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FirstFT: Global surge drives Omicron cases to record highs in 20 countries

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Twenty countries spanning four continents have reported record-breaking numbers of Covid-19 cases in the past week, highlighting the strain Omicron is exerting on the health systems of both rich and poor nations globally.

The World Health Organization has warned of an impending “tsunami” of infections as the highly transmissible coronavirus variant and the Delta strain circulate together.

At least five countries — including Australia, Denmark and the UK — have experienced a surge of more than double the previous recorded peak in cases, according to Financial Times analysis.

The US seven-day rolling average of cases neared 300,000 on Wednesday, its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic, according to the FT’s data tracker.

Countries are also testing much more now than at earlier stages of the pandemic, but the share of tests that return a positive result is climbing across the board, indicating that the surge in cases is real.

Countries on four continents are registering record Covid-19 cases
Countries on four continents are registering record Covid-19 cases © FT Covid tracker

How well did you keep up with the news this year? Take our quiz.

1. Tesla undertakes its largest-ever voluntary vehicle recall Tesla has undertaken its biggest-ever voluntary recall to fix problems in rear-view cameras and trunk latches in about 475,000 Model 3 and Model S vehicles. The recall brings a black mark to a company whose cars have consistently won among the highest official safety ratings.

2. After Ghislaine Maxwell, who’s next? Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty on five of six criminal charges for aiding Jeffrey Epstein in the sexual abuse of girls. Facing as much as 65 years in prison, Maxwell could co-operate with authorities and start naming names, bringing fresh scrutiny to the powerful men who may have consorted with Epstein.

Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein in an undated photo provided by US prosecutors © US Department of Justice via PA

3. Hong Kong and China defend police raid While the US condemned the police raid on Stand News, a pro-democracy media outlet, Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have hit back. They claim the arrests had “nothing to do with so-called suppression of press freedom” and insisted that “no country or organisation has the right to interfere in Hong Kong affairs.”

Coronavirus digest

  • Two doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine cut the risk of hospital admission by up to 85 per cent, according to a South African study.

  • A European drive to vaccinate children has divided worried parents, with governments taking a markedly different approach to vaccinating the young.

  • France eases restrictions for Britons returning to their homes in other EU countries, following travel disruption caused by sudden new Covid measures.

  • The pandemic has forced a “fundamental shift” in global trade policies, South Korea’s trade minister said.

What else we’re reading

Carmakers wary of going ‘all in’ on electric vehicles Companies such as Toyota, BMW and Stellantis are resisting the rush into EVs. While all three have plans to sell significant numbers of EVs over the next decade, they believe that the green revolution will be gradual.

What are Putin’s options for Ukraine? After deploying 100,000 soldiers close to Ukraine’s borders, Vladimir Putin threatens possible military action in the country. Experts warn Russia’s president could contemplate a wide range of scenarios — from targeted missile strikes to a full-scale invasion.

Business trends, risks and people to watch in 2022 The pandemic could end in 2022 — or we could suffer renewed setbacks. Operating with that uncertainty, companies will record new triumphs and failures in 2022. Here is what to look for next year across the corporate world, from pharma and technology to travel and energy.

Our most-read Weekend article of the year

In February, Yuval Noah Harari looked back at a year of “scientific breakthroughs” and “political failures”, seeking lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic. What can we learn for the future? Read one of our most popular stories of 2021, written by the author of ‘Sapiens’.

“Fighting the epidemic is important, but is it worth destroying our freedom in the process? It is the job of politicians rather than engineers to find the right balance between useful surveillance and dystopian nightmares.”
— Yuval Noah Harari

Researchers at Munich’s Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology
Researchers at Munich’s Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology, a military research facility that diagnosed the first German Covid-19 case © Rafael Heygster/Helena Manhartsberger

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