The fast-spreading Omicron variant has become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Omicron now accounts for 73.2 percent of new US cases over the past week ending on Saturday, the CDC reported on Monday. In some regions of the United States, namely, the Pacific Northwest, South and parts of the Midwest, the Omicron variant is already causing more than 90 percent of new infections.
Early data suggests the Omicron variant could be more infectious and possibly have higher resistance to the present vaccines, despite indications that it is not more severe than the Delta variant.
First Omicron-related US death reported
Meanwhile, the first death tied to Omicron has been reported in Texas, as the White House announces a handful of new initiatives to battle spiking virus case numbers.
Texas health officials in Harris County announced the death this week, noting it had occurred in an unvaccinated man with “underlying health conditions” aged between 50 and 60 who had previously been infected by COVID.
Some local officials have drawn on news of the death to encourage citizens to get inoculated against COVID-19.
“This is a reminder of the severity of Covid and its variants. We urge all residents who qualify to get vaccinated and get their booster shot, if they have not already,” Harris County Public Health Executive Director Barbie Robinson said in a public statement.
US President Joe Biden is expected to deliver an address related to the Omicron surge on Tuesday,
Despite the surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States, the Biden administration has said that the White House had no plans for "locking the country down", White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.
Since the Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa in November, it has been identified in dozens of countries, dashing hopes that the worst of the pandemic is over.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned world leaders of nations to redouble their countries' efforts to help curb the spread of Omicron and put an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
The WHO chief advised countries to keep calm and take "rational" measures in response to the new, fast-spreading COVID variant Omicron, which has sparked global panic.
He called for New Year events to be cancelled because it was better to "celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.
"We have to focus now on ending this pandemic," he insisted.