COVID-19 and Omicron rise: How are countries around the world responding to the increasing cases?

With record numbers of daily infections in recent days, the UK is currently a hotspot for Omicron – but the latest COVID-19 variant has hit other countries around the world, too.

The US government’s chief medical officer Dr Anthony Fauci has called on Americans to get vaccinated, as densely populated areas such as New York City have seen a surge in cases, and some European countries have reintroduced stricter restrictions.

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According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UK has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Europe and the second highest in the world – 436,870 – in the last seven days.

Here’s what the COVID situation looks like around the world.

United States

The first Omicron case was detected in the US on 1 December and since then numbers have increased by 40%.

Several large events have been cancelled or postponed, with three NFL matches delayed after outbreaks. The National Hockey League was also forces to cancel games, while performances of the Michael Jackson musical on Broadway have been called off.

Dr Tom Frieden, the former chief of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, has urged people to get their booster jabs, warning of a “tidal wave of Omicron likely coming to a hospital near you soon”.

Despite the surge in cases, lockdowns of workplaces and social gatherings have not been put in place.

According to WHO data, the US has seen almost 800,000 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began.

In the past seven days, some 571,461 cases were reported, the highest in the world in the last week.

The total number of coronavirus cases is now almost 50 million in the United States.


Germany is among several European countries that have introduced tougher measures for UK travellers.

As of midnight on Monday 20 December, people travelling from the UK to Germany have to quarantine.

“The spread of Omicron in the UK is very evident… We have to prevent the spread for as long as possible and slow it down as much as possible,” German ministers said in a statement.

People arriving from the UK must also provide a negative coronavirus test under the new rules.

Germany recorded its first Omicron case on 27 November. A total of 297,855 COVID cases have been recorded in the last week.


British tourists can only enter Spain if they show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Until recently, unvaccinated travellers were allowed into the country if they could present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before their arrival.

“The appearance of new variants… obliges an increase in restrictions,” the government has said.

Spain’s Industry, Trade and Tourism department said approximately 300,000 British people who are resident in Spain will not be affected by the new measures.

In football, Real Madrid’s unbeaten record in La Liga ended on Sunday with a 0-0 draw against strugglers Cadiz – the team had been without six players due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.

According to WHO data, some 143,400 cases and 195 deaths have been reported in Spain in the last seven days.


On 16 December, France banned British tourists because of the rise in Omicron cases in the UK.

Those with a “compelling reason” are still able to travel but have to register the address of their stay in France.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told BFM television that restriction measures include reducing the validity of pre-departure PCR tests to 24 hours from 48 for travellers arriving from Britain.

The Delta variant remains dominant in France, which has recorded 350,382 total coronavirus cases and 973 deaths in the past seven days.


Officials in Portugal have not introduced any new COVID-19 measures yet, despite the rise of Omicron.

Almost 30,000 total cases and 107 deaths were reported in the country in the last week.

Analysis by Adam Parsons, Europe Correspondent

Countries in mainland Europe are looking toward the UK and seeing the proportion of Omicron cases, so now they are trying to buy some time.

Every day that passes is an opportunity to get millions of booster jabs into people before the Omicron wave really hits.

That may not take long. Figures suggest that in Paris for instance, the proportion of cases showing the Omicron variant is rising, fast.

That explains the restrictions that have been inflicted upon visitors coming from the UK to Germany, France, Ireland and Cyprus.

A question for the future is – once Europe gets really hit by the new Omicron wave, will there be any value in retaining those travel restrictions?

Of course, it isn’t just down to Omicron. In fact, Delta cases continue to cause countries to bring in new restrictions on the day-to-day lives of citizens.

The Netherlands has gone into something that is akin to an old school full lockdown.

Denmark, one of the first countries to relax COVID rules, has brought them back into places like restaurants, bars and cinemas.

There is also widespread use of vaccine passports in a growing number of places across much of Western Europe.

