World Health Organization tells people to avoid crowds amid Omicron COVID surge

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  • Covid-19
Shoppers, some wearing face-masks, walk along Oxford Street in central London on December 4, 2021, as compulsory mask wearing in shops has been reintroduced in England as fears rise over the Omicron variant of Covid-19. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
The WHO has told people to avoid crowds amid the Omicron COVID variant surge. (Getty)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has told people to avoid crowds amid the Omicron variant surge across the globe.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, told a virtual press conference on Wednesday the best way to combat rising infections was to increase vaccination coverage to those most at risk and to drive down transmission.

She stressed reducing transmission did not mean implementing lockdowns, saying: “We need to see layered approach of using these public health and social measures which is a huge number of individual and community level measures.

“First and foremost wearing of masks, reducing the number of contacts people have, avoiding crowds, spending more time outdoors than indoors.”

Watch: Here’s what we know about Omicron so far

Early indications are that Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta strain.

Dr Van Kerkhove added: “There are many holidays coming up where people are increasing their number of contacts.

“This need to be done as carefully and safely as possible. 

"We cannot stress enough particularly as we enter the holidays people need to be more careful.”

Last week Boris Johnson dismissed a suggestion from Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), that people need to reduce contacts this Christmas.

She told the BBC: "We've seen that not everybody has gone back to work and I'd like to think of it more in a general way.

"Which is if we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay.

"So I think being careful, not socialising when we don't particularly need to and particularly going and getting those booster jabs which, of course, people will now be able to have at a three-month interval from their primary course."

The PM added:: “I think it’s always sensible to be careful, and I think what Jenny’s saying there is right - we’ve been living with a pandemic for a long time, people should continue to do things like make sure they have lots of fresh air.

"But we’re not going to change the overall guidance, we don’t think that’s necessary.”

Johnson is set to address the public on coronavirus as ministers consider imposing new restrictions in response to rising cases and the spread of the Omicron variant.

A member of the public prepares to receive a Covid-19 Moderna booster vaccine jab at a temporary coronavirus vaccination centre set up inside St John's Church in west London on December 4, 2021. - Britain, which has been among the hardest hit by Covid-19 with more than 145,000 deaths, is racing to offer third doses of coronavirus vaccines to all adults aged over 18 through its state-run National Health Service. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
The WHO said the best way to combat rising infections was to increase vaccination coverage. (Getty)

The cabinet’s COVID-19 operations (Covid-O) committee had been expected to meet to consider the next steps amid widespread suggestions that further measures would be announced, including guidance to work from home and the introduction of domestic vaccine passports for events and large venues.

One reason for the rapid shift towards Plan B could be figures from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) panel which suggested at least 1,000 people a day may need hospital treatment for Omicron by the end of the year without restrictions.

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Leaked minutes of a Sage meeting held on Tuesday said the government should “urgently” consider the need for measures to reduce transmission of the virus and protect the NHS from “unsustainable pressure”, the BBC reported.

The peak of the Omicron wave is “highly likely to be higher” than 1,000 to 2,000 variant-related admissions per day without new rules, the document said.

But the timing is being viewed in suspicion in Westminster, coming as the prime minister was forced to apologise after footage emerged of senior aides joking about a Christmas party in No 10 during last December’s lockdown.

Watch: 'Three doses of our vaccine neutralize the Omicron variant' -BioNTech

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