WHO Underscores Risks of Omicron Even With Less-Severe Symptoms
(Bloomberg) -- The omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus appears less serious than previous strains but shouldn’t be considered mild, the director-general of the World Health Organization said.
“Omicron is hospitalizing and killing people,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a regular briefing in Geneva Thursday.
Early studies have suggested that omicron causes less severe disease and fewer hospitalizations, but it is so highly transmissable that infections worldwide are soaring to record levels putting intense strain on many health systems globally.
In its weekly epidemiological report, the WHO said that global cases soared a record 71% during the week to Jan. 2, from the week before, while the number of new deaths rose 10%.
WHO officials said they expect actual case numbers are even higher due to underreporting and it is likely cases will rise even further in the next weekly report.
Tedros repeated calls for government and business leaders to make vaccine equity a priority to achieve the WHO’s goal of vaccinating 70% of people in all countries by mid 2022.
“First generation vaccinations may not stop all transmissions but they remain effective in preventing serious illness,” he said, referring to the higher transmission rates of omicron.
The WHO chief said low vaccination rates in countries without widespread access to vaccines could foster the evolution of further variants.
“Because of low vaccination rates we have created the perfect conditions for virus variants,” he said.
At current vaccine roll-out rates, 109 countries are on track to miss the WHO’s goal of 70% vaccination by July, Tedros warned.
Other WHO officials urged more vigilance to halt the fast spreading of new variant including wearing proper fitting, high quality face masks and spending time outdoors or in well ventilated indoor spaces.
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