The Omicron Variant Should Not Be Categorized as “Mild”

Although the heavily-infectious Omicron variant seems less severe than the Delta variant, WHO (World Health Organization) stated on Thursday that it should not be categorized as “mild”.

In a COVID-19 news briefing, WHO Chairman Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: “Like previous variants; Omicron is hospitalizing and killing people. In fact, the tsunami of cases at hand is severe and quick enough to crush health systems across the world.”

"Hospitals are becoming overcrowded and understaffed, resulting in preventable deaths from not only COVID-19, but other diseases and injuries where patients are unable to receive timely care," he added.

He also mentioned that the highest number of COVID-19 cases worldwide was reported last week, stressing that “WHO is certain that these numbers are an understatement”.

In his words, “The reported numbers do not reflect the backlog of testing around the holidays, the number of positive self-tests not registered, and burdened surveillance systems that miss cases around the world."

Only a small portion of patients have been hospitalized due to Omicron, but the number of cases requiring hospitalization is increasing with the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise. As per The Wall Street Journal, 10% of Omicron patients in Northwell Health, New York, require intensive care, while the percentage was between 25 and 35 with the previous variants. Hospitalization lasts for four days on average for fully-vaccinated patients; whereas for non-vaccinated patients the duration is at least two weeks.

WHO officials encourage the world leaders to aim to have 70% of the world population vaccinated by the end of the first half of 2022, and support global efforts for the discovery of reliable tests and groundbreaking treatments. Yet, 109 countries will never be able to achieve their aim of having 70% of their population vaccinated by July with the current vaccination rate.

Dr. Tedros states: “The inequality in vaccination kills people and jobs, and botches the recovery of the economy worldwide. We are actually contributing to the creation of variants such as Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and Omicron by creating the perfect conditions for the variants with low vaccination rates.”

He added: “In some countries, people are receiving their fourth doses; while some countries are unable to provide vaccines in sufficient amounts to protect their healthcare professionals, or susceptible groups that desperately need them.” In fact, the vaccinated populations of 36 countries are yet to meet the 10% mark, with 80% of the most severe cases worldwide not vaccinated.

“The pandemic is not going to end when we have billions going virtually unprotected, while some people are receiving their third and fourth doses consecutively.”

During the briefing, Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, stated that “the speculations about the Omicron variant probably being the last outbreak in the pandemic are rather “positive”, since the virus is still going strong.”

WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19 Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove supported Dr. Ryan’s remarks, and added: “I believe that Omicron may not be the last variant that we will be discussing.”