| 2 March 2024, Saturday |

Omicron may be less severe in young and old, but not ‘mild’ – WHO

Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday that the more infectious Omicron variety of COVID-19 appears to cause less severe illness than the globally dominant Delta strain, but it should not be classified as “light.”

Early tests, according to Janet Diaz, WHO’s clinical management lead, revealed that the version discovered in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November had a lower risk of hospitalization than Delta.

She told a media event from WHO headquarters in Geneva that there appears to be a lower risk of severity in both younger and older adults.

The remarks on the reduced risks of severe disease chime with other data, including studies from South Africa and England, although she did not give further details about the studies or ages of the cases analyzed.

“While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as mild,” director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the same briefing in Geneva.

He warned of a “tsunami” of cases as global infections soar to records fueled by both Omicron and Delta, healthcare systems are overwhelmed, and governments struggle to tame the virus, which has killed more than 5.8 million people.


Tedros repeated his call for greater equity globally in the distribution of and access to vaccines.

Based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO’s target for 70% of the world’s population to be fully vaccinated by July, Tedros added. That aim is seen as helping end the acute phase of the pandemic.

“Booster after booster in a small number of countries will not end a pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected,” he said.

WHO adviser Bruce Aylward said 36 nations had not even reached 10 percent vaccination cover. Among severe patients worldwide, 80% were unvaccinated, he added.

In its weekly epidemiological report on Thursday, the WHO said cases increased by 71%, or 9.5 million, in the week to Jan. 2 from a week earlier, while deaths fell by 10%, or 41,000.

Another variant B.1.640 – first documented in multiple countries in September 2021 – is among those being monitored by the WHO but is not circulating widely, said the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove.

There are two other categories of greater significance the WHO uses to track variants: “variant of concern”, which includes Delta and Omicron, and “variant of interest”.

  • Reuters