Omicron may not be as severe as Delta, but it is not 'mild', stresses WHO

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The more infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorised as "mild", World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Thursday.
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Omicron NOT mild

Janet Diaz, WHO lead on clinical management, said early studies showed there was a reduced risk of hospitalisation from the variant first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November compared with Delta, Reuters reported.

There appears also to be a reduced risk of severity in both younger and older people,

she told a media briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The remarks on the reduced risks of severe disease chime with other data, including studies from South Africa and England, although she did not give further details about the studies or ages of the cases analysed.

The impact on the elderly is one of the big unanswered questions about the new variant as most of the cases studied so far have been in younger people.

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,

director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the same briefing in Geneva.

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

He warned of a "tsunami" of cases as global infections soar to records fuelled by both Omicron and Delta, healthcare systems are overwhelmed, and governments struggle to tame the virus, which has killed more than 5.8 million people.

Billions unprotected

Tedros used his first speech of 2022 to slam the way rich nations hogged available vaccine doses last year, saying it had created the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of virus variants.

He therefore urged the world to share out vaccine doses more fairly in 2022, to end the "death and destruction" of Covid-19.

Tedros wanted every country to have 10% of their population vaccinated by the end of September 2021 and 40% by the end of December.

Ninety-two of the WHO's 194 member states missed the target set for the end of 2021, largely due to being unable to access doses.

Indeed 36 of them had not even jabbed the first 10%.

Tedros wants 70% jabbed in every country by mid-2022.

On the current pace of vaccine roll-out, 109 countries will miss that target.

Vaccine inequity is a killer of people and jobs and it undermines a global economic recovery,

said Tedros.

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

Omicron not the last variant

The WHO's Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said it was "very unlikely" that Omicron would be the last variant of concern before the pandemic is over, AFP reported.

In facing the more transmissible Omicron variant, Van Kerkhove urged people to step up the measures they were already taking to protect themselves against the virus.

Do everything that we have been advising better, more comprehensively, more purposefully,

she said.

A warning by Kerkhove testifies how utterly inane some people still are two years after the outbreak.

Van Kerkhove added that she was stunned by how sloppily some people were wearing facemasks.

It needs to cover your nose and mouth... wearing a mask below your chin is useless,

she said.

Looking ahead to this year, Bruce Aylward, the WHO's frontman on accessing coronavirus tools, added that there was "no need to finish 2022 in a pandemic".

But WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said that without vaccine equity, "we will be sitting here at the end of 2022 having somewhat the same conversation, which, in itself, would be a great tragedy".

Cover photo: Shutterstock

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