75 percent over the past two weeks, and the state is also among the nation’s leaders in Omicron cases sequenced, with 59 confirmed in the state. 

Meanwhile, Omicron cases in the South African ground zero peaked on December 6, experts believe, but are still rising in the rest of the country. 

Three weeks after the start of the wave, cases of the variant reached their highest level in Gauteng according to expert Louis Rossouw, which was first to feel the full force of the variant. 

The rapid rise and fall of Omicron cases in Gauteng has mystified experts, and Covid cases in other areas of South Africa are now rising rapidly.



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