COVID-19: WHO calls on countries to act quickly in the face of the threat posed by the omicron variant

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Despite the fact that the answer to several crucial questions about the evolution and treatment of the omicron variant of the coronavirus is still unknown, the World Health Organization on Wednesday called on all countries of the world to act quickly since the next few days and weeks will determine the development of the virus strain.

If countries wait for their hospitals to start filling up, it will be too late. Do not wait. Act now”, Highlighted the Director General of the Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during the weekly press conference where the situation of COVId-19 is analyzed worldwide.

Tedros’ message was later replicated and expanded upon by Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s lead epidemiologist.

“I am not talking about reacting in January or February. But how countries react now will determine how omicron performs. It doesn’t matter what we find out in terms of its transmission, its severity, its impact on our countermeasures, “he explained.

Van Kerkhove continued his reasoning by insisting on the importance of acting quickly and acting firmly.

“And I don’t mean confinement, but to the use of public health tools of proven efficacy to reduce transmission in areas where it is high and to keep it low in areas where transmission is low, as the situation is still very diverse around the world and the delta (variant) is still dominant globally ”, stressed.

© WHO

The WHO warns that the Omicron variant poses a high risk of increasing COVID-19 cases in the world.

Ómicron is already in 57 countries … for now

Dr Tedros noted that omicron has already been reported in 57 countries, a number that he believes will increase, noting that some of the properties of the variant, such as its global spread and large number of mutations, suggest it could have a major impact on the course of the pandemic, although its scope is still unknown.

Noting that the rapid increase in the number of cases in South Africa occurred when the transmission of the delta variant was very low, “so it had little competition”, he stressed the importance of closely monitoring the evolution of omicron worldwide ” to understand if it can overcome delta ”.

“Thus, We call on all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing. Existing diagnostic tests work, both PCR and rapid antigen-based tests. Recent data from South Africa suggest an increased risk of reinfection with omicron, but more data is needed to draw stronger conclusions, “he said.

Similarly, he said there is already some evidence that omicron causes a milder picture than Delta, but that it is still too early to definitively confirm it.

“Any kind of complacency right now will cost lives. Many of those who do not die could be left fighting against the long COVID, or post-COVID condition, a disease with debilitating and persistent symptoms that we are only beginning to understand, “he warned.

© UNICEF / Frank Dejongh

This woman receives the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a health center in Obassin, Burkina Faso.

The lack of omicron control can affect health systems

For his part, Dr. Michael Ryan, responsible for the Organization’s emergency response, emphasized the issue of the virus’s transmissibility and indicated that its transmissible status does not make it “more virulent or lethal.”

“If we allow viruses to spread uncontrollably, they will generate more. We already saw it with delta and with other variants. If they are allowed to spread uncontrollably, even though they are not individually more virulent or lethal, they simply generate more cases. They put pressure on the health system and more people die. That is what we can avoid ”, he warned.

Likewise, he explained that nothing can be done about the inherent qualities of a virus, but Yes, pressure on health systems can be avoided.

“We can increase the chances of survival of anyone suffering from a serious illness if we protect the health system, if we protect the most vulnerable, if we protect those who are most likely to suffer a serious illness or die. And that’s what we say: Protect yourselves, protect yourselves ”, he warned.

© UNICEF / Jose Vilca

A health worker prepares the COVID-19 vaccine to administer to older adults in Lima, Peru.

Twenty American countries may not reach the 40% vaccination goal by the end of the year

Regarding the American continent, the Pan American Health Organization pointed out that omicron is already present in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico and the United States.

However, the director of the regional health agency, Carissa Etienne, said that “it is a matter of time before the variant circulates in more countries.”

Etienne updated to 55% the number of people in Latin America and the Caribbean who received the full schedule of vaccination against COVID-19, but that there are still too many people who did not achieve that goal.

Twenty countries in our region have not yet reached the 40% vaccination coverage target set by the WHO for the end of the year ”he encrypted.

Although he hopes that some of them will make it in the next few weeks, there are others that are still long behind such as Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In the same way, it quantified in six the number of nations that, if they continue with the same vaccination rate, do not reach the goal of 40%

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