At the same time, Austria has moved away from its less restrictive lockdown rules, having seen a fall in the number of cases.

The EU, under the guise of Ursula von der Leyen, would love to have a single set of rules but that isn’t happening and I doubt it will happen any time soon.

Instead, we have some echoes of what happened last year, a patchwork of different restrictions, border requirements and health mandates with each country falling back on its own decision making

Italy and Spain will have meetings later this week to discuss their own restrictions.

Those are countries, particularly in the case of Spain, that have been reluctant to be tough on British visitors due to the role of tourism in its economy.

Germany, a very different economy, has put in something at the end of the scale – effectively telling UK visitors not to come because they will spend their whole time in quarantine.

Whether or not Europe moves towards a whole scale restriction against the UK is in the balance.

It depends on how long it takes for Omicron to be dominant across the continent.

South Africa

South Africa has reported the highest number of cases in Africa in the last seven days and the fifth highest globally.

There were 162,364 new infections in the last week, almost a month since the first Omicron case was reported in South Africa.

On 20 December, President Cyril Ramaphosa returned to work following a week of isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

He had mild symptoms and was treated at his official residence in Cape Town by the military health service.

Despite a surge in cases in the last month, hospitalisations remain low with experts stating that vaccines and natural immunity are protecting people from more severe symptoms.

Mr Ramaphosa previously said South Africa would not impose new restrictions, but would “undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations”.

Current regulations in South Africa make it mandatory to wear face coverings in public and restrict indoor gatherings to 750 people and outdoor gatherings to 2,000.

The Netherlands

On 28 November, Dutch health officials detected 13 Omicron cases among people who flew from South Africa – making the Netherlands the first European country to report cases of the new variant.

The country entered into a tough lockdown to curb the spread of Omicron on Sunday 19 December, with non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and other public places closing, as well as schools.

The “unavoidable” lockdown will run until at least 14 January, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said.

Shops, bars, and restaurants in the country had already been under a 5pm to 5am curfew, which was introduced at the end of November.

A total of 108,521 COVID-19 cases and 391 deaths have been reported in the Netherlands in the past week.


From 6 December, unvaccinated Italians faced tougher rules.

The “super green pass” requires vaccination, rather than including those who have received a recent negative test result. It is compulsory for entry to sports events, concerts, theatres, indoor restaurants and public events.

The previously introduced “green pass”, which can be obtained with a negative test result, will be acceptable for the use of local transport and hotels.

In the past seven days, Italy has recorded some 143,400 cases and 750 deaths.


Compared to cases globally, Australia has one of the lowest rates of new COVID-19 cases reported in the last seven days, 15,057, with a similar number of cases as Iran and Colombia.

Earlier this year, England’s Ashes tour was at risk because of rising cases in key Australian cities, including Sydney and Melbourne but tough restrictions for much of their winter has seen a dip in infections.

But, behind the numbers, there are concerns of a spike because of the Omicron variant.

According to reports, 10 testing sites in Melbourne were shut after reaching capacity, while there were long waiting times at centres in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced on Monday that he would discuss the Omicron outbreak with premiers at a snap national cabinet meeting on Friday.

New Zealand

As has been the case for most of the pandemic, New Zealand has managed to keep infections low.

In the latest seven day period, there were 600 positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 12,947.

COVID-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced in November that fully vaccinated international travellers will be allowed into the country from 2022.

The border will first open to citizens and residents travelling from Australia on 16 January, before expanding to include New Zealanders living elsewhere on 13 February,

Fully vaccinated visitors from all other countries, except those deemed “high risk,” can visit the Pacific Island nation from 30 April, Mr Hipkins said.


Since the pandemic began the Thai economy has been devastated as it relies heavily on tourism.

The government lifted restrictions to tourists in November, but it reported its first Omicron case on 20 December and is now considering reinstating some restrictions.

This includes the return of mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors.

In the last seven days, there were 24,717 new infections in Thailand.

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