Statement by the WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean on COVID-19 [EN/AR] – World

Cairo, November 28, 2021. The emergence of the worrying new variant of COVID-19, Omicron, is a major cause of concern for people in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, as well as worldwide. As of November 24, the Region had reported more than 16.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 308,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Those numbers are now at risk of rising sharply again unless we collectively re-commit to taking the actions that we know are limiting the spread of the virus.

As winter approaches, temperatures drop across the region, causing people to congregate in confined spaces. Combined with still low rates of adherence to preventive measures such as the use of masks and physical distancing, the WHO is extremely concerned that an increase in cases and deaths could be reported in the coming years. weeks. Unvaccinated people are most at risk of serious and complicated infection, hospitalization and death.

The worrisome new variant, Omicron, has many mutations that require detailed study. But preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of disease transmission, as well as reinfection in people who have been previously infected.

So far, the new designated variant has already been reported in countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. The variant has not been officially announced in all 22 countries and territories in our Region, but we all know it is only a matter of time before the first case is reported.

All of these indicators underscore that the COVID-19 pandemic is still far from over. The worrisome variants are one of the most serious threats to our collective efforts to defeat the virus. The more COVID-19 circulates, the more opportunities it will have to mutate, and the longer it will take to control it.

We know that if we act collectively, as counties and as communities, we can change the course of the pandemic and prevent new mutations from emerging. This is possible by increasing vaccination rates, practicing proven public health and social measures, resisting COVID-19 fatigue, and tackling the abundant misinformation that makes our jobs so much more difficult. . We must not be forced to continually pursue the virus – we have the tools to get ahead of it and we must use them in a spirit of determination and cooperation.

WHO is closely monitoring the Omicron variant and other variants of concern. We are continuously working with Member States and our network of researchers around the world to better understand these mutations, including their transmissibility, their implications for reinfection and disease severity, and their impact on diagnostics, therapies and vaccines.

In the meantime, we urge all people to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus, including its new mutations: get vaccinated, wear a mask, maintain physical distance, avoid poorly ventilated or overcrowded spaces, keep their hands clean and cough or sneeze into your elbow.

In addition, WHO strongly encourages all countries to strengthen virus surveillance and sequencing, share genome data with public databases and report initial cases / clusters to WHO, while continuing to implement the measures that we know work. In our Region, only about a quarter of people are fully immunized, and in 7 of 22 countries / territories, the immunization rate remains below 10%. We must therefore use all the tools and all the measures at our disposal.

The faster we implement these preventative measures, the faster we can contain the virus and prevent it from growing.

We are now at a turning point. COVID-19 has been a powerful demonstration of the need for a whole-of-government, pan-community approach. All countries must work together across geographic, cultural, ideological and linguistic divisions. No one is safe until everyone is safe. This is our vision for the “Health for All by All” Region.

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