WHO / COVID-19 UPDATE

18-Jan-2022 00:04:29
While Omicron infections on average “may be less severe”, WHO chief Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus warned that the “the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response, and costs more lives,” as the variant continues to “sweep the world.” WHO
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STORY: WHO / COVID-19 UPDATE
TRT: 4:29
SOURCE: WHO
RESTRICTIONS: NONE
LANGUAGE: ENGLISH / NATS

DATELINE: 18 JANUARY 2022, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
SHOTLIST
FILE – GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

1. Wide shot, WHO emblem outside headquarters

18 JANUARY 2022, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

2. Wide shot, WHO officials at dais
3. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO):
"Omicron continues to sweep the world. Last week, there were more than 18 million reported cases. The number of deaths remains stable for the moment, but we are concerned about the impact Omicron is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems. In some countries, cases seem to have peaked, which gives hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with, but no country is out of the woods yet. 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. Omicron may be less severe, on average of course, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response, and costs more lives."
4. Wide shot, WHO officials at dais
5. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO):
"Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities. The virus is circulating far too intensely with many still vulnerable. For many countries, the next few weeks remain really critical for health workers and health systems. I urge everyone to do their best to reduce risk of infection so that you can help take pressure off the system. Now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag. We can still significantly reduce the impact of the current wave by sharing and using health tools effectively and implementing public health and social measures that we know work."
6. Wide shot, WHO officials at dais
7. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead, Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO):
"Now is not the time to give up on the strategy. We're hearing a lot of people suggest that Omicron is the last variant, that is that it's over after this. And that is not the case, because this virus is circulating at a very intense level around the world. You will see in our weekly epidemiologic update that will be published in a few hours that there's another 20 percent increase in cases in the last seven days, with almost 19 million cases that have been reported to us. And again, that's a true underestimate of what is actually circulating around. And the deaths are holding steady around 45,000 deaths per week, and that shouldn't be happening because we have tools at hand."
8. Wide shot, WHO officials at dais
9. SOUNDBITE (English) Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization (WHO):
"There's no evidence right now that healthy children or healthy adolescents need boosters; no evidence at all. So, this is why the SAGE, which is our technical expert body that makes policy recommendations, has been meeting and will continue to meet, will meet later this week to consider the specific question of how should countries think about giving boosters to their populations with a view to protecting people, with a view to reducing deaths."
10. Wide shot, WHO officials at dais
11. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead, Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO):
"We understand there are a number of species that can be infected with SARS-CoV-2. And then of course, there's the possibility, we call that a reverse zoonosis, it goes from humans back to animals, and then it's possible for the animals to reinfect humans. That risk remains low, but it is something that we are constantly looking at; because what we don't want, is to have - as this virus circulates, it has the opportunity to infect people as well as animals. And so, this is something we need to have better surveillance on, looking at around the world, not only which animals are susceptible, but to track this in animals over time."
12. Wide shot, WHO officials at dais
STORYLINE
While Omicron infections on average “may be less severe”, WHO chief Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus warned that the “the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response, and costs more lives,” as the variant continues to “sweep the world.”

Speaking to reporters in Geneva today (18 Jan), Dr Tedros said there were more than 18 million reported cases last week. He said the number of deaths remains stable for the moment, but expressed concern about “the impact Omicron is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems.”

He said while cases seem to have peaked in some countries giving hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with, “no country is out of the woods yet.” The WHO chief said he remained 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.”

Dr Tedros underscored that Omicron is indeed causing hospitalizations and deaths, adding that “even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.” He said, “The virus is circulating far too intensely with many still vulnerable. For many countries, the next few weeks remain really critical for health workers and health systems.”

The WHO Director-General urged everyone to do their best to reduce risk of infection to help take pressure off the system. He said, “Now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag. We can still significantly reduce the impact of the current wave by sharing and using health tools effectively and implementing public health and social measures that we know work."

WHO’s COVID-19 Technical lead, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, stressed the need not to give up on the strategy in place to combat the pandemic. She said, “We're hearing a lot of people suggest that Omicron is the last variant, that is that it's over after this. And that is not the case, because this virus is circulating at a very intense level around the world. You will see in our weekly epidemiologic update that will be published in a few hours that there's another 20 percent increase in cases in the last seven days, with almost 19 million cases that have been reported to us. And again, that's a true underestimate of what is actually circulating around. And the deaths are holding steady around 45,000 deaths per week, and that shouldn't be happening because we have tools at hand."

WHO’s Chief Scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said there was currently no evidence that healthy children or healthy adolescents need boosters. She said WHO’s technical expert body tasked with making policy recommendations, SAGE, has been and will continue to meeting to consider the specific question of how countries should “think about giving boosters to their populations with a view to protecting people, with a view to reducing deaths."

Asked about COVID-19 transmissions to animal, Dr Van Kerkhove said a number of species that can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. She said there was a possibility for what is called a “reverse zoonosis”, in which the virus “goes from humans back to animals, and then it's possible for the animals to reinfect humans.” However, Dr Van Kerkhove said the risk “remains low,” noting that it was still an issue WHO is constantly considering.

She noted that as the virus continues to circulate, it has the opportunity to infect people as well as animals, and highlighted the importance of having “better surveillance” to know “not only which animals are susceptible, but to track this in animals over time."
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