Biden warns of ‘winter of illness, death’ for US unvaccinated

US President Joe Biden is urging Americans to get vaccinated or boosted amid a surge in cases linked to the Omicron coronavirus variant, warning of a “winter of severe illness and death” for those who are yet to get inoculated for COVID-19.

Biden’s appeal on Thursday came as the Group of Seven countries called Omicron the biggest threat to public health and the United Nations chief called for an end to global vaccine inequity.

Scientists remain uncertain how dangerous the highly mutated Omicron variant is, but early data suggests it can be more resistant to vaccines and is more transmissible than the Delta variant.

In the US in recent weeks, the average number of daily cases has risen by 30 percent. On December 1, the daily count was 86,000. but on December 14, it had shot up to 117,000.

“It’s here now, it’s spreading, and it’s going to increase,” Biden said, referring to the Omicron variant. “For the unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death. For themselves, their families and the hospitals that will soon be overwhelmed.”

He added, “The only real protection is to get your shot.”

Amid the rise in infections, Broadway shows are being cancelled because of more and more positive tests among drama companies, while major US universities are reverting to classes and tests online to try to halt the spread of the virus.

The National Football League has also introduced stricter health controls after 100 or so players tested positive since the beginning of the week. The NBA has also been hit with games being postponed.

The US is the hardest hit country in the world and is currently averaging 1,150 COVID-19 deaths per day, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).