Omicron and Delta variants could produce a ‘TSUNAMI’ of Covid-19 cases, WHO warns

The head of the World Health Organization has warned the Omicron and Delta coronavirus variants could produce a “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases that will put “immense pressure” on healthcare systems.

“I’m highly concerned that Omicron, being more transmissible [and] circulating at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Two years after the new coronavirus first emerged, top officials with the United Nations health agency have cautioned it was still too early to be reassured by initial data suggesting Omicron, the latest variant to be detected, led to milder disease.

First reported last month in Southern Africa, it is already the dominant variant in the United States and parts of Europe.

As 92 of the WHO’s 194 member countries missed a target to vaccinate 40 percent of their populations by the end of this year, Tedros urged everyone to make a “New Year’s resolution” to get behind a campaign to vaccinate 70 percent of countries’ populations by the beginning of July.

According to WHO’s figures, the number of COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide increased by 11 percent last week compared with the previous week, with nearly 4.99 million newly reported from December 20 to 26.

New cases were up 3 percent, while in the Americas it rose by 39 percent and in Africa by 7 percent. The global gain followed a gradual increase since October.

Concerned over the rise in cases, the WHO chief said it would put “immense pressure on exhausted health workers and health systems of [on] the brink of collapse”.

WHO said in its weekly epidemiological report that the “overall risk” related to Omicron “remains very high”.

It cited “consistent evidence” that it has a growth advantage over the Delta variant.

It noted that a decline in case incidence had been seen in South Africa, and that early data from that country, the United Kingdom and Denmark suggest a reduced risk of hospitalisation with Omicron but said more data was needed.