WHO says South Africa Covid hospitalizations are rising but it’s too soon to know severity of omicron

Van Kerkhove said Wednesday that the public health measures used to fight delta, which is currently the dominant variant worldwide, should be strengthened to combat omicron.

“That does not mean lockdown. What that means is using proven public health and social measures,” Van Kerkhove said. The WHO recommended last week that people wear masks and socially distance regardless of their vaccination status.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday advised countries against imposing “blanket travel bans,” warning that such measures do not prevent the spread of omicron and place a heavy economic burden on the nations that are targeted. The U.S., the European Union and the U.K. restricted travel from southern African nations after South Africa alerted the world about omicron. Botswana said Friday it first detected the variant on four foreign nationals who entered the country on a diplomatic mission on Nov. 7 as part of its regular Covid surveillance.

“I thank Botswana and South Africa for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant so rapidly,” Tedros said. “It’s deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing.”

Van Kerkhove said placing travel restrictions on countries that report new variants to the international community could make them hesitant to share critical information in the future.

“If there is any disincentive if countries feel like they will be penalized for recording that information, that is of course a worry for us,” she said “We rely on this information, quite frankly.”

Fauci defended the U.S. travel restrictions on Wednesday, describing them as a temporary measure intended to buy time for health officials to better understand the virus variant.

“No one feels that a travel ban is going to prevent people who are infected from coming to the United States,” Fauci said. “But we needed to buy some time to be able to prepare, understand what’s going on. So we look at this as a temporary measure.”

The WHO will hold a meeting on Dec. 6 to discuss how well natural and vaccine-induced immunity is holding up against Covid, including the omicron variant. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the organization’s chief scientist, said the primary goal of the world should be to ensure that as many people as possible have received their first vaccination series, particularly those who are vulnerable.

“There are all countries that still have vulnerable populations that have not been vaccinated for one reason or another,” Swaminathan said. “Of course, there are a large number of low-income countries where it hasn’t happened because we haven’t had the supplies.”

Wealthy nations such as the United States have started rolling out booster doses to the general public as vaccine efficacy wanes over time. That has been a source of controversy internationally because many people in poorer nations have very limited access to vaccines.