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WHO Warns Too Soon To Treat COVID-19 Like Flu, Omicron Variant Highly Transmissible

WHO warned that health systems in many countries will be under “intense pressure” from the Omicron variant and 50% of the European population will be infected.


Image: AP

As 2022 kicked off with countries in Europe and central Asia reeling under intense pressure from COVID-19 spread driven by highly transmissible Omicron variant, the WHO on Tuesday warned not to treat the virus as a “flu-like” illness. “Omicron variant represents a new west to east tidal wave sweeping across the Region, on top of the Delta surge that all countries were managing until late 2021,” WHO reminded, having earlier iterated that the B.1.1.529 strain should not be assumed as ‘mild’. 

Globally, said WHO, over 7 million new cases were reported in just the first week of 2022, and the strain demonstrated high transmissibility, more than doubling over a 2-week period, much higher than the Delta or any other variant since the pandemic hit the globe. 

50% feared to be infected with COVID-19 in Europe: WHO 

On Tuesday, WHO warned that the health systems in many countries have come under “intense pressure” from the Omicron variant and that 50% of the population in the European Region could be infected with Omicron in the next 6-8 weeks. Dr Hans Kluge, European Regional Director of WHO, told a press conference in Copenhagen that over 53 countries in Europe have crossed the grim threshold of 7 million COVID-19 cases, and by January 10 at least 26 European nations had their 1% population infected with COVID-19, literally every week. While in the beginning, the rate of death and hospitalisation had been lower, due to the recent unprecedented scale of transmission driven by Omicron the “COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising,” said WHO’s Dr Hans Kluge. 

“Allow me to reiterate that the currently approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron,” Dr Kluge said, pressing the countries to ramp up vaccination campaigns. 

WHO’s Kluge cited the example of Denmark where the COVID-19 hospitalization rate for unvaccinated patients was 6-fold higher than the jabbed population. He then iterated that in countries where the Omicron wave has begun, priority should be given to the high-risk and vulnerable groups and minimizing the disruption to health systems. He warned against the country’s own decision of shortening the quarantine period, as he noted: “Any decision to shorten recommended quarantine or isolation periods should be taken in combination with negative COVID-19 tests, and only when considered essential to preserve critical service continuity. Any decisions to do so must be taken with careful weighing of the risks and benefits of doing so.”

Contagious at levels 'we haven't yet seen'

As the Omicron is tightening its grip globally, Israel, where the population is now being administered the fourth shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, is mulling about 2 to 4 million cases in the weeks ahead. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told a briefing that more than 40% of his country’s population will likely be infected with a new variant, Omicron. The Omicron variant of concern is unlike the Alpha and Delta variants that propelled previous waves of infection and “it is contagious at levels we haven't yet seen,” he said, according to Haaretz newspaper. Meanwhile, US top infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci warned that Omicron “with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody."

"There's no way we're going to eradicate this" virus, he said as the US recorded 150,000 hospitalizations and more than 1,200 daily fatalities. 

Image: AP

Tags: COVID-19, WHO, Virus
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