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Global Omicron surge drives cases to record highs in dozens of countries

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A security guards walking in an area that is under restrictions following a recent coronavirus outbreak in China's northern province. (Photo by AFP)

Dozens of countries across four continents have logged record number of infections from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, underlining challenges facing both rich and poor nations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a looming “tsunami” of infections as the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant spreads its tentacles at breakneck speed.

More than one million Chinese citizens on Monday entered lockdown after three asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 were detected in the city of Yuzhou in Henan province, local media reported.

It follows the closure of Xi'an, a city of 13 million people in neighboring Shaanxi province of northwest China. As of Monday, Xi'an has reported more than 1,600 cases in the latest flare-up of COVID-19, according to the Chinese media outlets.

Yuzhou has a population of 1.17 million, according to the latest census of 2021, a much smaller number than Xi’an, where the virus has gained firm foothold again.

According to the country’s health authorities, 175 new coronavirus cases were identified on Monday, compared with 161 a day before. However, no new fatalities were reported.

Shops and supermarkets in Yuzhou have been shuttered, except for daily necessities.

Yuzhou emergency measures require citizens to stay at home. Onsite teaching activities at schools have also been suspended.

China is battling its worst coronavirus outbreak since early last year with the 2022 Beijing Winter games barley a month away.

In Europe, at least five countries — including Australia, Denmark and the UK — have seen a surge of more than double the previous recorded peak in infections.

Australia recalled COVID-positive nurses from isolation to work in hospitals across New South Wales, as hospitals try to overcome severe staff shortage amid the Omicron surge, according to the Guardian.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary, Brett Holmes, told the newspaper that reports of COVID-positive nurses returning to work “shows the level of desperation we’ve got into our health system”.

The countrywide tally of COVID-19 infections in Australia has reached more than 10,000 cases, marking its biggest, most widespread coronavirus outbreak, with the Omicron variant found in every state.

In UK, despite a huge surge in Omicron variant infections, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has so far resisted in imposing new restrictions.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have imposed some new measures.

In Japan, people started the year's first day of work on Tuesday amid growing fear over the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

The highly transmissible variant continued to spread in the country during the New Year holidays, with 782 new COVID-19 cases reported nationwide on Monday.

The capital Tokyo saw its daily count exceed 100 for the first time in about three months.

Although no strict emergency measures have been imposed yet, there are major concerns over sharp rise in cases in Okinawa, home to more than 23 thousand US troops in the country.  

Local officials blame the US military forces for the recent outbreak in Japan, blaming it on unmasked troops leaving their bases and mingling with civilians.

The Okinawa governor, Denny Tamaki, slammed the US military for paving way to the Omicron variant to gain foothold in Okinawa.

“I am outraged because the sharp increase in the number of infections among US military personnel suggests that their management is insufficient,” he was quoted as saying.

US military bases in Japan reported 235 new infections during New Year holidays, according to Kyodo news agency.

Japan has banned all foreign travelers from coming to the country in a bid to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.   

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