POST TIME: 29 December, 2021 11:57:58 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 30 December, 2021 10:02:04 AM
WHO warns of 'very high' Omicron risk as Covid-19 surges worldwide
BSS/AFP, Washington

WHO warns of 'very high' Omicron risk as Covid-19 surges worldwide

The risk posed by the Omicron variant is still "very high", the World Health Organization said Wednesday, after Covid-19 case numbers shot up by 11 percent globally last week.


Omicron is behind rapid virus spikes in several countries, including those where it has already overtaken the previously-dominant Delta variant, the WHO said in its Covid-19 weekly epidemiological update.

"The overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high," the UN health agency said.

"Consistent evidence shows that the Omicron variant has a growth advantage over the Delta variant with a doubling time of two to three days and rapid increases in the incidence of cases is seen in a number of countries," including Britain and the United States, where it has become the dominant variant.

"The rapid growth rate is likely to be a combination of both immune evasion and intrinsic increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant."

However, the WHO highlighted the 29 percent decrease in the incidence of cases observed in South Africa -- the country which first reported the variant to the WHO on November 24.

It said early data from Britain, South Africa and Denmark -- which currently has the world's highest rate of infection per person -- suggested there was a reduced risk of hospitalisation for Omicron compared to Delta.

However, further data was needed to understand Omicron's severity in terms of clinical markers, including the use of oxygen, mechanical ventilation and death.

More data was also required on how the severity might be being impacted by previous Covid infection, or vaccination.

"It is also expected that corticosteroids and interleukin 6 receptor blockers will remain effective in the management of patients with severe disease," the WHO said.

"However, preliminary data suggest that monoclonal antibodies may be less able to neutralise the Omicron variant."

Rise in cases

The WHO said that in the week ending Sunday, following a gradual increase since October, the global number of new cases rose by 11 percent compared to the previous week, while the number of new deaths dipped by four percent.

"This corresponds to just under five million new cases and over 44,000 new deaths," the Geneva-based organisation said.

The highest numbers of new cases were reported from the United States, Britain, France and Italy.

Painful restrictions

Europe was again one of the hotspots for the pandemic, which is known to have claimed more than 5.4 million lives around the world.

France, Britain, Greece and Portugal all reported record daily case numbers on Tuesday. France reported almost 180,000 infections over 24 hours.

To hold back the tide, many nations on the continent have brought back curbs with heavy economic and social consequences.

Contact restrictions were in place in Germany for the second year in a row heading into the New Year, as Europe's biggest economy shut nightclubs and forced sports competitions behind closed doors.

It also limited private gatherings to 10 vaccinated people -- or two households where any unvaccinated people are present.

Finland on Tuesday said it would bar unvaccinated foreign travellers from entering. Only residents, essential workers or diplomats will be exempt.

The Nordic country, like Sweden, had begun requiring negative tests for incoming non-resident travellers from Tuesday, a day after Denmark applied the same measure.

But the Belgian government's plans to introduce further restrictions were thwarted as a court suspended an order closing entertainment venues.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo had announced the original measure on December 22 as Belgium saw a sharp increase in the percentage of tests showing the Omicron variant.