Omicron hasn’t reached its peak yet, WHO says—and tells countries to chart their own course

February 1, 2022, 5:14 PM UTC

We’re all in this together.

Well, not really anymore, according to the World Health Organization, which announced in an online briefing that with the Omicron variant not yet at its peak, countries easing restrictions should do so slowly and at their own pace.

WHO’s emergencies chief Mike Ryan advised countries to chart their own path out of the pandemic and not follow others when easing restrictions. “If you open doors quickly you better be able to close them pretty quickly as well,” he said.

Roughly 22 million COVID cases were reported to the WHO over the past week, setting a new global record for weekly cases, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said in the briefing, adding, “We are urging caution because many countries have not gone through the peak of Omicron yet. Many countries have low levels of vaccination coverage with very vulnerable individuals within their populations.”

She urged countries to not lift restrictions all at once, which Denmark was the very first country in the European Union to do today. Instead, Van Kerkhove advises to lift interventions “in a slow way, piece by piece. Because this virus is quite dynamic.”

Ryan added he feared political and economic pressure might result in premature reopenings, leading to more transmission of COVID-19 and deaths.

“It’s premature for any country to surrender or declare victory,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the start of the briefing. 

Today’s online briefing came with some good news: The WHO confirmed that the emerging BA.2 form of the Omicron variant, commonly known as stealth Omicron, does not seem to be more severe than the original BA.1 form. Vaccines also continue to provide similar protection against the different forms of Omicron, Boris Pavlin, lead in the WHO’s COVID-19 response team, said. 

So far in the pandemic, 8 billion doses of vaccines have been administered, the WHO said. 

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