The head of the World Health Organization on Monday shrugged off optimism that the pandemic will subside in the wake of Omicron, noting that global conditions are still ideal for the emergence of new forms.
“There are different scenarios for how the pandemic might play out and how the acute phase may end,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the WHO executive board meeting on Monday. “But it is dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the final variant or that we are in the endgame. Conversely, globally, conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”
Many US experts and officials have expressed cautious optimism that the giant omicron wave could signal the final stages of the pandemic. In this beautiful sight, there will be a lull in transmission after the peak and fall of COVID-19 cases in the country. With at least 15.8 million people infected since the beginning of this year, the ultra-transmissible version is significantly boosting collective immunity across the US, with 63 percent of the population already fully vaccinated.
But such hopes have already been dashed by the pandemic virus. In fact, Omicron swept the country before being able to shake the hyper-transmissible delta version, which already ruled some regions. And although Omicron causes proportionally less severe disease than Delta, its lightning-fast spread is still taking a toll on health care systems in the US and around the world.
And with so many people infected, the risk of developing new forms has only increased. In fact, as soon as Dr. Tedros made his remarks on Monday, a new version of the Omicron version was making headlines. The Omicron subvariant is referred to as BA.2 (the original Omicron is BA.1), and has popped up in dozens of countries. European and Asian countries such as Britain, Denmark and India have been hit hardest, and the subvariant is increasing in many countries. It has also been detected in at least three US cases found in Houston, Texas, but it appears to be circulating at low levels.
So far, the subtype doesn’t seem particularly related, but researchers say there is too little data to make a determination. In an email to The Washington Post, a Danish virologist reported that BA.2 is now the dominant version in Denmark, and BA.1 is in decline.
Anders Fomsgaard, a virologist at Denmark’s State Serum Institute, told the Post: “We are not so concerned, because so far we do not see large differences in age distribution, vaccination status, successful infection and risk of hospitalization. ” “Furthermore, despite the high infection rate of BA.2, the number of hospitalizations [in] ICUs are shrinking.”
Still, the new variant of the virus only highlights the ongoing risk of the new variant as worldwide transmission remains high. In his remarks on Monday, Tedros outlined the steps needed to contain the pandemic. He said that the top priority is vaccine equity and reaching the target of 70 percent immunization of every country worldwide. Tedros also called for continued testing, increased escalation, stronger clinical management of cases and calibrated social and public health measures.
It is true that we will live with COVID for the foreseeable future and we have to learn to manage it. But learning to live with COVID may not mean that we give this virus a free ride. It cannot mean that we accept about 50,000 deaths a week from preventable and treatable disease. This may not mean that we accept an unacceptable burden on our health systems when every day exhausted healthcare workers once again go to the front lines. This cannot mean that we ignore the long-term consequences of COVID, which we do not yet fully understand. This may not mean that we gamble on a virus whose development we cannot control or predict.