There is now “consistent evidence” that the Omicron variant is outpacing Delta, as COVID-19 continues to account for around 50,000 deaths worldwide every week, according to the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists at WHO Headquarters in Geneva that it was also more likely that people who have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus, could be infected, or reinfected.
“There can be no doubt that increased social mixing over the holiday period in many countries will lead to increased cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths”, Dr Tedros said. “All of us are sick of this pandemic. All of us want to spend time with friends and family. All of us want to get back to normal.
“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”, Dr Tedros said.
He said delaying or cancelling events, was the responsible thing to do.
“An event cancelled is better than a life cancelled”, Dr Tedros said. “It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.”
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, and Africa is now facing a steep wave of infections, driven largely by the Omicron variant.
Just a month ago, Africa was reporting its lowest number of cases in 18 months, Tedros reminded reporters, whereas last week, it reported the fourth-highest number of cases in a single week so far.
“None of us want to be here again in 12 months’ time, talking about missed opportunities, continued inequity, or new variants”, said Dr Tedros, hammering home once again, that for the pandemic to end in 2022, “we must end inequity, by ensuring 70% of the population of every country is vaccinated by the middle of next year.”
“2022 must be the year we end the pandemic”, said Tedros, but to prevent a future disaster on the same scale, all countries must invest in resilient health systems, built on primary care, and with universal health coverage as the goal. “When people can’t access the services they need, or can’t afford them, individuals, families, communities and entire societies are put at risk.”