SWITZERLAND,US,UK: The World Health Organization Tuesday warned Omicron was spreading at an unprecedented rate and urged countries to act as drug maker Pfizer said its coronavirus pill was effective against the variant.
Dutch primary schools will close early as Europe battles a fresh wave of infections and hospital admissions, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a major parliamentary test seeking to impose fresh COVID curbs.
Omicron, first detected by South Africa and reported to the WHO on November 24, has a large number of mutations, setting alarm bells ringing since its discovery.
Early data suggests it can be resistant to vaccines and is more transmissible than the Delta variant, which was first identified in India and accounts for the bulk of the world’s coronavirus cases.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters the strain had been reported in 77 countries and had “probably” spread to most nations undetected “at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant”.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday expressed its concerns over global inequality in COVID-19 vaccine distribution even as several developed economies continued to press ahead with a booster programme amid the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant in several countries.
As many as 77 countries have reported cases pertaining to the Omicron variant and it is probably already there in more countries, the WHO said. “Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
While explicitly stating that it was not against the administration of boosters, the WHO Chief said vaccine hoarding and the ensuing inequality were its main concerns.
According to data shared by the WHO, less than 10 per cent of the population have been vaccinated in 41 countries, while it is less than 40 per cent in 98 countries. The WHO also said that it saw “significant inequities” between various population groups within the same country.
“If we end inequity, we end the COVID-19 pandemic. If we allow inequity to continue, we allow the pandemic to continue,” the WHO chief said.
Meanwhile, A highly anticipated study of Pfizer’s COVID pill confirmed that it helps stave off severe disease, the company announced on Tuesday.
Last month, Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorise the pill, known as Paxlovid, based on a preliminary batch of data. The new results will undoubtedly strengthen the company’s application, which could mean that Americans infected with the virus may have access to the pill within weeks.
In Tuesday’s announcement, Pfizer said that if given within three days of the onset of symptoms, Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death by 89 per cent. If given within five days, the risk was reduced almost as much, to 88 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is showing a higher rate of reinfection that other variants and its growth rate is shortening in the United Kingdom, the Health Security Agency’s chief medical adviser said.
“This is growing very fast with a growth rate of initially two to three days, and that growth rate seems to be shortening rather than lengthening,” Dr. Susan Hopkins said.
“We are concerned with the large volume of individuals who are being infected every day in the population that we are going to have a very difficult four weeks ahead with cases in the community,” she said.
-JAPAN TODAY, THE HINDUSTAN TIMES, THE TELEGRAPH INDIA, THE MALAY MAIL