London, Thursday, 30 December 2021 -
The World Health Organization's director-general expressed concern on Wednesday that the omicron and delta varieties of COVID-19 could combine to cause a "tsunami" of infections, but expressed optimism that the worst of the epidemic will be over by 2022.
Two years after the coronavirus first appeared, top United Nations health officials warned that preliminary research suggesting that the current strain, omicron, causes lesser symptoms is still too early to be optimistic. It was first discovered in southern Africa last month and is now the most common variety in the United States and parts of Europe.
After 92 of the World Health Organization's 194 member countries failed to reach a target of vaccinating 40% of their populations by the end of the year, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged everyone to make a "new year's resolution" to support a campaign to vaccinate 70% of countries' populations by the beginning of July.
According to WHO data, the number of COVID-19 cases reported worldwide increased by 11% last week compared to the previous week, with roughly 4.99 million new cases reported between December 20 and December 26. New cases in Europe, which accounted for more than half of the total, increased by 3%, while those in the Americas increased by 39% and those in Africa increased by 7%. The global increase came after a steady rise since October.
“I'm highly concerned that omicron, being more transmissible (and) circulating at the same time as delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases,” Tedros said at an online news conference. That, he said, will put “immense pressure on exhausted health workers and health systems of the brink of collapse.”
The "overall risk" associated with omicron "remains very high," according to WHO's weekly epidemiological report. It stated "consistent evidence" that it outperforms the delta variant in terms of growth.
It stated that case incidence has decreased in South Africa, and that preliminary data from that country, the United Kingdom, and Denmark suggest that omicron is associated with a lower risk of hospitalization, but that additional research is needed.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO's emergency chief, emphasized the need for prudence. In the next weeks, he warned, "suppressing transmission of both types to the bare minimum that we can" will be critical.
"What we haven't seen is the omicron wave firmly entrenched in the larger community," Ryan said, adding that omicron infections begin primarily among young individuals. And I'm hesitant to make any optimistic forecasts until we see how effectively vaccination protection works in those older and more vulnerable populations."
Officials from the World Health Organization made no explicit remarks on the United States' and other countries' moves to shorten self-isolation times. "These are judgment choices that countries make," Ryan added, citing scientific, economic, and other considerations. To yet, the average incubation period has been around five to six days, according to him.
"We have to be cautious about adjusting tactics and strategies based on what we're seeing" with omicron, Ryan added.
"Resolving health disparities remains the key to ending the pandemic," Tedros said, reiterating previous warnings. He claimed that failing to reach the target of vaccinating 40% of the population this year was "not only a moral embarrassment - it lost lives and allowed the virus to spread unfettered and mutate." "Nations mostly failed the target due to restricted supplies to low-income countries for the majority of the year, and then vaccines arriving close to their expiry date, without items like syringes," he explained.
Despite this, Tedros expressed optimism that "this can be the year we not only finish the acute stage of the epidemic, but also map a road to improved health security."
(Report by: The Decision Maker)