The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday, 14 December, warned that the COVID-19 Omicron variant was spreading at an unprecedented rate.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that though the Omicron variant has already been detected in 77 countries, it has “probably” spread to most nations undetected “at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant," news agency AFP reported.
He emphasised, "Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems. I need to be very clear - vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis."
The WHO has urged countries to act, while drug maker Pfizer has claimed that its COVID-19 pill has been effective against the variant.
First detected by South Africa and reported to the WHO on 24 November, the Omicron variant has heightened mutations, making it more transmissible than the Delta variant, which was first identified in India and was accountable for most of the world’s COVID-19 cases.
After its emergence, the Omicron variant triggered a global alarm, prompting countries to impose travel bans on a few African countries. Several nations have also reintroduced domestic restrictions to prevent the virus from spreading.
Moreover, as per early data the Omicron variant is reportedly more vaccine-resistant.
WHO expert Bruce Aylward has also warned against "jumping to a conclusion that this is a mild disease. We could be setting ourselves up for a very dangerous situation," AFP reported.
Notably, the WHO has pointed out that the new strain caused less severe symptoms. However, considering the available data, its spread is likely to outpace the Delta variant.
France on Tuesday registered 63,405 new COVID-19 cases, its highest daily total since April. This is despite more than 77 percent of its population having had at least one vaccine jab.
(With inputs from AFP.)