The omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, reaching at least 35 U.S. states and 77 countries less than a month after the World Health Organization designated it as a “variant of concern.”
U.S. officials said omicron could fuel a new wave of infections as soon as next month. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that omicron is expected to become the dominant variant in the European Union by mid-January. China this week became one of the latest countries to report omicron cases, and WHO officials said the variant fueled an 83 percent rise in coronavirus cases in Africa over the past week.
Some health officials were optimistic about a major private study in South Africa that suggests omicron causes less severe illness than earlier variants, though the study also found it was more resistant to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine commonly used there. As the spread highlights vaccine inequality, advocates are urging the Biden administration to follow through on a pledge to ensure countries waive intellectual property protections on vaccines and share them with the developing world.
Here’s what to know
- Pfizer’s anti-covid pill prevents severe illness and should work against the omicron variant, the company announced Tuesday.
- The United States on Tuesday surpassed 800,000 deaths from the coronavirus as the pandemic approaches the end of a second year.
- The NFL and NBA are facing a sharp increase in virus cases, with stars sidelined in both leagues. Positive coronavirus tests also forced the NHL to postpone games and threw into question whether it will send players to the Beijing Olympics.
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