The United Kingdom reported more than 78,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the country's highest single-day total since the pandemic began – a worrying sign as the omicron variant spreads globally.
The U.K. reported a total of 78,610 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, an increase from 59,610 the day before – and topping the previous single-day high of 68,053, which was reported on Jan. 8.
Earlier Wednesday, Dr. Jenny Harries, the head of the U.K.'s Health Security Agency, said the omicron strain is displaying a staggering growth rate compared to previous variants.
“The difficulty is that the growth of this virus, it has a doubling time which is shortening, i.e. it’s doubling faster, growing faster,” Harries told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday. “In most regions in the U.K., it is now under two days. When it started, we were estimating about four or five.’’
Harries called the variant "probably the most significant threat we’ve had since the start of the pandemic."
Early data suggests that the omicron variant appears to cause more mild cases than previous strains of the coronavirus — but it does appear to be better at evading vaccines.
"Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant," World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday, noting that the strain has been reported in 77 countries, and is likely in several more.
"Even if omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems," he warned, noting that health officials have expressed concerns "that people are dismissing omicron as mild”
The news comes the same day that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the omicron variant will be the dominant coronavirus strain on the continent by next month, and one day after the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data which showed that omicron cases accounts for nearly 3% of all new COVID-19 cases in the country, jumping from 0.4% the week prior.
The variant is spreading so rapidly in the U.K. that it threatens to overwhelm Britain’s hospitals, the country's Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers on Tuesday. The country is attempting to accelerate its national vaccination program, with a goal of offering a booster dose to every adult by the end of December.
“This is a new national mission,” Javid said. “A race between the virus and the vaccine to get as many people protected as possible.”
This is a developing story. Check back later for further updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.