'Extremely difficult' Omicron surge grips Europe

As a fresh wave of COVID-19 washes across Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he would tighten curbs to slow the spread of the Omicron variant if needed.

JOHNSON: "The situation is extremely difficult and the arguments either way are very, very finely balanced because we've got cases of Omicron surging across the country now, we've got hospitalisations rising quite steeply in London."

Johnson's comments came as Omicron infections are quickly multiplying across Europe, prompting an aggressive response.

The Netherlands went into a shutdown Saturday, closing all but essential stores, restaurants and other public places until at least Jan. 14.

Germany plans to limit private gatherings from Dec. 28 to a maximum of 10 people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, according to a draft of proposed steps.

Ireland on Friday ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. and reduced the capacity in all public events. Italy is also considering new measures.

The World Health Organization warned Omicron should not be underestimated.

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: "There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant, and it's more likely that people who have been vaccinated, or have recovered from COVID-19, could be infected or reinfected."

In the U.S. a spike in COVID cases is also alarming public health officials, who see the Omicron variant fast becoming dominant.

On Monday, the White House said the federal government had dispatched 30 ambulances across New York state to help with surging cases, and an indoor mask mandate was reinstated in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden will address the nation on the variant, and plans to control what's expected to be a coming wave of cases.

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