The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a warning to world leaders that the coronavirus pandemic “is nowhere near over”.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned against the assumption that the newly dominant Omicron variant is significantly milder and has eliminated the threat posed by the virus.
The intervention comes as some European nations saw record new case numbers.
France reported nearly half a million new daily cases on Tuesday.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, more than 100,000 new infections were recorded in Germany within 24 hours on Wednesday.
Speaking during a news conference at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Dr Tedros told reporters that the Omicron variant had led to 18 million new infections across the world over the past week.
He warned global leaders that “with the incredible growth of Omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge, which is why tracking and assessment remain critical”.
“I remain particularly concerned about many countries that have low vaccination rates, as people are many times more at risk of severe illness and death if they are unvaccinated,” he added.
The WHO’s emergencies director, Dr Mike Ryan, also warned that Omicron’s increased transmissibility is likely to drive a rise in hospitalisations and deaths, especially in nations where fewer people are vaccinated.
“An exponential rise in cases, regardless of the severity of the individual variants, leads to inevitable increase in hospitalisations and deaths,” he said.
Record daily case rises in Europe
New coronavirus infections have been growing across Europe as the new Omicron variant takes hold across the continent.
In Denmark, officials reported a record 33,493 new daily cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, while health authorities in Italy recorded 228,179 new infections, up from 83,403 the previous day. In Germany a record 112,323 new cases were reported on Wednesday, and the incidence rate of cases per 100,000 people also climbed to a new high of 584.4 over the past week.
France meanwhile reported 464,769 new daily infections on Tuesday, more than four times higher than Monday’s figure of 102,144 and a daily record for the pandemic. Infections have now climbed past a weekly average of over 300,000 new cases per day.