WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2
Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
The emergence of the Omicron variant has understandably captured global attention.
The emergence of any new variant should capture our attention, especially one as highly mutated as Omicron.
The WHO Secretariat takes this development extremely seriously, and so should all Member States.
But we should not be surprised. This is what viruses do.
And as I have said many times, the longer we allow the pandemic to drag on – by failing to address vaccine inequity, or to implement public health and social measures in a tailored and consistent way – the more opportunity we give this virus to mutate in ways we cannot predict or prevent.
We still have more questions than answers about the effect of Omicron on transmission, severity of disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines.
The Secretariat is working with partners all over the world to fill in our knowledge gaps as quickly as possible.
Doctors Mike Ryan and Maria Van Kerkhove will provide more detail in a few minutes.
Once again, I thank Botswana and South Africa for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant so rapidly.
It is deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing.
I well understand the concern of all countries to protect their citizens against a variant that we don’t yet fully understand.
But I am equally concerned that several Member States are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities.
We call on all Member States to take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the International Health Regulations.
We continue to call on all Member States to optimize public health and social measures and ensure that high-risk and vulnerable individuals in all countries are fully vaccinated immediately.
The global response must be calm, coordinated and coherent.
At the same time, we must not forget that we are already dealing with a highly transmissible, dangerous variant – the Delta variant, which accounts for almost all cases globally.
We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from Delta. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from Omicron – so enhancing surveillance, testing, sequencing and reporting.
The Secretariat will keep Member States and the public updated as we learn more.
Mike, over to you.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO).