World, Europe

Omicron variant triggering ‘tsunami of cases’: WHO chief

Virus 'will continue to put pressure on exhausted health workers, disrupt lives and livelihoods,' says Tedros Ghebreyesus

Peter Kenny   | 29.12.2021
Omicron variant triggering ‘tsunami of cases’: WHO chief A man is getting a Covid-19 test at a Covid-19 testing center next to the Queens Hospital Center as hundreds of residents line up to get Covid-19 test in Queens of New York, United States on December 28, 2021 as Omicron rises around the country. ( Tayfun Coskun - Anadolu Agency )

GENEVA

The fast-moving omicron variant of COVID-19 is triggering a “tsunami of cases,” leaving health systems near collapse, exhausting health workers, and disrupting the goal of halting the pandemic’s acute phase in 2022, the World Health Organization chief said on Wednesday.

“I am highly concerned that omicron being more transmissible, circulating at the same time as delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases,” WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said at a webinar.

Highlighting the effects of the virus on people and global health systems at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, he said: “This will continue to put immense pressure on exhausted health workers and health systems on the brink of collapse and again disrupt lives and livelihoods.”

There were 1.8 million recorded deaths in 2020, and 3.5 million in 2021, Tedros said, adding WHO knows that the actual number is much higher.

He said this tally did not mention the millions of people dealing with long-term consequences from the virus.

“But I still remain optimistic that this can be the year we not only end the acute stage of the pandemic, but we also chart a path to stronger health security.”

He urged the world to build on the successes and failures by sharing vaccines faster and equitably under the COVAX system aiming at global vaccine equity.

Rollout to everyone

“We must support countries in manufacturing and rolling them (vaccines) out to everyone. And access to new treatments must also follow,” said Tedros.

He warned that the virus will continue to evolve and threaten global health systems if the collective response is not improved.

“Right now, delta and omicron are twin threats that are driving up cases to record numbers, which again is leading to spikes in hospitalizations and deaths.”

“All of us are sick and tired,” of the pandemic, said Tedros at his final press webinar of 2021.

He said the development of new vaccines proved effective in checking infections and deaths.

However, he noted that while science delivered, “politics too often triumphed over solidarity.”

The impediments included “populism, narrow nationalism and hoarding of health tools, including masks, therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines,” by a few countries that undermined equity, “and created the ideal conditions for the emergence of new variants.”

“Misinformation and disinformation, often spread by a small number of people, have been a constant distraction, undermining science and trust in lifesaving health tools,” lamented Tedros.

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