The world reported the highest global tally of COVID-19 cases last week, and while the omicron variant spreading like a tsunami may appear milder, it hospitalizes and kills people, the World Health Organization chief said Thursday.
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said at the organization's first webinar of 2022 that "while omicron does appear to be less severe compared to delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as 'mild.'
"Just like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing people, and it is killing people," Tedros noted.
He said the "tsunami of cases is so huge and quick" and it is overwhelming the world's health systems.
During the week from Dec. 27, 2021 to Jan. 2, 2022, following a gradual increase since October, the global number of new cases jumped up by 71% compared to the previous week, while the number of new deaths decreased by 10%, according to WHO. This corresponds to just under 9.5 million new cases and over 41,000 new deaths reported during the last week.
To end the acute stage of the pandemic, countries need to share highly effective scientific tools fairly and quickly with the world, he urged.
"Vaccine inequity and health inequity overall were the biggest failures of last year," said Tedros and noted that on current trajectories that 109 countries will miss the WHO's target of fully vaccinating 70% of the world's population by mid-2022 said Tedros.
'Vaccine inequity kills'
"Vaccine inequity is a killer of people and jobs, and it undermines a global economic recovery."
The essence of the disparity is that some countries are moving toward vaccinating citizens a fourth time, while others have not even had enough regular supply to vaccinate their health workers and those at most risk, said the WHO head.
He had asked everyone to make a New Year's resolution to get behind the campaign to vaccinate 70% of people worldwide by the middle of 2022.
The WHO chief said cases reported worldwide last week were an underestimate because the numbers do not reflect testing backlogs from burdened surveillance systems, holidays in many parts of the world, and positive self-tests that were not registered.
The WHO's coronavirus technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, said: "The vaccines that are available for COVID-19 work against all variants that are circulating.
She cautioned against people who speculate that the omicron would be the last coronavirus strain.
"Unfortunately, omicron will not be the last variant, the virus continues to evolve," she said.
WHO has so far confirmed over 296.4 million coronavirus infections globally and registered more than 5.46 million deaths since the disease came to the fore two years ago after being discovered in China./aa