As the United States and France report, record-breaking COVID-19 infection rates and healthcare systems brace themselves for additional pressure, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a stark warning that the world collectively faces a ‘tsunami of cases’ as Omicron and Delta infections surge.
As per The Financial Times, the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed his concern regarding the higher transmission rates of the Omicron coronavirus variant and its knock-on effect on the circulation of the Delta strain during a press conference. He explained, “This is and will continue to put immense pressure on exhausted health workers and put health systems on the brink of collapse, disrupting lives and livelihoods.”
In the United States alone, the seven-day rolling average of cases exceeded 265,000, which, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, was the highest daily toll since the beginning of the pandemic. Although studies from several countries have shown the Omicron variant to be less severe and damaging to health than previous strains, Tedros believes the world’s healthcare systems still face a stern test, and we should not get complacent. He explained, “There is this narrative going on which is that it’s milder or less severe. But we’re undermining the other side. At the same time, it could be dangerous because the high transmissibility could increase hospitalizations and deaths.”
Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, echoed Tedros’s sentiments and said, “In a few short weeks, Omicron has rapidly increased across the country, and we expect it will continue to circulate in the coming weeks.” France’s Health Minister, Olivier Veran, also warned that with Omicron and Delta combined, the country is facing a two-pronged “tidal wave.”
The WHO also voiced concerns about the slow distribution of vaccines globally. Tedros pointed out that due to limited supplies, vaccines arriving without appropriate medical equipment, such as syringes, or batches being close to their expiry date, over 90 countries have not hit the target of vaccinating 40 percent of their population.
Tedros further explained, “Forty percent was doable, but aggressive booster programs in richer countries had the knock-on effect of triggering shortages in poorer countries.” He added, “It’s not only a moral shame, but it also cost lives and provided the virus with opportunities to circulate unchecked and mutate.”