Connect with us

Health

Soaring omicron could lead to more dangerous variants, WHO warns

Published

on

Soaring omicron cases around the globe could increase the risk of a newer, more dangerous variant emerging, the World Health Organization in Europe warned on Tuesday.

While the variant is spreading like wildfire around the world, it appears to be far less severe than initially feared and has raised hopes that the pandemic could be overcome and life return to more normality.

But WHO senior emergencies officer Catherine Smallwood sounded an ominous note of caution, telling AFP that the soaring infection rates could have the opposite effect.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

“The more omicron spreads, the more it transmits and the more it replicates, the more likely it is to throw out a new variant. Now, omicron is lethal, it can cause death … maybe a little bit less than Delta, but who's to say what the next variant might throw out,” Smallwood told AFP in an interview.

Europe has registered more than 100 million Covid cases since the start of the pandemic, and more than five million new cases in the last week of 2021, “almost dwarfing what we have seen in the past”, Smallwood said.

“We're in a very dangerous phase, we're seeing infection rates rise very significantly in Western Europe, and the full impact of that is not yet clear,” she said.

Smallwood also noted that while “on an individual level there's probably a decreased risk of hospitalization” with the omicron variant compared to delta, overall, omicron could pose a greater threat because of the sheer number of cases.

“When you see the cases rise so significantly, that's likely to generate a lot more people with severe disease, ending up in hospital and possibly going on to die,” she said.

Britain on Tuesday faced warnings of an impending hospital crisis due to staff shortages caused by a wave of omicron infections, as the country's daily Covid caseload breached 200,000 for the first time.

Smallwood said she expected that scenario to play out in other European countries as well.

“Even in well-capacitated, sophisticated health systems there are real struggles that are happening at the moment, and it's likely that these will play out across the region as omicron drives cases upwards.”

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

Read more:

Omicron hospitalization risk is far below delta’s in two studies

Omicron multiplies 70 times faster than delta in human airways: Study

Israeli study finds Pfizer COVID-19 booster protects against Omicron

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Health

COVID-19 pandemic ‘nowhere near over’: WHO chief

Published

on

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, the World Health Organization chief said Tuesday, cautioning against a narrative that the fast-spreading omicron variant is risk-free.

“This pandemic is nowhere near over,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters from WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

Tedros warned against dismissing as mild the coronavirus variant omicron, which has spread like wildfire around the globe since it was first detected in southern Africa in November.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 is much more contagious than previous strains but seems to cause less serious disease.

That has triggered a debate on the virus passing from being a pandemic to becoming endemic – with the implication that the danger will have passed.
But the WHO has warned that the sheer numbers of people infected will mean many vulnerable people are still falling seriously ill and dying.

“Omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” Tedros said.

“Make no mistake: Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.”

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

He said there were indications that the omicron-fueled surge of COVID-19 cases may have peaked in some countries.

This, he said, “gives hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with, but no country is out of the woods yet.”

Tedros said there was an urgent need to remove the pressure building on health systems, especially in countries that still have low vaccination coverage.

“Now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag,” he said.

“We can still significantly reduce the impact of the current wave by sharing and using health tools effectively, and implementing public health and social measures that we know work.”

Data indicate that existing COVID-19 vaccines are less effective in protecting against omicron transmission than against previous strains.

But Tedros stressed it remained vital to ensure broader, more equitable access to the jabs.

“Vaccines may be less effective at preventing infection and transmission of omicron than they were for previous variants, but they still are exceptionally good at preventing serious disease and death,” he said.

Health experts warn that allowing COVID-19 to spread unabated in some places dramatically increases the chance of new, more dangerous variants emerging.

“With the incredible growth of omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge,” Tedros cautioned.

Read more:

US faces wave of omicron deaths in coming weeks: Pandemic models

More infections mean new COVID-19 variants, warns US based researcher

Australia suffers deadliest day of pandemic as omicron drives up hospital cases

Continue Reading

Health

US faces wave of omicron deaths in coming weeks: Pandemic models

Published

on

The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the US are climbing and modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March.

The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the US has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on Jan. 17 — still below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents started rising slightly two weeks ago, although still at a rate 10 times less than last year before most residents were vaccinated.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Despite signs omicron causes milder disease on average, the unprecedented level of infection spreading through the country, with cases still soaring in many states, means many vulnerable people will become severely sick. If the higher end of projections comes to pass, that would push total US deaths from COVID-19 over 1 million by early spring.

