Schools return to midst of Omicron Havoc, but hopes falter | World news

By Clara-Laeila Laudette and Elias Biryabarema

MADRID / KAYUNGA, Uganda (Reuters) – Children of the COVID era flocked to school in various countries on Monday as the Omicron strain spread exponentially and tennis superstar Novak Djokovic’s battle to play a laid bare the world’s passions for vaccines.

Although Omicron is less dangerous than previous waves, it has pushed cases worldwide beyond 305 million during the two-year pandemic that refuses to go away. Almost 6 million people have died.

There are, however, signs of a decline of the variant in southern Africa where it was first detected in November, even as it fuels huge new outbreaks from India to the United States and overwhelms some of the best. world health systems in Europe.

In Spain, as in other countries suffering from massive absences of doctors themselves stricken by COVID-19, an expert predicted the end of the nightmare in a few weeks.

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“Spain has several weeks – practically the entire month of January – of increasing cases … and then hopefully we reach a plateau that will come down just as quickly,” Rafael Bengoa, co-founder of the Bilbao Institute for Health and Strategy.

The former senior official at the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was unlikely that a variant worse than Omicron would come.

“Pandemics do not end with a huge boom but with small waves because many have been infected or vaccinated,” he said. “After Omicron, we shouldn’t have to worry about more than small waves.”

THE LONGEST SCHOOL CLOSURE IN THE WORLD

In Uganda, students were returning to institutions closed almost two years ago on Monday during the world’s longest education disruption caused by the coronavirus.

This has helped control the pandemic – with just 153,000 cases and 3,300 deaths recorded in the East African country – but the government estimates that around a third of students will never return for various reasons, from pregnancy poverty.

“We faced temptations,” said Rachael Nalwanga, 16, happily returning to class as others of her generation took jobs to support families or had babies.

“I am delighted to be going back to school. It has not been easy for me to stay safe at home for so long, but I thank God,” she told Reuters in the town of Kayunga.

After the Christmas and New Year holidays, classes were also due to start on Monday in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and parts of Germany. Young people were faced with a series of measures related to wearing masks and parents not allowed through the doors.

The new Italian rules state that if there are two cases in a class, only recently vaccinated or boosted students can stay, and that if there are three or more, they move on to distance education.

Experts say the Omicron peak is yet to come in Europe, whose well-funded health systems nonetheless crumbled as a record number of COVID-19 infections resulted in staff shortages and more patients.

Britain, where deaths topped 150,000, has started using military personnel to support the National Health Service and has put its largest private health company on alert to provide key treatments, including breast surgery. cancer, if the situation worsened.

Spain was bringing back retired doctors, while the Netherlands was considering a change to allow infected but asymptomatic staff to continue working. In Italy, the challenge of nearly 13,000 infected health workers has been compounded by suspensions for non-vaccination.

Anti-vaccination campaigners applauded the case of Serbian tennis world No.1 Djokovic, who was released from a migrant detention hotel on Monday after winning a lawsuit to stay in Australia, where he is pursuing a 21st Grand Slam, a record.

Djokovic, a vocal anti-vaxxer, had been arrested at the airport following a medical exemption that would allow him to play in the upcoming Australian Open. But a judge said it was unreasonable and ordered his release.

There has also been political friction in France, where Stéphane Claireaux, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling LREM party, said he was attacked this weekend by protesters protesting against COVID health passes.

Australia, which had been relatively protected, surpassed one million COVID-19 cases, more than half of which were recorded last week, as the Omicron variant spread across the country.

India has also seen an eight-fold increase in daily infections over the past 10 days, although hospitalizations were much lower than in the previous wave driven by the Delta variant.

Nearly half a million people have died since the start of the pandemic in India, a country of 1.4 billion. Indian officials have said privately they suspect daily infections will surpass the record of more than 414,000 set in May.

(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette, Nathan Allen and Inti Landauro in Madrid; Elias Biryabarema in Kayunga; Alistair Smout in London; Emilio Parodi in Milan; Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Krishna N. Das in New Delhi; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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