WHO expects severe omicron cases, warns against treating variant as mild disease


World Health Organization (WHO) expects an increase in the number of hospitalisations and fatalities and cautioned against treating the Covid omicron variant as a mild strain, warning that the virus will also cause severe illness.

“We know that people infected with omicron can have the full spectrum of disease, from asymptomatic infection to mild disease, all the way to severe disease to death,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, told the public during a question-and-answer session.

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 might cause trivial illness, the World Health Organisation previously cautioned against a re-run of shot hoarding by rich countries as the new strain spreads, the EU medicines watchdog said.

Read more: Omicron poses very high global risk, could outcompete Delta: Experts

The European Medicines Agency made the tentative judgment after the WHO clarified this week about occurrences of some indication that Omicron causes fewer severe diseases than Delta, the currently dominant variant.

The EMA reverberated the verdict, however, said more examination was being done.

“Cases appear to be mostly mild, however, we need to gather more evidence to determine whether the spectrum of disease severity caused by Omicron is different (to) that of all the variants that have been circulating so far,” said Marco Cavaleri, EMA’s head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy.

The extremely altered variant was first discovered in South Africa and ignited global fright when it arose last month, provoking doubts it could be more infectious, may cause more severe illness, or evade vaccines.

Moreover, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “emerging data from South Africa suggests increased risk of reinfection with Omicron”.

Cavaleri added that initial data recommended Omicron is more contagious than Delta, however it was not yet clear whether it would swap the older dominant strain.

“As we head into whatever the Omicron situation is going to be, there is a risk that the global supply is again going to revert to high-income countries hoarding vaccine to protect (their populations)… in a sense in excess,” said WHO vaccines chief Kate O’Brien.

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