“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible omicron has been,” said University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi. “It unfortunately is going to get worse before it gets better.”

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

Morgues are starting to run out of space in Johnson County, Kansas, said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the health department. More than 30 residents have died in the county this year, the vast majority of them unvaccinated.

But the notion that a generally less severe variant could still take the lives of thousands of people has been difficult for health experts to convey. The math of it — that a small percentage of a very high number of infections can yield a very high number of deaths — is difficult to visualize.

“Overall, you’re going to see more sick people even if you as an individual have a lower chance of being sick,” said Katriona Shea of Pennsylvania State University, who co-leads a team that pulls together several pandemic models and shares the combined projections with the White House.

The wave of deaths heading for the United States will crest in late January or early February, Shea said. In early February, weekly deaths could equal or exceed the delta peak, and possibly even surpass the previous US peak in deaths last year.

Some unknown portion of these deaths are among people infected with the delta variant, but experts say omicron is also claiming lives.

“This is omicron driven,” Shea said of the coming wave of deaths. The combined models project 1.5 million Americans will be hospitalized and 191,000 will die from mid-December through mid-March. Taking into account the uncertainty in the models, US deaths during the omicron wave could range from 58,000 to 305,000.

Yet, it’s become increasingly clear that the risk from omicron is lower than from previous variants. New evidence from nearly 70,000 patients in Southern California suggests omicron is causing milder illness than delta.

A study, posted online and cited during a recent White House briefing, found patients with omicron had a 53 percent lower risk of hospitalization with respiratory symptoms, a 74 percent lower risk of ICU admission, and a 91 percent lower risk of death. The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, comes from researchers at Kaiser Permanente and University of California, Berkeley.

“It’s hard for me to say straight out it’s good news,” said study co-author Sara Y. Tartof, a Kaiser Permanente research scientist. “Maybe there’s good news in the sense that if you are infected your chance of becoming severely ill are decreased, but from a societal perspective it’s a very heavy burden for us. It remains a serious situation, and we need to maintain practices and behaviors we know protect us.”

Overburdened hospitals could also contribute to more deaths, said Marc Lipsitch of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and scientific director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s forecasting center.

“In places with extremely short staffing and overloads of patients, as the medical professionals have been telling us, the quality of care begins to suffer,” Lipsitch said. “That may also lead to higher death rates, but that’s not in any of the models that I’m aware of.”

Read more:

More infections mean new COVID-19 variants, warns US based researcher

Australia suffers deadliest day of pandemic as omicron drives up hospital cases

UK to scale back COVID measures introduced to limit omicron spread: Health minister

Continue Reading

Health

UK to scale back COVID measures introduced to limit omicron spread: Health minister

Published

on

British health minister Sajid Javid said on Tuesday he was optimistic that COVID-19 measures introduced to reduce the spread of omicron will be scaled back next week as cases and hospitalizations look to have peaked.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced so-called “Plan B” measures for England in December in a bid to slow the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

The measures, which include advice to work from home where possible, greater mask-wearing and the use of vaccine passes, are due to be reviewed on January 26.

The government said in December the plan was designed to buy time for people to get booster shots, and also find out more about omicron, which has proven highly transmissible but less severe than previous variants.

“I have always said that these restrictions should not stay in place a day longer than they are absolutely necessary,” Javid said in parliament, adding Britain was the most boosted country in Europe and had the most COVID-19 antivirals in Europe.

“Due to these pharmaceutical defenses and the likelihood that we have already reached the peak of the case numbers and hospitalizations, I'm cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to substantially reduce measures next week.”

Johnson faces the gravest crisis of his tenure after revelations about gatherings during COVID-19 lockdowns, some when British people could not even bid farewell in person to dying relatives and the Queen was mourning her husband.

The removal of “Plan B” measures would please many in his party who want to return to something more akin to normal life.

Javid said that a third of Britain’s 15 million cases had been reported since the onset of omicron.

However, while Britain has reported 152,075 deaths from COVID-19 in total, less than 10,000 of these have been since omicron was identified in late November.

Read more:

Hong Kong orders culling of 2,000 hamsters after COVID-19 hits pets

Saudi Arabia records 5,873 COVID-19 cases and two deaths in 24 hours

Japan to increase social restrictions as COVID-19 variant omicron surges

Continue Reading

Trending