Since the new, heavily-mutated variant was first detected in southern Africa last month, it has been reported in 77 countries, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
But, he stressed, “the reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet. Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant”
His comments came amid growing evidence that the new variant might also be better at skirting vaccine protections than previous ones, but could cause milder symptoms. Tedros cautioned against “dismissing Omicron as mild.”
“Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.”
The WHO chief also voiced concern that many countries are rushing to provide booster vaccine doses in response to the spread of Omicron, in light of the persistent glaring inequity in vaccine access between wealthy and poorer countries.
He said there was not yet enough data to show a third dose is needed to effectively protect healthy adults against the variant, although he said that “as we move forward, boosters could play an important role.”
At the same time many vulnerable people in poorer countries have not yet received a single dose.
With inputs from NDTV