By Sola Ogundipe
THE World Health Organisation, WHO, has warned of a very high overall risk of the Omicron variant spreading and overwhelming healthcare systems across the world.
The agency cautioned that the highly transmissible variant continued to fuel record outbreaks in many countries.
Many countries are registering record rates of COVID-19 infections as the omicron variant takes hold across the world.
Much of Europe, the US, China, Australia and other nations all recorded a surge in cases on Tuesday through Wednesday.
France recorded the highest new infection rate in Europe, with 208,000 new cases on Wednesday, even as Germany is expected to see similar rises in Omicron cases.
Amid the dramatic rise, a warning from the WHO prompted strict quarantine rules for arrivals and widespread mask-wearing to slow the spread of the highly contagious variant.
In India, which has been getting back to normal after a devastating outbreak earlier this year, Omicron is once again raising fears
According to the WHO, Omicron’s rapid growth “will still result in large numbers of hospitalisations, particularly amongst unvaccinated groups and will also “cause widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services.
As global COVID-19 infections hit a record high over the past week, the WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted that: “Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalisation and deaths.”
Speaking at a news briefing, Tedros said it was a concern that the world was witnessing a Tsunami of cases.
“Right now, Delta and Omicron are twin threats that are driving up cases to record numbers, which again is leading to spikes in hospitalisations and deaths.
“I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases.
“This is sad and will continue to put immense pressure on exhausted health workers and health systems on the brink of collapse and again disrupting lives and livelihoods.
The pressure on health systems is not only because of new COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalisation but also a large number of health workers are getting sick themselves.
The unvaccinated are many times more at risk of dying from either variant.”
According to him, while there were 1.8 million recorded deaths in 2020, there were 3.5 million in 2021 with the actual number much higher, not to mention to the millions of people dealing with long-term consequences from the virus.
He said factors like populism, narrow nationalism and hoarding of health tools, including masks, therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines, by a small number of countries undermined equity, and created the ideal conditions for the emergence of new variants.
“In the huge waves of cases currently seen in Europe and in many countries around the world, misinformation which has driven vaccine hesitancy is now translating to the unvaccinated disproportionally dying.”
While expressing optimism, Tedros however warned that the virus will continue to evolve and threaten health systems if collective response is not improved.
He warned that Omicron is moving so quickly, in addition to vaccination, public health social measures are also needed to stem the wave of infection, protect health workers and systems, open up societies and keep children in school.
According to him mental health must also be treated as a core element of our response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.