The Omicron coronavirus variant is continuing to “sweep the world,” and there is concern about the impact it could have on healthcare workers and health care systems, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday.
“Omicron continues to sweep the world,” Tedros said at a briefing in Geneva. “Last week, there were more than 18 million reported cases. The number of deaths remains stable for the moment, but we’re concerned about the impact Omicron is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems.”
“In some countries, cases seem to have peaked, which gives hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with, but no country is out of the woods yet,” he said, adding that he was particularly concerned about countries with low vaccination rates, as the unvaccinated remain at higher risk for severe disease and death.
He also cautioned against the narrative that Omicron is a mild disease.
“Omicron may be less severe – on average, of course – but the narrative that it is mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response, and costs more lives,” he said. “Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities. The virus is circulating far too intensely with many still vulnerable.”
In many countries, the next few weeks will be critical for health workers and systems, Tedros said, and he urged everyone to do their best to reduce their risk of infection to help relieve pressure on systems.
“Now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag,” he said. “We can still significantly reduce the impact of the current wave by sharing and using health tools effectively and implementing public health and social measures that we know work.”