The World Health Organization issued a series of warnings today about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, among them that “We are now starting to see a consistent picture of rapid increase in transmission.” That transmission appears to be aided by “increased risk of re-infection with Omicron.” On the plus side, “There is also some evidence that Omicron causes milder disease than Delta, but again, it’s still too early to be definitive.”
The remarks were delivered by WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a media briefing today. Their purpose, in part, was to urge countries to “act now” to implement countermeasures. “If countries wait until their hospitals start to fill up, it’s too late,” said Tedros.
WHO has, in many ways, led the charge on Omicron. It was among the first groups to bring international attention to the variant’s discovery and growing prevalence in South Africa. It gave the heavily-mutated strain its own separate name and classified it as a “Variant of Concern” days before the U.S. did so. Tedros said Omicron has now been detected in 57 countries, up from 50 yesterday.
Cases in South Africa have skyrocketed more than 1400% in the two weeks since Omicron was first identified there, according to local health department statistics. The country’s test positivity rate (usually an average over the past 7 days) has grown to 26%, its National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported today.
Cases are rapidly increasing across all districts in the Free State with medium to high case incidence (28-74 cases per 100k pop); cases have increased by 520%-663% compared to 7 days prior. All districts are in an uptick (increases for 5 consecutive days). pic.twitter.com/IU5b0nS3yY
— South African COVID-19 Modelling Consortium (@saCOVID19mc) December 8, 2021
In the UK, where Omicron infections are growing and cases are reportedly doubling ever 2-3 days, Prime Minister Boris Johnson today ordered citizens to work from home if possible, made masks mandatory in certain indoor venues and is introducing “Covid passports” as a form of entry.
U.S. Covid cases also continue to rise, with 190,000 new cases recorded in the country on Monday, according to CDC numbers. That’s just 8,000 shy of the high the nation experienced during last summer’s third wave.
The variant has now been detected in 20 states, up from 19 yesterday. According to The New York Times, they are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
"If countries wait until their hospitals start to fill up, it’s too late.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 8, 2021
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