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U.S. to Deploy Military Medical Teams to Help Ease Strain on Hospitals

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 4 days ago Andrew Restuccia, Sam Schechner, Eric Sylvers
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President Biden detailed plans Thursday to deploy military medical teams to hospitals in six states.

The teams of military doctors, nurses and other personnel will arrive next week to help take the strain off hospitals that have been pushed to the brink amid a surge in Covid-19 cases from the Omicron variant.

The teams will deploy to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Coney Island Hospital in New York, Rhode Island Hospital, Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan, University of New Mexico Hospital, and University Hospital in New Jersey, according to the White House.

More military medical teams will be deployed to other states in the coming weeks as needed, the White House said.

Since Thanksgiving, the administration has sent more than 800 military and other federal emergency medical personnel to states, tribes and territories, the White House said.

During a December speech, Mr. Biden announced plans to send 1,000 military personnel to hospitals in the coming months, but he didn’t lay out which hospitals would receive the extra help.

The U.S. this week saw the number of recorded Covid-19 hospitalizations breach its previous all-time peak of last winter. Despite initial evidence that the Omicron variant is less likely than previous variants to cause severe illness, the sheer number of infections has increased hospitalizations.

The seven-day average for reported cases in the U.S. hit 786,064 on Wednesday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

In Europe, where Omicron cases began to surge weeks earlier than in the U.S., governments have sought to keep society and the economy largely open while focusing restrictions on the unvaccinated and encouraging booster shots in an effort to limit hospitalizations. Some countries have begun contingency planning to avoid staff shortages shutting down critical infrastructure.


Video: Overwhelmed hospital braces for next COVID surge (Associated Press)

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Many schools across France will be closed Thursday because of a teacher strike against complicated—and frequently changing—Covid-19 protocols. One major union organizing the strike said this week that it expects three quarters of teachers to participate, leading to the closure of roughly half the country’s schools. On Thursday at midday, the Education Ministry said that roughly 31% of teachers were participating in the strike, including 38% of elementary-school teachers.

The number of coronavirus cases continues to climb in France. Health Minister Olivier Veran said Wednesday that he estimated that the actual number of people catching the virus, including those not tested, could be double the reported figures, closer to 500,000 to one million a day.

Hospitalizations and deaths have risen, too, albeit far less quickly. Over the past three weeks, the number of cases each day has increased 369%, whereas the number admitted to hospitals daily has risen 83%. The number of intensive-care admissions and deaths have increased even more slowly, up 26% and 30% respectively over the past three weeks.

Infections have surged in Italy, Spain and Greece, with all now showing a higher per-capita infection rate than the U.S. and U.K. The number of deaths, though still well below previous highs, has also started to tick higher.

On Wednesday, Italy recorded 313 deaths, the highest level since April last year but just a third of the peak seen in late 2020. Some public-health officials are forecasting that the current surge of infections will peak within the next week while others say the peak won’t come until the end of the month.

Spain is averaging more than 100,000 new confirmed infections a day, about 10 times more than a month ago. This week, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, said the country should ditch efforts to isolate people who test positive for Covid-19 and trace all their contacts. Instead, he said, the country should begin treating the disease like a “normal flu.”

In December, Greece made vaccination mandatory for people over 60 years old, with a fine of €100, equivalent to $114, to be levied beginning Jan. 16 for those who don’t comply.

In Germany, the rise in cases is pushing the country’s vast testing capacity to its limits, Michael Müller, head of the Association of Accredited Medical Laboratories in Germany, told the regional Rheinische Post daily. He added that the problem would worsen with a new law that allows people to cut short quarantines with a negative PCR test.

The government has warned that it may have to give critical infrastructure workers priority for testing if demand for tests exceeds lab capacity. Germany recorded 81,417 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, a daily record.

Hospitalizations have been declining in the country since early December, but the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s center for disease control, warned Wednesday that hospitalization numbers may be higher than official statistics show.

In the U.K., one of the countries hit earliest by Omicron, more signs emerged that the latest surge was peaking. The seven-day average of new daily cases has been falling for a week and on Tuesday dropped below the 14-day average for the first time since November, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of official data.

The rate of increase in the number of new Covid-19 hospitalizations has also slowed, and in England—and especially London, which experienced the Omicron surge sooner than other regions—new hospital admissions with Covid-19 are falling.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com, Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com and Eric Sylvers at eric.sylvers@wsj.com

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