New York sees increase in hospitalised children as Omicron hammers US

A child who tested positive for Covid-19 breathing with the help of a ventilator in the US on Oct 5, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - With Omicron cases on the rise, New York health officials have reported an increase in hospitalised children, as the White House promised on Sunday (Dec 26) to quickly resolve the United States' Covid-19 test shortage.

The New York State Department of Health warned of "an upward trend in paediatric hospitalisations associated with Covid-19" in a statement last Friday.

In New York City, it "identified fourfold increases in Covid-19 hospital admissions for children 18 and under beginning the week of Dec 5 through the current week", it said.

Approximately half of the admissions are younger than five, an age group that is vaccine-ineligible, the department added.

The number of Covid-19 cases in the US is on the rise, with an average of nearly 190,000 new infections daily over the past seven days, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The arrival of the new Omicron variant, compounded by holiday celebrations that typically include travel and family reunions, has caused a rush on tests in the US, where it is difficult to get one in many locations.

Top US pandemic adviser Anthony Fauci on Sunday acknowledged a Covid-19 "testing problem" and vowed to make more tests available to Americans next month.

"One of the problems is that that's not going to be totally available to everyone until we get to January, and there are still some issues now of people having trouble getting tested," he told ABC News.

"But we're addressing the testing problem," he added, saying it should be corrected "very soon".

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden announced a raft of new measures as the US battles its latest Covid-19 surge, including shipping half a billion free home tests in the wake of the Christmas-time testing crunch.

However, the White House, whose strategy has for weeks been mainly focused on vaccinations, has faced strong criticism over the fact that many tests won't be available until January.

Dr Fauci on Sunday emphasised that the administration was ramping up to tackle the spike and stressed that Omicron was "extraordinarily contagious".

Apart from overwhelming hospitals and Covid-19 testing sites, the Covid-19 variant has forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights in the US, as crews called in sick or had to quarantine after exposure to the virus.

Recent studies in South Africa and Britain indicate that Omicron is less likely to lead to hospitalisation than the previous strains of the virus and that the duration of hospital stays and oxygen needs for patients are lower, Dr Fauci noted.

But he also warned that Omicron's apparent lower severity is likely to be neutralised by how fast it is spreading.

"The issue that we don't want to get complacent about... is that when you have such a high volume of new infections, it might override a real diminution in severity," Dr Fauci said.

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