The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading significantly faster than the Delta strain in countries with documented community transmission, with a doubling time of 1.5–3 days, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.
The Omicron variant, which was designated as a variant of concern on November 26, has been identified in 89 countries across all six WHO regions as of December 16, it said.
Omicron is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity, but it is unclear if this is due to the virus’ ability to evade immunity, its inherent increased transmissibility or a combination of both, the WHO said in an update.
“There are still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron,” the WHO said. “More data are needed to understand the severity profile and how severity is impacted by vaccination and pre-existing immunity.”
It added, “There are still limited available data, and no peer-reviewed evidence, on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to date for Omicron”.
The WHO warned that with cases rising so rapidly, hospitals could be overwhelmed in some places.
“Hospitalisations in the UK and South Africa continue to rise, and given rapidly increasing case counts, it is possible that many healthcare systems may become quickly overwhelmed.”
Seven to 10% of new confirmed coronavirus cases in France are suspected to be of new the Omicron variant, health minister Olivier Veran said on Saturday.
He said the rapid spread of the new variant was the main reason for the planned introduction of a new vaccination pass early next year, which will require that people show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants and long-distance public transport.
Under the current health pass regulation, a recent negative Covid test is sufficient for entering public places. France is also set to curb New Year’s Eve celebrations.