omicron: Omicron is spreading at an unprecedented rate: WHO – Times of India


GENEVA: The new variant of coronavirus Omicron spreads at an unprecedented rate WHO said Tuesday, urging countries to act quickly to curb transmission and protect their health systems. Since the new, highly mutated variant was first discovered in southern Africa last month, it has been reported in 77 countries, says WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
But, he stressed, “the reality is that Omicron is likely to be in most countries, even though it has not been discovered yet.”
“Omicron is spreading at a speed we have not seen with any previous variant,” he said.
WHO expert Abdi Mahamud, meanwhile, told the news conference that modeling indicated that some countries in Europe – already battling a violent fifth pandemic wave – could see Omicron become the dominant variant within days.
The warnings came amid growing evidence that the new variant may be better at avoiding vaccine protection than before.
A study published by Pfizer on Tuesday showed that two doses of its Covid jabs offer about 70 percent protection against serious illness from Omicron compared to 93 percent against previous variants.
Data have also meanwhile indicated that the new variant may cause milder symptoms.
‘Very dangerous situation’
But WHO expert Bruce Aylward adamantly warned against “jumping to the conclusion that this is a mild illness.”
“If we’re entering a season that we’re entering now, where a lot of people want to meet for the holiday season, and we have a more transmissible virus,” which we actually do not know is milder, “we may be set on a very dangerous situation, “he warned.
Tedros also warned against “rejecting Omicron as mild”, pointing out that although the variant causes less serious illness, the large number of cases can again overwhelm unprepared health systems.
He called on countries to take all possible measures to curb the spread, including scaling up vaccination, encouraging mask wearing and physical distance.
“Do it all. Do it consistently. Do it well.”
WHO Emergency Situations Director Michael Ryan also stressed that more data was needed to determine the seriousness of Omicron, urging countries to prepare for “dealing with what is likely to happen, which is a major wave of cases.”
These cases “may or may not be less severe, but … will in themselves create pressure on the health care system,” he said, insisting on the need to “reduce that pressure.”
‘Vaccine hamstring’
While countries are struggling to deal with Omicron, Tedro’s expressed concern that many were rolling out booster vaccine doses to the general population, warning that this could deepen inequality in vaccine access between rich and poorer countries.
“The WHO is concerned that such programs will repeat the Covid-19 vaccine hoarding,” as seen earlier this year, he said.
He said there were not yet enough data to show that a third dose is needed to effectively protect healthy adults from the variant, although he said that “as we move forward, boosters may play an important role.”
At the same time, many vulnerable people in poorer countries have not yet received a single dose.
But Tedros pointed out on Tuesday that 41 countries have not yet vaccinated even 10 percent of their population.
“Let me be very clear: the WHO is not against boosters. We are against inequality. Our biggest concern is saving lives everywhere,” Tedros said.
“It’s a matter of priority,” he said.
“The order matters. Giving boosters to groups at low risk of serious illness or death simply puts lives at risk for those at high risk who are still waiting for their primary doses due to supply constraints.”

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