Sun 19 December 2021:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading significantly faster than the Delta strain in countries with documented community transmission, with the number of cases doubling in 1.5 to 3 days.
The United Nations’ health agency said on Saturday that Omicron had been reported in 89 countries.
According to the WHO, the highly mutated variant is rapidly spreading in countries with high levels of population immunity, but it’s unclear whether this is due to the virus’ ability to evade immunity, its inherent increased transmissibility, or a combination of both.
On November 26, shortly after it was discovered by scientists in South Africa, the agency designated Omicron as a variant of concern, and little is known about it. Scientists are unsure how dangerous it is, but preliminary evidence suggests it may be more vaccine resistant and transmissible than the Delta variant.
“There are still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron,” the WHO said in its update. “More data are needed to understand the severity profile and how severity is impacted by vaccination and pre-existing immunity.”
It added, “There are still limited available data, and no peer-reviewed evidence, on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to date for Omicron.”
According to a non-peer reviewed study released on Friday by Imperial College London, the risk of reinfection with Omicron is more than five times higher than with Delta, and it shows no signs of being milder.
The findings called into question some experts’ cautious optimism, based primarily on anecdotal accounts from South Africa, that the new strain would be less virulent and thus not overwhelm healthcare systems.
The study was released as British officials reported a third consecutive day of record COVID-19 cases, with 93,045 new infections, and French Prime Minister Jean Castex compared Omicron’s spread in Europe to “lightning.”
On Thursday, US President Joe Biden warned that those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will face a “winter of severe illness and death,” while health ministers from the G7 group of advanced economies dubbed Omicron the greatest threat to global public health.
It came after WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Omicron “is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant” and lamented that some people were dismissing it as a mild variant.
“Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril,” he told a media briefing on Tuesday. “Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.”
SOURCE: INDEPENDENT PRESS AND NEWS AGENCIES
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