Omicron variant has spread its tentacles across many countries ever since it was found first in South Africa in November 2021 and has sent COVID-19 cases skyrocketing like never before.
World Health Organization (WHO)'s latest shared data shows that nearly 10 million fresh Covid infections were reported across the globe in the past week, mostly by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
WHO's Covid-19 technical lead and epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove explained what makes the latest variant of concern so contagious and what people can do to combat it.
Omicron is transmitted very efficiently between people due to a number of reasons, said the epidemiologist. First, the mutations found in the virus allow it to adhere to human cells more easily.
"The Omicron variant has been detected around the world. We are seeing a very sharp increase in case numbers with almost 10 million cases reported in the last 7 days." -@mvankerkhove explains why Omicron is transmitting so efficiently and how to contain the spread of #COVID19. pic.twitter.com/IIjb4rBoxX— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 8, 2022
"Second, is that we have what is called immune escape. And this means that people can be reinfected either if they had a previous infection or if they've been vaccinated," she added.
Ms Kerkhove also noted that while studies have shown that the risk of contracting severe illness from Omicron is less as compared to the Delta variant, there is no reason to get complacent. Because the spread of the virus is also being driven by the context of people mixing more and not adhering to measures such as wearing masks and physical distancing, she said.
“The sheer volume of cases that we are seeing around the world is really astonishing. Even with a lower risk of hospitalisation, we're still seeing a large number of people who need clinical care, who are hospitalised and that will overburden the system,” she said.
"It's really important right now that we minimise exposure so that we can minimise those case numbers so that they don't have a knock on effect of burdening the healthcare system as well as other sectors," Kerkhove added.