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HealthGlobal issues

WHO says omicron spreading significantly faster than delta

Kieran Burke
December 18, 2021

The global health body has said the new variant has a "substantial growth advantage over delta." More data is still needed to determine the severity of the variant.

The flag of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that while the omicron variant spreads faster than delta, a lot remains unknown about the specific strainImage: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that according to evidence thus far, the omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading far more rapidly than the delta variant.

In a statement released on Friday, the WHO said "omicron has a substantial growth advantage over delta. It is spreading significantly faster than the delta variant in countries with high levels of population immunity."

Case loads double in days

A doubling of cases has been seen in one-and-a-half to three days in areas with community transmission, defined by the unsourceable spread of an infectious disease among a group of people.

The omicron variant has now been reported in 89 countries. The WHO said that an understanding of how severe the variant is remains limited and that more data needs to be collected.

There is also limited understanding as to just how effective vaccines are when it comes to protection against omicron.

Coupled with the lack of understanding over severity of illness is the burden the rapid spread of omicron will place on healthcare facilities.

"Hospitalizations in the UK and South Africa continue to rise, and given rapidly increasing case counts, it is possible that many healthcare systems may become quickly overwhelmed."

Lauterbach warns of 'massive' fifth COVID wave

Reuters contributed to this report