The head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday that he is concerned about the omicron and delta variants of COVID-19, which produce a “tsunami” of cases between them, but he still hopes the world will put the worst of the pandemic behind in 2022.
Two years after the coronavirus first appeared, top UN health officials warned that it was still too early to be reassured by the first data suggesting that omicron, the latest variant, is leading to milder disease. First reported last month in southern Africa, it is already the dominant variant in the US and parts of Europe.
And after 92 of the WHO’s 194 member states missed a target of vaccinating 40% of their populations by the end of this year, Tedro’s Director General Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on everyone to make a “New Year’s resolution” to campaign for 70 vaccinations. % of the countries’ population in early July.
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According to WHO figures, the number of COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide increased by 11% last week compared to the previous week, with almost 4.99 million new reported from 20-26. December. New cases in Europe – which accounted for more than half of the total – rose 3%, while those in America rose 39% and there was a 7% increase in Africa. The global gain followed a gradual increase since October.
“I’m very concerned that omicron, which is more transmissible (and) circulating at the same time as the delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases,” Tedros said at an online news conference. That, he said, would put “enormous pressure on exhausted health workers and health systems on the brink of collapse.”
The WHO said in its weekly epidemiological report that the “overall risk” related to omicron “remains very high.” It cited “consistent evidence” that it has a growth advantage over the delta variant.
It noted that there has been a decline in incidence in South Africa and that early data from this country, the UK and Denmark suggest a reduced risk of hospitalization with omicron, but said more data is needed.
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WHO’s Head of Emergencies, Dr. Michael Ryan, underlined this warning. He said it would be important in the coming weeks to “suppress transmission of both variants to the minimum we can.”
Ryan said omicron infections began largely among young people, “but what we have not seen is the omicron wave is fully established in the wider population. And I’m a little nervous about making positive predictions until we see where good vaccine protection is going to work in the older and more vulnerable populations. “
WHO officials did not offer specific comments on decisions by the United States and other countries to reduce periods of self-isolation. Ryan said that “these are assessment calls that countries make” – taking into account scientific, economic and other factors. He noted that the average incubation period to date has been about five to six days.
“We need to be careful about changing tactics and strategies right away based on what we see,” about omicron, Ryan said.
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Tedros renewed long-standing warnings that “stopping inequality in health remains the key to ending the pandemic.” He said missing out on the goal of getting 40% of the population vaccinated this year “is not just a moral shame – it cost lives and gave the virus opportunities to circulate uncontrollably and mutate.”
Countries largely missed the target due to limited supply to low-income nations for most of the year and then vaccines arriving close to their expiration date, without things like syringes, he said.
Still, I’m still optimistic that this could be the year where we can not only end the acute phase of the pandemic, but we are also mapping out a path to stronger health security, “Tedros said.