WHO chief offers life-or-death holiday warning
The head of the World Health Organization has warned that holiday gatherings could result in a surge of Covid-19, citing the fast-spreading Omicron variant while suggesting festivities should be delayed or outright canceled.
Speaking during a briefing in Geneva on Monday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “difficult decisions” must be made to “protect ourselves and others” from the virus, calling on those planning holiday get-togethers to reconsider amid the ongoing health crisis.
“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 told reporters, adding that in order to do so, “that will mean canceling or delaying events.”
“An event canceled is better than a life canceled. It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.”
While early data from South Africa indicates that Omicron – the latest Covid-19 ‘variant of concern’ designated by the WHO – could present milder symptoms than other strains, Tedros said there is “consistent evidence” that the new mutation spreads “significantly faster” than the previously discovered Delta variant, and that Omicron could be resistant to existing vaccines.
The WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan also told reporters that it would be “unwise” to draw any sweeping conclusions from the more promising data out of South Africa, with Tedros adding that even if the variant is less severe, “the sheer number of cases” could overwhelm health systems around the world.
Despite those warnings, some WHO officials offered more optimism during Thursday’s briefing, with the agency’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan voicing hopes that Covid-19 would ultimately be rendered “a relatively mild disease” that is easy to prevent and treat as new medicines and vaccines are developed. Another WHO expert, Abdi Mahamud, also noted that while a general reduction in antibody levels has been observed amid the spread of Omicron, early findings have shown that another form of immunity conferred by T-cells has remained “intact,” adding “that is what we really require” for strong protection.