The head of the United Nations health agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledged that holiday gatherings and the prevalence of the most prominent global variant contributed to a surge in COVID-19 transmission last month.
In December alone, nearly 10,000 deaths were reported, and hospital admissions increased by 42% in almost 50 countries, primarily in Europe and the Americas. Tedros highlighted that while this number is lower than the peak of the pandemic, it is still an alarming level of preventable loss of life. He emphasized the need for increased surveillance by governments and continued access to treatments and vaccines.
The JN.1 variant, identified as the current dominant strain worldwide, is an omicron variant. Fortunately, existing vaccines should still offer some level of protection against it.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead at the World Health Organization (WHO) for COVID-19, noted that not only COVID-19 but also other respiratory diseases like the flu, rhinovirus, and pneumonia have seen an increase globally. She anticipated these trends to persist throughout January and the winter months in the northern hemisphere. In contrast, there have been rising cases of COVID-19 in the southern hemisphere due to it being summer there.
While winter ailments such as coughs, sniffles, fever, and fatigue are commonplace, Van Kerkhove emphasized that this year has witnessed the co-circulation of various pathogens. To mitigate the spread of these diseases, WHO officials recommend people get vaccinated when possible, wear masks, and ensure indoor spaces are well-ventilated.
Dr. Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at WHO, underlined the importance of vaccination in reducing the risk of severe illness or death. While the vaccines might not completely prevent infection, they do significantly decrease the chances of hospitalization or fatality.
The battle against COVID-19 continues, and adherence to preventive measures, along with widespread vaccination, remains crucial in curbing the spread and impact of the virus.