Denmark expects omicron to overtake delta within a week. Here’s what that means for the U.S. and the world

The U.S. cannot eliminate transmission of the virus, Lawler said, but there are measures the nation can take to limit hospitalizations. That includes vaccinating everybody in the country over the age of 5 and making sure everyone who is eligible for a booster gets one.

Pfizer and BioNTech published preliminary data last week showing omicron significantly reduces the ability of the two-dose vaccine to ward off infection. However, two doses may still prevent severe disease, the companies said. Booster shots provide significant protection against infection, according to the lab data.

Lawler said mitigation measures such as wearing masks in indoor public places and limiting indoor gatherings as well as close contact can also help stem the tide. “You know, there’s that old saying — ‘hope is not a plan.’ Right?” Lawler said.

However, the reintroduction of mitigation measures in the U.S. has proven politically controversial. While New York and California have reintroduced mask mandates, Texas and Florida have banned local governments and school boards from implementing them. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Friday declared “the emergency is over” and said mask mandates are no longer necessary due to the wide availability of vaccines.

At the federal level, President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements for federal contractors and private businesses are currently blocked by federal courts. The president has ruled out lockdowns, relying instead on vaccination and widespread testing this winter.

Denmark, on the other hand, has implemented a number of measures to stem the wave of infection. The national government is encouraging people to work from home and primary school children will attend class virtually through Jan 4. Masks are required in most indoor public spaces. Nightclubs are closed while bars, restaurants and cafes must shut their doors at midnight. People are required to present Covid passes, proving they are vaccinated, have received a recent negative test or recovered from previous infection, to enter many businesses.

The United Kingdom has also hit the alarm, raising its Covid threat assessment to level 4 on Sunday, a step below the highest warning. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said omicron is resulting in hospitalizations and confirmed the U.K. first death from the variant. He warned that Britain faces a “tidal wave” of omicron infections.

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC on Monday that omicron is spreading at a “phenomenal rate” with cases doubling every few days. England is urging people to work from home, mandating masks in most indoor public spaces, and requiring proof of two vaccine doses before entering nightclubs and large events.

On Wednesday, the U.K. reported the highest number of new Covid cases since the pandemic began.

CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy said she does not believe the U.S. will follow the same timeline as the U.K. on omicron. “I don’t expect will be on the same time horizon as U.K. and we’re continuing to follow cases and we’ll look at that carefully,” she said during a White House Covid update on Friday.

However, Michael Osterholm, , director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNBC last week that omicron will overtake delta in the U.S. soon.

“It’s just a matter of time before omicron becomes the dominant variant here, and I think that could happen relatively quickly,” Osterholm told CNBC last week.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, said Tuesday that countries need to start preparing their health-care systems for omicron now. He said governments should make sure their health systems have enough staff, triage and oxygen supplies in place.

“Health systems are weaker now than they were a year ago in reality,” Ryan said. “So unfortunately, sometimes you can get up after the first punch, but it’s very hard to get up after the second.”