Covid-19: Omicron set to become dominant variant

Omicron is fast becoming the dominant variant as it is overtaking its predecessor – the Delta variant, contributing a record high of 15 million new infections of Covid-19 reported in the last seven days.

This is an increase from the 9.5 million cases recorded in the previous week, with experts zeroing in on the Omicron variant that is ‘efficiently’ transmitted between people.

Omicron, first detected in South Africa and Botswana, was classified as the latest variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the end of November and saw the international community rushing to issue travel restrictions against southern Africa.

Despite the increase in numbers of new Covid-19 infections globally, cases in Africa seem to be declining.

Infectious Diseases Epidemiologist and Covid-19 Technical Lead at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Maria Van Kerkhove, said clinicians were seeing a sharp increase reported around the world but a decline in Africa.

“About half of those have been reported from Europe, about 40 percent reported from the Americas with a high burden of cases from the US and increases across many of our regions. The only decline we saw in cases was in Africa,” she said in a question and answer concerning Omicron on Twitter Tuesday.

However, the epidemiologist warned that new infections could be more than 15 million, as there were challenges with case detection and reporting.

“This has to do with access to tests. We don’t have adequate access to lifesaving tools such as diagnostic tests around the world. We need to continue to fight for that but it also doesn’t take into account challenges and surveillance around the world, as well as people who are self-testing at home who don’t get registered. So we know that 15 million is an underestimate,” Kerkhove said.

As for deaths, the WHO official said more than 43 000 deaths were reported in the last seven days alone.

Kerkhove noted that although it would take some time for the Omicron variant to overtake the Delta variant in some countries due to its level of circulation, new infections and hospitalised cases were a result from both the two variants.

“What we are cautioning about is even though we have some information that Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it’s not a mild disease. This is really important because people are still being hospitalised for Omicron,” she said.

“As Omicron spreads and as it infects people who have underlying conditions – who have an older age and certainly who are not vaccinated – those three groups of individuals have a higher risk of developing severe disease.”

The epidemiologist said it was worrying that hospitalisations are increasing and the “sheer volume of cases” that resulted in more hospitalised people from the Omicron variant, which was also circulating among vulnerable people.

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