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Omicron especially dangerous for unvaccinated: WHO

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says Omicron variant of the COVID-19 less dangerous than Delta one. Says it is more dangerous for unvaccinated people. Says people being hospitalised for the infection are unjabbed. GENEVA: The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is dangerous -- and especially so for those who have not been vaccinated against the disease, the World Health Organization warned Wednesday. The WHO said the global surge in cases was being driven by Omicron, which is more transmissible than the previously dominant Delta variant. More than 15 million cases were reported to the WHO last week -- with millions more cases thought to have gone unrecorded. But the UN health agency insisted there should be no surrender to the variant, dismissing the notion that it could be a welcome conduit to ending the pandemic. "While Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains a dangerous virus -- particularly for those who are unvaccinated," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference. "We mustn't allow this virus a free ride or wave the white flag, especially when so many people around the world remain unvaccinated." The "overwhelming majority" of people admitted to hospitals are unjabbed, he added. While vaccines remain very effective at preventing death and severe Covid-19 disease, they do not fully prevent transmission, said Tedros. "More transmission means more hospitalisations, more deaths, more people off work -- including teachers and health workers -- and more risk of another variant emerging that is even more transmissible and more deadly than Omicron." Tedros said that the numbers of deaths worldwide had stabilised at around 50,000 per week. "Learning to live with this virus does not mean we can, or should, accept this number of deaths," he said. - Vaccine inequity - Tedros wanted every country to have 10 percent of their population vaccinated by the end of September 2021, 40 percent by the end of December, and 70 percent by mid-2022. But 90 countries have still not reached 40 percent -- with 36 of them still short of the 10-percent mark, he said. "In Africa, over 85 percent of people are yet to receive a single dose of vaccine. We can't end the acute phase of the pandemic unless we close this gap," said Tedros. Wealthier countries had made it "three times as hard" for dose-starved low-income nations by exporting misinformation rather than vaccines, said Bruce Aylward, the WHO's frontman on accessing coronavirus tools. The WHO says Omicron had been identified in 149 countries by January 6. Some hope that due to its increased transmissibility, Omicron will replace more severe variants and see Covid-19 shift from a pandemic into an endemic disease that is more manageable. But WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said: "This is not the time to declare this is a welcome virus." Maria Van Kerkhove the WHO's technical lead on Covid-19, said it was difficult to predict the road ahead and Omicron was unlikely to be the last variant preoccupying minds at the UN health agency. "We expect the virus will continue to evolve and become more fit... we expect to see outbreaks among unvaccinated individuals," she said. "The virus is well on its way to becoming endemic -- but we're not there yet." Meanwhile Tedros said pregnant women were not at higher risk of catching Covid-19, but were at higher risk of developing severe disease if they did so. He called for pregnant women to have access to vaccines, and to be included in trials for new treatments and jabs. Two hospitals in China’s Xi’an closed over lockdown failures BEIJING: Two hospitals in China’s locked-down city of Xi’an, including one that refused to treat an eight-month pregnant woman who later miscarried, have been closed while they “rectify” mistakes, authorities said Thursday. The historic city, one of several in China experiencing coronavirus outbreaks, has been subject to strict home confinement for three weeks in line with Beijing’s “zero-Covid” strategy. Top health officials were forced to apologise last week after a distressing social media post — including photos and video of the woman sitting on a plastic stool outside Gaoxin Hospital in a pool of blood — prompted outrage over the megacity’s harsh imposition of the rules. She was refused treatment because her negative Covid-19 test fell slightly outside the 48-hour requirement. In a separate incident at the second hospital, a Xi’an resident said her father had died last week after he could not get medical treatment for a heart ailment due to “pandemic-related rules”. Both hospitals have been given warnings and made to “suspend operations for three months for rectification”, and will only be allowed to reopen after getting approval. The city’s health commission said in a statement Thursday that the two hospitals had “failed to perform their duties of saving lives and rescuing the wounded”. “This led to delays in the rescue, diagnosis and treatment of critically ill patients, arousing widespread public attention and having a bad social impact,” health authorities added. Read more: China’s Zhongshan City sees 1 test positive for COVID-19 Gaoxin Hospital has been told to suspend its general manager and dismiss several staff members, and the second hospital to sack its chairman, suspend its deputy chief and remove the head nurse of its outpatient department. The local government has faced widespread criticism over its handling of the crisis, with many residents complaining they have had no access to food and daily supplies after being told they could not leave their homes. Cases have begun to slow in Xi’an in recent days, with only six reported Thursday. Since Dec 9, there have been more than 2,000 domestic infections in the city.

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