WHO says omicron cases are ‘off the charts’ as global infections set new records

Maria van Kerkhove, head of the Emerging and Zoonoses Unit at the World Health Organization, speaks during a press conference following the emergency committee meeting on the novel coronavirus in Geneva on January 22, 2020.

Pierre Elboy | AFP | Getty Images

15 million new Covid-19 infections were reported worldwide in one week as omicron rapidly replaces delta as the dominant alternative worldwide, and “we know this is an understatement,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros said. Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

“The sheer volume of cases is putting a strain on health care systems,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19. “Although Omicron is less dangerous than Delta, it still puts people in the hospital. It still puts people in the ICU and needs advanced clinical care. It still kills people.”

The United States saw the largest jump in cases with 4.6 million new infections reported in the week to Sunday, an increase of 73% from the previous week, compared to a global increase of 55% in cases over the same period, according to the World Health Organization’s weekly epidemiology. Report published Tuesday.

Tedros noted that hospitalization is not quite as high as seen in previous increases, possibly due to lower oomicron intensity compared to delta and immune spread from previous vaccinations and infections. But he added that the death rate remains unsustainably high, averaging about 48,000 deaths per week, which has not changed much since October, Tedros said.

“We’re seeing Omicron deltas competing in a lot of the population,” Van Kerkhove said. While Delta cases similarly peaked within a few months, they did not take over the globe as quickly and cases were not as high as Omicron. “This is off the charts,” she said.

Of the more than 357,000 cases sequenced in the past 30 days, nearly 59% were omicrons, the WHO said in the epidemiological report. The World Health Organization, the United Nations health organization, has warned that data may not fully show the extent of Omicron due to delays in reporting and limitation of sequencing in some countries.

According to the report, omicron has a shorter doubling time than other variants, which means the number of days it takes for cases to multiply, and can easily evade prior immunity, giving it an advantage over other variants.

While the omicron appears to be tearing apart populations where it was caught early and then declines to lower levels, van Kerkhove said delta had a similar trajectory at its peak, but never reached levels like the omicron.

But she stressed that Omicron’s trend could still be affected by the world’s actions, including vaccination and steps to reduce the spread of the disease.

“There is no inevitable about this virus and how it spreads,” she said. “We have control, a measure of control, in terms of limiting its spread with the tools we have access to: masks, distancing, ventilation, crowd avoidance.”

Van Kerkhove said the WHO expects the virus will continue to evolve to become fitter and either more or less severe, that outbreaks will continue among the unvaccinated, and that as different populations mix, outbreaks of other viruses will sometimes occur at the same time as cases of Covid.

“The virus is on its way to becoming a pandemic,” Van Kerkhove said. ‘But we’

You weren’t there yet.”

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Watch: The World Health Organization warns of a “tsunami” of Covid from Delta and Omicron variables



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