Stop calling Omicron ‘mild’, says WHO chief

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The WHO has warned against calling Omicron a ‘mild’ variant as it continues to hospitalise people across the globe.

While data suggest that Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than previous variants such as Delta, it remains a serious threat to public health systems around the world, WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Dr Ghebreyesus said that a staggering 9.5 million new COVID-19 cases were reported around the world from December 27-January 2.

On Monday, there were over a million Covid cases in the US within a 24 hour period.

This reflects a bleak wider picture as the number of confirmed global cases has risen sharply by 71% over the last week, and by 100% in the Americas, according to WHO data.

Among the most severe cases worldwide, WHO data indicates that 90% were unvaccinated.

"While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorised as mild," Dr Tedros told reporters on Thursday.

"Just like previous variants, Omicron is hospitalising people and it is killing people.

"In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world."

He also emphasised that while there had been extensive vaccine rollouts in the developed world, many in poorer countries, including frontline health workers, had still not received their first dose.

Among the WHO‘s 194 member states, 36 have not even jabbed 10 per cent of their populations, largely due to a lack of access to vaccines.

Dr Ghebreyesus has set the global target that every nation should have 70 per cent of its people jabbed by the middle of 2022.

The pandemic will not be defeated by booster rollouts alone, the UN health chief said.

Based on the current trends, 109 countries will fall short of the 70% target.

“Vaccine inequity is a killer of people and jobs and it undermines a global economic recovery,” he argued.

“Booster after booster in a small number of countries will not end a pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck a cautious but slightly more optimistic note, telling the BBC that the UK is in a "much, much stronger position than this time last year".

The the PM said the data suggests that Omicron is milder than its predecessors, he also warned that it "it would be absolute folly to say that this thing is all over now".

Echoing his comments, UN epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said it was “very unlikely” that there would be no more variants of concern after Omicron.

She said: “Do everything that we have been advising better, more comprehensively, more purposefully,” she said.

“We need people to hang in there and really fight.”

  • Coronavirus

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