The World Health Organisation has insisted that countries should not take Omicron lightly and dismiss it as ‘mild’ in a ‘first of the 2022’ speech made by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today.
The WHO chief said the record numbers of people catching the new variant – which is rapidly overtaking the previously dominant Delta variant in many countries – also meant the hospitals were being overwhelmed.
Omicron’s danger first came to public notice on 29 November when the health agency issued a technical advisory to its member states about the COVID-19 variant after it surged across Southern Africa.
Major international summits like The World Economic Forum had to postpone its annual meeting while few countries like India’s travel restrictions - which were supposed to relax - are now left in limbo and other countries have rolled back their border reopening plans.
The WHO Director-General also slammed the way rich nations had hogged available vaccine doses last year, saying it had created the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of virus variants. Henceforth, he urged the world to share vaccine doses more fairly in 2022, to end the “death and destruction” of COVID-19. The concern is shared by many European countries like France where its president Emmanuel Macron, reiterated in an interview that the unvaccinated public would be punished if they don’t get the jabs on time. Also, companies like Google have also publicly announced their stance on those who will flout the vaccination rules.
Yet Omicron won’t be the end of the world. The WHO‘s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove has said that it was “very unlikely” that Omicron would be the last variant of concern before the pandemic is over. In facing the more transmissible Omicron variant like Fluron or Delmicron, she urged people to step up the measures they were already taking to protect themselves against the virus.
She added that another variant B.1.640 - first documented in multiple countries in September 2021 - is among those being monitored by the WHO but is not circulating widely. It’s not exactly known what is the common name of the said virus.
Though Omicron’s surge is dangerous for the public, WHO’s research also appears to convey that there is a reduced risk of severity in both younger and older people. Janet Diaz, WHO lead on clinical management, has said that early studies have shown that there was a reduced risk of hospitalisation from the variant first identified in Southern Africa and Hong Kong in November compared with Delta.
As per its weekly epidemiological report by WHO, it is said that the cases have increased by 71%, or 9.5 million, in the week to January 2nd from a week earlier, while deaths fell by 10%, or 41,000.
With WHO reiterating Omicron’s potency, it is high time that the people get smart over taking precautions to counter the virus. It does seem to be a massive challenge and Maria Van Kerkhove’s stunned reaction on how sloppily some people are still wearing the face masks sums up that there’s a long way to go.