When describing a viral strain spreading around the world with astonishing speed, words matter, and "mild" is not the correct word for omicron, the chief of the World Health Organization warned Thursday. "While omicron does appear to be less severe compared to delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as mild," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, per the BBC. He said that like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing and killing people. "In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world," he said.
In the last week, a record 9.5 million COVID cases have been confirmed worldwide, a 71% week-on-week rise, WHO officials said at the Thursday press conference. WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan warned that there "still is a lot of energy in this virus," and predictions that omicron will be the final variant are probably "wishful thinking," Deutsche Welle reports. On Thursday, the world's number of known COVID cases topped 300 million, five months after it hit 200 million, though experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci say even the record case numbers being recorded in many countries are an undercount and it is now more important to focus on hospitalizations, reports the New York Times.
In the US, case numbers have risen by 227% over the last few weeks while hospitalizations are up by around 60%, per the Times. Researchers say that while the risk of hospitalization is lower with omicron and the symptoms are often different from delta, "it's still a nasty disease" for older people, NPR reports. Researcher say that as with delta, vaccinated people who get infected are much more likely to have milder symptoms. Authorities in the US and elsewhere are urging citizens to get booster shots, though the WHO says the world shouldn't forget about poorer countries where many people haven't had their initial dose of vaccine. "Booster after booster in a small number of countries will not end a pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected," Dr. Tedros said Thursday. (Read more omicron variant stories.)