The World Health Organization has warned against dismissing the Omicron variant of COVID-19 as a minor disease.
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Sharp Rise in Omicron Cases, Hospitals Burdened
According to WHO’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, hospitals are getting overburdened now as a result of burgeoning Omicron infections. The new strain is also rapidly displacing the previously dominant Delta variant in many countries.
“While Omicron appears to be less severe than Delta, particularly among individuals who have been vaccinated, this does not mean it should be classified as moderate,” Tedros said during a press conference.
“Omicron, like prior variations, is putting people in hospitals and killing them,” he explained. Last week, the WHO received reports of just under 9.5 million new COVID-19 cases. This was a new high of 71 percent over the previous week. However, according to Tedros, even this high rate of infections was an underestimation. It did not account for the backlog of testing during the Christmas-New Year vacations and un-recorded positive self-tests. Furthermore, overburdened monitoring systems might have missed certain positives, giving rise to cases of false negatives.
Tedros Levels Criticism at Countries
Tedros used his first speech of 2022 to criticize the way wealthy nations snatched up available vaccination doses last year. He claimed that this had provided the ideal breeding ground for viral mutations to arise.
In order to put a stop to COVID-19’s “murder and destruction,” he encouraged the globe to divide vaccination doses more evenly in 2022. Tedros set an aim of getting 10% of the world’s population vaccinated by the end of September 2022, and 40% by the end of December 2022.
Ninety-two of the WHO’s 194 member states failed to meet the target set for the end of 2021. In fact, 36 of them had not even vaccinated the first 10% of their population, owing to a lack of dosages.
Tedros further set a target of vaccinating 70% of the world population by the middle of 2022. However, at the present rate of vaccine distribution, 109 countries will likely fall short of the target. “Vaccine injustice kills people and destroys jobs, and it jeopardizes global economic recovery,” Tedros warned.
Omicron Not the Final Variant of Concern
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said it was “extremely unlikely” that Omicron would be the pandemic’s final variant of concern. In order to combat the more transmissible Omicron strain, Van Kerkhove recommended people to increase the protective precautions they were currently taking.
“Do what we’ve advised better, more extensively, and with more purpose,” she added. “We need individuals to stick it out and fight hard.”
Without vaccine equity, WHO emergency director Michael Ryan stated, “we would be sitting here at the end of 2022 having somewhat the same debate, which, in and of itself, would be a big tragedy.”