The Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading at a rate not seen with previous variants, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned, adding that the tendency to dismiss it as mild is concerning.
Speaking during a news conference on Tuesday, Tedros said the variant has been detected in 77 countries.
“The reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet,” he added.
Officials in Britain have warned the country is facing a “tidal wave” of infections from Omicron. The strain has become dominant in London, outcompeting the previous Delta variant.
On Monday, the UK reported its first death from the variant. It has once again increased its Covid-19 alert level and is accelerating the rollout of booster shots.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the United States is running behind Europe in seeing the impact of a new variant.
Omicron went from accounting for 0.4% of circulating virus in the US in the week to December 4 to 2.9% the following week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But the rates are already much higher in the region of the country containing New York and New Jersey, The CDC estimates 13.1% of cases there are caused by Omicron, compared to just 2% in the previous week.