‘Tsunami’ of Omicron and Delta ‘twin threats’ driving cases to record highs will pile pressure on health systems, warns WHO

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The simultaneous circulation of the Delta and Omicron variants is creating a “tsunami of cases” that could put “immense pressure” on healthcare systems, warned World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalisation and deaths,” Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

“I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and circulating at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases.”

He warned that the “virus will continue to evolve and threaten our health system, if we don’t improve the collective response.”

The WHO chief repeated his call for countries to share vaccines more equitably and warned that the emphasis on boosters in richer countries could leave developing nations short of vaccines.

He said the WHO wanted 40 per cent of the population in each country to be fully vaccinated by the end of this year and is campaigning to hit a target of 70 per cent vaccine coverage by the middle of 2022.

He, however, announced that at least 92 of the WHO’s 194 members are going to miss the target set for this year.

He attributed this to a “combination of limited supply” to low-income countries and vaccines arriving when close to expiry or without key parts, reported news agency AFP.

Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus blamed “populism, narrow nationalism and hoarding of health tools, including masks, therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines” by a few countries, as the cause behind undermining equity and creating conditions for the emergence of new variants.

Meanwhile, new Covid cases in the US soared to their highest level on record at over 265,000 per day on average.

Driven largely by the highly contagious Omicron variant, new cases doubled over the past two weeks, eclipsing the earlier mark of 250,000 set in mid-January, reported the Associated Press, citing data from John Hopkins University.

According to the WHO’s figures, the number of Covid cases across the world has increased by 11 per cent last week, compared to the week prior with nearly 4.99 million cases reported between 20 and 26 December.

The upcoming New Year’s Eve will mark the second anniversary since China first alerted the WHO about “viral pneumonia” in Wuhan.

Since then, more than 284 million people have been reported to be infected and more than 5.4 million have died, according to the John Hopkins coronavirus research centre.

Additional reporting from agencies

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