Healthcare

Omicron found in 89 countries, WHO says

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Saturday that the omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, including South Africa, where it was first detected last month, The Associated Press reported.

In areas that are seeing community transmission, cases are doubling every 1 ½ to three days.

Research published earlier this month suggested that the omicron variant infects humans faster than previous strains. A study by researchers from the University of Hong Kong’s LKS Faculty of Medicine said that omicron infects humans 70 times faster than prior variants. That data, however, is still under peer review.

Much is still unknown about the variant, including how severe omicron is and how much protection the vaccines will provide against it.

“There are still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron,” the WHO said in an update, according to Reuters. “More data are needed to understand the severity profile and how severity is impacted by vaccination and pre-existing immunity.”

The global health body warned that the new strain has a “substantial growth advantage” over the delta variant, meaning that in nations already seeing the circulation of omicron, it is likely to become the dominant strain soon, the AP reported.

The WHO suggested that the omicron variant could also wreak havoc on health care systems.

“Hospitalisations in the UK and South Africa continue to rise, and given rapidly increasing case counts, it is possible that many healthcare systems may become quickly overwhelmed,” the WHO noted, according to Reuters. 

Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law Center and a contributor to The Hill, told The Hill on Saturday that he is “extraordinarily worried” about the new variant.

“We really don’t know if it’s less serious. There’s no good data to suggest that it’s less serious, so I think we should act as if it has the same progression to serious disease and hospitalizations as … other former variants did, including delta,” Gostin said. “If it turns out to be significantly less serious, we’ll still see our hospitals filling up to capacity because of the sheer numbers, even if it’s just a smaller rate.”

Tags COVID-19 omicron WHO

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