World passes 300 million COVID-19 cases as Omicron breaks records

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 30: People are seen at a shopping mall as they continue their daily life as the new omicron variant of the coronavirus detected, in Cape Town, South Africa on November 30, 2021. On Nov. 25, South African scientists announced that they had discovered a new COVID-19 variant with a large number of mutations compared to previous variants and reported it to the World Health Organization (WHO), which named it "omicron". (Photo by Xabiso Mkhabela/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
People continue their daily life as the new omicron variant of the coronavirus detected in Cape Town, South Africa on November 30, 2021. (Photo/Getty Images)

The total number of COVID-19 cases registered worldwide passed 300 million on Friday, with the Omicron variant’s rapid spread, setting new infection records in dozens of countries over the last week.

In the past seven days, 34 countries have recorded their highest number of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic, including 18 nations in Europe and seven in Africa, according to an AFP count based on official figures.

While far more contagious than previous coronavirus variants, Omicron appears to cause less severe illness than its predecessors.

Even as it spurred the world to record 13.5 million cases in the last week alone — 64 percent higher than the previous seven days — the global average of deaths dropped three percent.

France’s public health authority said Friday that the risk of hospitalization was about 70 percent lower for Omicron, citing data from the US, the UK, Canada and Israel.

However, with a global average of two million new cases being detected daily, experts warn the sheer numbers to threaten to overwhelm health systems.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Omicron should not be categorized as mild, as it “is hospitalizing people and it is killing people”.

“In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world,” cautioned the WHO chief.