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US crosses 50 million Covid-19 cases as Delta dominates amid Omicron emergence

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The US crossed the mark for 50 million Covid-19 cases on Sunday (Dec 12), according to Reuters tally, as the Delta variant continues to threaten Americans and the newly discovered Omicron variant spreads.

After about two months of declining infections, the United States has reported daily increases for the past two weeks, driven by the Delta strain of the coronavirus.

States in colder parts of the country are seeing the biggest surge in new infections on a per capita basis, including Vermont, New Hampshire and Michigan.

The number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients is rising as well, up 20 per cent since the Thanksgiving holiday at the end of November.

Over the past month, deaths have increased by 4.6 per cent, with the country’s death toll surpassing 800,000.

Nearly half of US states have detected cases of the Omicron variant, but Delta still accounts for 99 per cent of current Covid-19 cases, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, has said.

For Omicron to be a significant problem, it will need to change that balance to become dominant.

Dr John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, said: “If we suddenly start to see 10 per cent of new infections being Omicron, and then it goes up the next week to 20 per cent, that would tell us that we’re in a replacement wave such as we saw when Delta replaced Alpha.” 

An analysis of Reuters data shows that it took almost a year to reach the first 25 million Covid-19 cases and 323 days, less than a year, to go from 25 million to 50 million cases.

Laboratory studies released this week suggest that Omicron will blunt the power of the Pfizer-BioNTech two-dose vaccine to prevent Covid-19 infection, although a third dose may restore that protection.

Around 14 per cent of people in the US have now received a booster shot. Close to 10 million of those people have gotten the extra shots since the Thanksgiving holiday, with concerns about the Omicron variant rising.

Pfizer and Merck have developed Covid-19 antiviral drugs that work across all variants, with countries rushing to buy the pills.

Getting vaccinated should still be the priority for Americans but having pills that can keep people out of the hospital “could be a lifesaver”, said US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra.

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