WHO says omicron cases are ‘off the chart’ as global infections hit new record


Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the World Health Organization’s Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases Unit, speaks during a press conference after a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the Novel Coronavirus in Geneva on January 22, 2020.

Pierre Arbouis | AFP | Getty Images


As omicron quickly overtakes delta as the dominant global variant, with a record 15 million new Covid-19 infections reported globally in a week, “we know this is an underestimate”, Dr. Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.

“The high number of cases places a burden on the health care system,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19. “Even though omicron isn’t as bad as delta, it’s still putting people in the hospital. It’s still putting people in the ICU, requiring advanced clinical care. It’s still killing people.”


The U.S. saw the largest increase in cases, with 4.6 million new infections reported in the week to Sunday, a 73% increase from the previous week, while global cases rose 55% over the same period. WHO’s weekly epidemiological report on Tuesday.

Tedros noted that hospitalizations were not as high as the previous surge, likely due to the reduced severity of omicron compared to delta, as well as widespread immunity to vaccines and previous infections. But, he added, the death rate remains unsustainably high, averaging about 48,000 per week, and has not fluctuated much since October, Tedros said.

“We see omicron’s competitive advantage in many populations,” Van Kerkhove said. While delta cases likewise peaked within a few months, it didn’t sweep the globe as quickly or as high as omicron cases. “It’s off the charts,” she said.


Nearly 59 percent of the more than 357,000 cases sequenced in the past 30 days were omicrons, the WHO said in an epidemiological report. The U.N. health organization WHO has warned that data may not fully show the extent of omicron transmission due to reporting delays and sequencing constraints in some countries.

According to the report, omicron has a shorter doubling time than other variants, meaning the number of days it takes for a case to double, and it evades prior immunity more easily, giving it an advantage over other variants.

While omicron appears to rip in early-detected populations and then drop to lower levels, Van Kerkhove said the delta has a similar trajectory at its height, but never peaks at such a level as the omicron.


However, she stressed that the direction of omicron will still be influenced by world action, including vaccinations and measures to minimize transmission.

“This virus and how it spreads is not inevitable,” she said. “We have controls, some level of control, in terms of limiting its spread with the tools we have at our disposal: masks, keeping your distance, ventilating, avoiding crowds.”

Van Kerkhove said the WHO expects that the virus will continue to evolve and become healthier and more or less severe, with continued outbreaks of disease in unvaccinated populations, and sometimes outbreaks of other viruses as different populations mix. Will happen at the same time as Covid.

“This virus is becoming endemic,” Van Kerkhove said. “but we’

not yet. “

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