The World Health Organization (WHO) reported Thursday that a record 9.5 million COVID-19 cases were reported during the last week as the coronavirus variant Omicron swept the globe, a 71 percent spike from the previous seven-day period compared to a "tsunami." by the UN health organization.
"Last week, the highest number of COVID-19 cases was reported so far in the pandemic," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated. He stated that the WHO was sure the figure was underestimated due to a testing backlog around the year-end vacations.
The WHO said that case counts increased by two in the Americas but by only 7% in Africa over the same week.
However, according to the WHO's weekly report on the pandemic, the number of weekly documented deaths decreased to 41,178 from 44,680 the previous week, a 10% decrease.
WHO authorities have long reported a gap between case counts and deaths, with changes in death counts frequently trailing by around two weeks. However, they stated that for various reasons, including growing vaccination rates in some areas and indicators that Omicron is more likely to harm the nose and throat than the lungs.
Any increase in hospitalizations or deaths due to the recent surge in cases is unlikely to manifest itself until around two weeks.
Omicron appears to be less severe than Delta, but not insignificant.
While Omicron appears to be less severe than Delta, particularly among vaccine recipients, the WHO chief cautioned: "This does not mean it should be classified as mild." Omicron, like previous variations, is hospitalizing and killing individuals.
"In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick that it is overwhelming health systems around the world," the WHO director-general said at a routine news briefing.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO's emergency response leader, said speculation that Omicron was the outbreak's final strain was "wishful thinking" and cautioned, "There still is a lot of energy in this virus."
"I think it's very unlikely that Omicron will be the last variant that you will hear us discussing," added Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical head on COVID-19.
WHO experts urged the public to bolster pandemic preparedness measures, including vaccination, room ventilation, physical separation, and acceptable mask use.
"I'm struck by how people actually are wearing masks," Van Kerkhove added.
"Wearing a mask beneath the chin is pointless. Additionally, it offers you the false sense of security that something is protecting you. It is not going to... Essentially, we are requesting that everyone participate in this."
Separately, Ryan stated that the WHO's collaboration with the International Olympic Committee and China – which is due to host the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games – has left him "confident" in the "very strict and very strong." safeguards put in place by the games' organizers.
"We don't at this point see any increased risk of disease transmission in that context," Ryan explained.