The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that high levels of COVID-19 infection around the world will lead to new variants as the coronavirus mutates. But many governments and people feel that as the omicron variant subsides, the pandemic is over.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, during a coronavirus update in Geneva said this is not the case because the virus is circulating at a very intense level around the world. “New infections have increased by 20% globally over the past week with nearly 19 million total reported cases. Van Kerkhove says the actual number may be higher because new infections are being unreported.
A senior WHO official Dr Bruce Aylward pointed out that high levels of transmission give the virus more opportunity to replicate and mutate. “This raises the risk that a new variant will emerge. We don’t fully understand the consequences of letting this thing run. Most of what we have seen so far in areas of uncontrolled transmission has been we paid a price for the variants that emerge and new uncertainties we have to manage as we go forward.”
Van Kerkhove believes now is not the time to relax public health measures. She urged governments across the world to strengthen mask wearing and physical distancing measures to bring the COVID-19 under better control and stem future waves of infection as new variants emerge.
“If we don’t do this now, we will move on to the next crisis. And we need to end the crisis that we are currently in and we can do that at the present time,” Van Kerkhove said. “So don’t abandon the science. Don’t abandon the strategies that are working, that are keeping us and our loved ones safe.”
WHO said governments should invest more in surveillance systems to track the virus as it mutates. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, WHO Director-General, said new infections are peaking in some countries, providing hope that the worst of the omicron wave is over. He believes no country is out of the woods yet, and warned that health-care systems are still under pressure from the unprecedented wave of infections.
“I urge everyone to do their best to reduce risk of infection so that you can help take the pressure off the system. Now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag. This pandemic is nowhere near over and with the incredible growth of omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge, which is why tracking and assessment remain critical.”