World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that holiday gatherings over Christmas could result in a surge of COVID-19, and urged people to cancel such events in light of the new Omicron variant.
Health experts in South Africa, where the new variant was first discovered, have said Omicron is not driving up hospitalizations or fatalities in the country to a significant degree.
Preliminary data also suggest that the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus may present milder symptoms than other strains, however the WHO said previously there was limited data on its severity.
But speaking during a briefing in Geneva on Monday, Ghebreyesus said there was now “consistent evidence” that Omicron is spreading faster than the Delta variant, and cited this as reason for his advice.
“There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant, and it’s more likely that people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 could be infected or reinfected,” Ghebreyesus told reporters during a televised meeting.
“There can be no doubt that increased social mixing over the holiday period in many countries will lead to increased cases, overwhelmed health systems, and more deaths,” he said.
“All of us are sick of this pandemic. All of us want to spend time with friends and family. All of us want to get back to normal,” he said, adding that “the fastest way to do this is for all of us, leaders and individuals, to make the difficult decisions that must be made to protect ourselves and others.”
The WHO chief said that, in some cases, this could mean “canceling or delaying events,” noting that the organization itself had canceled a reception it planned to have with reporters.
“An event canceled is better than a life canceled,” he said. “It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later. None of us want to be here again in 12 months’ time.”
Ghebreyesus also noted that in his view 70 percent of the population of every country needs to be vaccinated by the middle of next year if the pandemic is to be beaten in the coming year.
Last week, White House COVID-19 adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that Omicron could soon see hospitals overwhelmed by patients who have contracted the new variant, and warned that it could become the dominant strain within a “few weeks.”
Across the United States, schools, businesses, and restaurants have closed down while events have been canceled as a precautionary measure as fears surrounding the virus continue to grow.
Other countries, including France and Germany, have tightened virus-related measures and imposed travel restrictions in an effort to stem the spread of the disease.
However, few Omicron-related deaths have been officially confirmed worldwide, and just one death of a man with Omicron has been reported in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands on Sunday went into a lockdown, which is set to last through Jan. 14, 2022. During that time, all non-essential stores, bars, and restaurants in the country will be closed. Schools and universities will shut until Jan. 9, and residents will only be allowed to have two visitors, although over Christmas and New Year’s they will be allowed four.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday advised Americans against traveling to eight countries, including Spain, Finland, Chad, and Lebanon.
The agency also added Bonaire, Monaco, San Marino, and Gibraltar to its “Level 4: Very High” classification. It now lists about 85 countries at its highest level, including nearly all of Europe.
Elsewhere on Monday, Ghebreyesus said that more than 3.3 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 this year, which is more deaths than from HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined in 2020.