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Avoid events, the WHO warns

Cancel events, not life

Omicron is spreading fast, the WHO calls for avoiding gatherings

Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant, and “All of us are sick of this pandemic,” says Dr Tedros

By B N KUMAR

MUMBAI, dec 21 (The CONNECT) - Declaring that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant, the World Health Organisation has called for cancelling social events and gatherings as “an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled”. 

“It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later, than to celebrate now and grieve later,” WHO Director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said addressing the global media last night (IST). 

He said it is more likely that people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 could be infected or reinfected 

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.  

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. 

The fastest way to do that is for all of us – leaders and individuals – to make the difficult decisions that must be made to protect ourselves and others. 

“None of us want to be here again in 12 months’ time, talking about missed opportunities, continued inequity, or new variants,” he said  

He pointed out that more than 3.3 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 this year and there were more deaths than from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined in 2020. 

“And still, COVID-19 continues to claim around 50 000 lives every week,” he said and explained that’s not to mention the unreported deaths, and the millions of excess deaths caused by disruptions to essential health services. 

Africa is now facing a steep wave of infections, driven largely by the Omicron variant. Just a month ago, Africa was reporting its lowest number of cases in 18 months. Last week, it reported the fourth-highest number of cases in a single week so far, he said. 

Dr Tedros called for ending vaccine inequality “If we are to end the pandemic in the coming year”. At least 70% of the population of every country must be vaccinated by the middle of next year. 

Stating that the pandemic has also caused setbacks in our efforts to defeat the world’s leading infectious diseases, he expressed concern at the fact that the world recorded an estimated 14 million more malaria cases and 47 thousand more malaria deaths in 2020 compared to 2019. 

However, WHO certified two countries – China and El Salvador – as malaria-free this year, and a further 25 are on track to end malaria transmission by 2025. 

This year will also be remembered for WHO’s recommendation for broad use of the world’s first malaria vaccine, which could save tens of thousands of children’s lives every year, he said.

Services for noncommunicable diseases have also been hit hard and more than half of countries surveyed between June and October this year reported disruptions to services for diabetes, cancer screening and treatment, and management of hypertension, Dr Tedros added.

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