Omicron surges to nearly three quarters of US coronavirus cases, first death announced

A man receives a nasal swab during a test for Covid-19 in New York on Dec 17, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Omicron variant accounted for 73 per cent of all sequenced Covid-19 cases in the United States, surging from around 3 per cent last week, according to the latest federal estimates.

The highly mutated coronavirus strain has been detected across the country, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a model that it updates weekly. The Delta variant, which had been the dominant form of the virus in the US last week, has now receded to roughly 27 per cent of sequenced cases.

The sizeable increase in Omicron's overall prevalence underscores fears that the rapidly spreading variant could produce a wave of infections that will strain the US health-care system.

Health officials in Texas announced on Monday the state recorded the first death related to the Omicron Covid-19 variant, ABC News reported, citing Harris County health officials.

It is believed to be the first known recorded Omicron death in the US, the report added.

While there is evidence that Omicron does not produce more severe illness than Delta, a large surge in infection levels could still swamp hospitals with sick patients.

The jump in Omicron was expected and is similar to patterns seen world-wide, the CDC said. 

In some pockets of the US, Omicron accounts for nearly all new infections. The variant made up an estimated 92 per cent of cases in New York and New Jersey, the CDC estimate showed, and 96 per cent in Washington state.

The US is urging those who are eligible to get booster shots to ward off Omicron.

US President Joe Biden will address the nation on Covid-19 on Tuesday. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has already said he does not plan on "locking the country down" in response to the surge.

"This is a speech outlining and being direct and clear with the American people about the benefits of being vaccinated, the steps we’re going to take to increase access and to increase testing."

On Monday, Moderna said a third dose of their vaccine increased antibody levels against the variant, and Pfizer and BioNTech have said lab studies show that a third dose of their vaccine also helps neutralise Omicron.

The spread of Omicron has meanwhile forced many businesses to reconsider return-to-office plans as well as events like investor meetings.

Last week, JPMorgan Chase & Co elected to move its annual healthcare conference next month online, and on Monday the World Economic Forum said that its planned meeting next month in Davos, Switzerland was postponed.

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