The Crown Princess of Denmark, Mary, has tested positive for coronavirus.
The Australian-born royal was isolating in a wing of the Amalienborg Palace in the heart of Copenhagen and the virus was not detected among other members of the family, the royal court said in a statement.
That’s the breaking news out of Europe just before 6am on Thursday morning.
There are also Omicron developments you may like to know about – including more on research into the effectiveness of current vaccines in fighting off the new variant.
Read on for a wrap of the latest coronavirus news.
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Cases surge in the UK and South Africa
South Africa and the United Kingdom have both reported a record high number of new daily COVID-19 infections as experts monitor the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa reported 26,976 new cases in the past 24 hours, surpassing a peak of 26,485 in early July during a third wave driven by the then-dominant Delta strain.
The NICD also reported another 54 COVID-19 related deaths and an additional 620 hospital admissions on Wednesday.
South Africa, the country worst affected by the pandemic on the African continent in terms of confirmed infections and deaths, alerted the world to Omicron in November, triggering alarm that it could cause a global surge in infections.
Omicron has since been detected in more than 70 countries worldwide, with the World Health Organisation labelling it “of concern”.
Scientists suspect that Omicron is more transmissible given its rapid spread though they caution it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about the severity of the disease that it causes.
Some anecdotal accounts by doctors and researchers in South Africa suggest Omicron is mainly causing mild infections locally but that could also be explained by high levels of previous COVID-19 infection in the country.
The UK recorded a further 78,610 COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, about 10,000 more than the previous daily high reported in January.
More than 11 million people have tested positive for the disease since the start of the pandemic in the UK, which has a total population of about 67 million.
With the Omicron variant of the virus surging across the country, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned of a “tidal wave” of infections.
Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, earlier called the Omicron variant “probably the most significant threat” since the start of the pandemic.
“The numbers that we see on data over the next few days will be quite staggering compared to the rate of growth that we’ve seen in cases for previous variants,” she told a parliamentary committee.
Ms Harries said that Omicron had the potential to put the National Health Service “in serious peril” because of the speed at which infections were increasing.
The new variant of the virus has a doubling time under two days in most regions in the UK, with its growth rate was being notable in London and Manchester in particular.
Canada warns against international travel
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to advise Canadians to avoid international travel while provinces ramp up vaccinations and hand out rapid tests to combat the Omicron coronavirus variant but efforts to head off a rising COVID-19 wave are complicated by public pandemic fatigue.
COVID-19 case numbers are increasing as Canada’s hospitals struggle to clear backlogs from months of postponed procedures as surgeries were put off due to staff reassignments and people delayed medical treatments amid pandemic fears.
Many burnt-out staff members appear ill-equipped for another COVID-19 surge.
Canada’s government is poised to advise people to avoid non-essential international travel, a source told Reuters speaking on condition of anonymity.
In a meeting with provincial premiers, Mr Trudeau also discussed a possible ban on non-essential incoming travellers, CBC News.
Canada already has travel bans on 10 African countries because of Omicron concerns.
Canada initially advised people in March 2020 not to travel abroad unless necessary but in October of this year – before the first Omicron cases were reported – withdrew the notice, citing the success of vaccination efforts.
Peter Juni, director of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory board, urged people to take precautions, get vaccinated and not take Omicron lightly.
“What really worries me is that people are asleep at the steering wheel, internationally,” Mr Juni said.
“They have wishful thinking it will be mild… This is not a realistic attitude.”
Juni said he understands people are tired of the pandemic.
“I’m completely exhausted,” Mr Juni said.
“I’ve had it. I’m done completely. But the virus doesn’t care.”
Italy says 99 per cent of cases are Delta
The Delta variant of the coronavirus is still predominant in Italy, the National Health Institute or ISS says, releasing data of a flash-survey showing it accounted for more than 99 per cent of cases on December 6.
By contrast, the new Omicron variant accounted for 0.19 per cent of cases, namely four, on the same day.
That flash-survey includes the cases of the variants detected on a single day as opposed to all those detected up to that time, the ISS said in a statement.
The number of cases of the Omicron variant as of December 15 in Italy is 28, official figures show.
“Omicron’s presence was widely expected and future surveys will allow us to estimate the speed of its spread,” ISS president Silvio Brusaferro said.
Vaccines may be less effective against Omicron
Preliminary evidence indicates COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against infection and transmission linked to the Omicron coronavirus variant, which also carries a higher risk of reinfection, the World Health Organisation says.
The WHO, in its weekly epidemiological update on Wednesday, said that more data was needed to better understand the extent to which Omicron may evade immunity derived from either vaccines or previous infection.
“As a result of this, the overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high,” it said, echoing comments made by WHO officials at an online briefing on Tuesday.
For the first time since the dominant Delta variant was classified as a variant of concern in April, the percentage of Delta sequences registered on the GISAID global science database has declined this week compared with other variants of concern, it said.
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) December 15, 2021
This needs to be interpreted with caution as countries may perform targeted sequencing for Omicron and therefore upload fewer sequences on all other variants, including Delta, it said.
The Delta variant is still dominant, however, accounting for 99.2 per cent of the almost 880,000 sequences uploaded to GISAID with specimens collected in the past 60 days.
But the trend is declining in the proportion of Alpha, Beta and Gamma, and with the emergence of Omicron variant.
Out of the total, some 3755 – or 0.4 per cent – were Omicron and the other three variants of concern together numbered 401, less than 0.1 per cent each.