Holiday Omicron Wave Could Mean Overwhelmed Health Systems and More Deaths

Monday’s warning from the World Health Organization came as the highly transmissible Omicron virus strain continued to infect large areas of the global population. This strain poses the greatest threat for poor countries that have been denied vaccines.

“There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saidDuring a media briefing, she referred to the once dominant Covid-19 strain. “And it is more likely that people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 could be infected or reinfected.”

Tedros voiced particular concern about the collision of Omicron and crowded holiday celebrations, which he said “will lead to increased cases, overwhelmed health systems, and more deaths.”

“More than 3.3 million people have lost their lives to Covid-19 this year — more deaths than from HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined in 2020,” Tedros noted. “And still, Covid-19 continues to claim around 50 000 lives every week. That’s not to mention the unreported deaths and the millions of excess deaths caused by disruptions to essential health services.”

“All of us are sick of this pandemic. We all want to spend time with our families and friends. All of us want to get back to normal,” he continued. “The fastest way to do that is for all of us — leaders and individuals — to make the difficult decisions that must be made to protect ourselves and others. In some cases, that will mean canceling or delaying events… But an event canceled is better than a life canceled.”

Omicron is now responsible for nearly three-quartersAll new cases of coronavirus in the United States and all recorded infections are from this variant. doublingEvery two to three days in the dozens countries where it has been detected.

“Africa is now facing a steep wave of infections, driven largely by the Omicron variant,” Tedros observed Monday. “Just a month ago, Africa was reporting its lowest number of cases in 18 months. Last week, it reported the fourth-highest number of cases in a single week so far.”

Reiterating his condemnation of vaccine apartheid — which has left billions without access to lifesaving shots as rich nations swallow up much of the world’s supply — Tedros said that “if we are to end the pandemic in the coming year, we must end inequity by ensuring 70% of the population of every country is vaccinated by the middle of next year.”

The WHO warnedLast week, more than 40 countries reported that they were unable or unwilling to vaccinate at minimum 10% of their population, and nearly 100 countries have not reached 40%. This is more than a year and half into the pandemic.

Overall, according toOur World in Data shows that only 7.6% of low-income countries have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Omicron’s rapid spread in the month since it was first detectedSouth African scientists have led some European countriesTo stem the rise in cases, we will impose new restrictions on public health.

The Biden administration in the United States is planning to distribute500 million Omicron free at-home coronavirus test kits for households. Federal medical personnel will be sent to overwhelmed hospitals in its efforts to combat Omicron. These new components of President Joe Biden’s Omicron plan were officially announced Tuesday by Joe Biden in a speech.

“This is not a speech about locking the country down,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who previously dismissedReporters Monday were informed that the idea of mass mailing free Covid-19 tests to U.S. homes was being considered. “This is a speech outlining and being direct and clear with the American people about the benefits of being vaccinated, the steps we’re going to take to increase access and to increase testing, and the risks posed to unvaccinated individuals.”

Early data from South Africa is not yet available. sparked some cautious optimismOmicron is less likely to cause severe disease than other coronavirus types, but public health experts warn that an increase in Omicron infections could overwhelm hospitals, especially in developing countries.

“It is probably unwise to sit back and think this is a mild variant, it’s not going to cause severe disease, because I think with the numbers going up all health systems are going to be under strain,” Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, told journalists Monday.

Additionally, preliminary researchAlthough Omicron is preventable with existing coronavirus vaccines, the lack of access to vaccines in poor countries could lead to the strain spreading more widely, potentially resulting in more deaths. spawning new variants.