The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against describing the Omicron variant as mild, but rather insisted that it is killing people across the globe. The caution by the UN health agency is coming against the backdrop or recent report that suggests that the Omicron variant is less likely to make people seriously ill than the previous variants of Covid.

This was made known by the Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during a press conference on Thursday, where he said that the record number of people catching the new variant has left health systems under severe pressure.

What the Director-General of the WHO is saying

Tedros in his statement said, “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. “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.”

On Monday, the US recorded more than one million Covid cases in 24 hours. The WHO – the UN’s health agency – said the number of global cases has increased by 71% in the last week, and in the Americas by 100%. It said that among severe cases worldwide, 90% were unvaccinated.

Omicron is highly contagious and can infect people even if they are fully vaccinated. However, vaccines are still pivotal as they help protect against severe diseases that could put you in hospital. On Thursday, the UK reported 179,756 cases and 231 Covid-related deaths. A number of hospitals have declared “critical” incidents due to staff absence and rising pressures due to Covid. Elsewhere, hospital numbers are also rising. France’s health minister Olivier Veran warned this week that January would be tough for hospitals. He added that Omicron patients were taking up “conventional” beds in hospitals while Delta was putting a strain on ICU departments. France on Thursday reported 261,000 cases.

The WHO boss had in his first speech of 2022 criticized the way wealthy countries 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, so as to put an end to 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.

However, 92% of the WHO’s 194 member states missed the target set for the end of 2021, while 36 of them had not even vaccinated the first 10%, largely due to being unable to access doses. He said that based on the current vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO’s target for 70% of the world to be fully vaccinated by July.

Last year, the WHO chief said the world will have enough doses of the vaccine in 2022 to jab the entire global adult population – if Western countries do not hoard vaccines to use in booster programmes.

What you should know

Recall that the WHO had earlier warned that the Omicron variant could produce a tsunami of Covid-19 cases that will overwhelm the healthcare systems as cases surge to record level with concern that the Omicron is more transmissible and circulating at the same time as the Delta variant. The WHO had said it was very unlikely that Omicron would be the last variant of concern before the pandemic is over.

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