Amid reports that Omicron has symptoms akin to a common cold, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday warned that it is not a common cold and should not be taken lightly.
The four most common symptoms of the Omicron variant are cough, fatigue, congestion and runny nose, according to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis. A recent study by UK-based Zoe Covid app added nausea and loss of appetite to the category.
Several studies from South Africa, the US and the UK have shown that the infections caused by the highly transmissible variant are generally mild, with less hospitalisation required.
"Omicron is not the common cold," WHO epidemiologist Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said in a tweet.
"While some reports show a reduced risk of hospitalisation of Omicron compared to Delta, there are still far too many people infected, in hospital sick and dying from Omicron (and Delta)," she added.
The UK has reportedly seen about 14 deaths due to the Omicron variant, while the US and South Korea have seen one death each. The deaths occured majorly in unvaccinated persons.
"Omicron is not the common cold! Health systems can get overwhelmed," reiterated WHO's chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan on Twitter.
It is "important to have systems to test, advise and monitor large numbers of patients as the surge can be sudden and huge," she warned.
Kerkhove stated that "we can prevent infections, save lives now" by ensuring vaccine equity.
Meanwhile, WHO on Tuesday also stated that emerging evidence reveals that the Omicron is affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants.
"We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike the other ones, that could cause severe pneumonia," WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud told Geneva-based journalists.
At the same time, the global health body warned that soaring infections due to Omicron across the world could lead to the emergence of new variants, media reports said. The more variant spreads, the more it can replicate and bring out a new variant that can be more lethal.
France has detected a new variant, named IHU. The new variant, with 46 mutations, has already infected 12 people, both vaccinated and unvaccinated.A While it may pose a greater risk than Omicron, touted as highly transmissible but mild in infections and less lethal than previous the Delta variant, researchers said, "it is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological or clinical features of this IHU variant based on (just) 12 cases".