White House COVID-19 advisor Anthony Fauci warned that U.S. hospitals will be soon overwhelmed by Omicron variant patients in the coming weeks although South African health officials have said the newly discovered variant has produced a low number of hospitalizations so far.
Omicron, Fauci said Thursday, will likely become the dominant strain within a “few weeks.”
“Besides the toll of suffering and death which will inevitably go up if in fact we have that convergence in the winter months of flu and Omicron and Delta, we could get our hospital systems overwhelmed,” Fauci said during an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Fauci has received criticism over predictions and comments he’s made about the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. And he’s also received flack well as comments on whether or not the federal government provided grant money to a group, EcoHealth Alliance, which performed research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China—near where the first CCP virus cases were officially reported.
Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed the Omicron variant as one “of concern” after it was first discovered in South Africa and Botswana several weeks ago, noting that it appears to be highly contagious.
But health experts in South Africa, which has fewer than 50 percent of its population fully vaccinated, have said the variant is not driving up hospitalizations in the country.
“According to scientific studies, this virus is spreading quicker than in previous waves, but the rates of hospitalizations and deaths remain relatively low,” according to a news release from South Africa’s Ministry of Health on Thursday. It’s not clear if any Omicron-related deaths have been reported in the country so far.
So far, one Omicron-related death has been confirmed worldwide after UK Prime Minister Boris confirmed the first known fatality from the strain in his country.
But officials with WHO, which has received criticism for naming the strain Omicron rather than “Xi,” said Thursday that the U.N. health body expects more deaths and hospitalizations from Omicron, seeking to dispel claims that the variant presents milder symptoms.
“We have to be really careful that there isn’t a narrative out there that it’s just a mild disease,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead official on COVID-19. People with underlying health problems and the elderly should take precautions as they are the most at risk, she said.
WHO believes “that people infected with omicron can have the full spectrum of disease,” she said.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of WHO’s health emergencies program, said the Omicron strain is doubling every two days or fewer in the UK.
“If you have 100,000 cases today, it’s 200,000 cases in two days’ time, but then it’s 400,000 two days later, and then it’s 800,000 two days later,” Ryan remarked. In a week, he added, “The actual number of cases can increase eight or tenfold and that’s what we’re concerned about.”