Covid chief 'never been more concerned' than he is about Omicron

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special envoy on Covid-19 has warned that he has ‘never been more concerned’ by the pandemic than he is now.

Dr David Nabarro stressed that the Omicron variant presents an ‘emergency situation’ for the NHS and health services across the world.

Following a record number of new cases on Wednesday, he said: ‘I have been watching this pandemic and working on it since January 2020 and I have never been more concerned… not just about the UK, but about the world.’

He added: ‘The rise that you’re seeing in the UK today is just the beginning of an extraordinary acceleration.’

It is feared that the doubling rate of the new strain could be two days or less in some parts of the UK, putting the country on course for well over a million new infections every day by the end of the new year.

Dr Nabarro told Sky News that regardless of whether Omicron is more mild than other strains of coronavirus, it will infect multiples more people.

‘Even if Omicron is several times less unpleasant than Delta, I want to stress the absolute number of people who are going to get infected, some of whom will be people who have had double vaccination’, he said.

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‘This absolute number is going to lead to an already massively stressed health system and health workforce being further overloaded and so it really is important that every single human being does everything they can to protect health services by minimising social contact and by doing everything possible to prevent transmission of this virus.’

It comes after the UK reported 78,610 new cases on Wednesday.

How that figure translates into hospitalisations and deaths remains unclear because of the lag between infection and serious illness.

But given the growth of the wave, the NHS could easily be overwhelmed if even a small fraction of the expected infections turn into hospitalisations.

The Government insists that no new restrictions will be needed before Christmas and is pinning its hopes on a ramped up booster jab roll out to ease the severity of cases and number of infections.

But Dr Nabarro branded the UK’s situation ‘very serious indeed’.

‘There are two epidemics going on; Delta and Omicron. And it is an emergency situation for the British health service’, he said.

‘It will get extremely serious within the next two weeks, perhaps quicker.’

He said the spread of the Omicron variant was ‘serious in the UK, it’s serious in Europe, and it’s serious for the world’.

His intervention comes amid a host of grim warnings from experts about the new variant.

On Wednesday, Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, described Omicron as ‘probably the most significant threat we’ve had since the start of the pandemic’.

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, warned that ‘records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks’ and urged people to cut down on Christmas socialising, in an apparent contradiction of Government advice.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, warned that hospitalisations are already increasing.

But he said there were also ‘signs of hopes’ and claimed a ‘great national fightback has begun’.

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