The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for all coming Christmas events to be “canceled” due to the rise in cases of the COVID-19 variant Omicron.
WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has given a stark warning to the public over plans to hold Christmas gatherings this year.
The WHO chief warned that celebrating the festivities as normal would lead to “increased cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths.”
He’s calling for stricter government measures to curb the spread while urging people to cancel gatherings with family and loved ones.
“An event canceled is better than a life canceled,” Tedros warned.
“Difficult decisions” must be made, he added.
“It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.”
The WHO said there’s now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant.
The United Nations health agency also said that data suggests it is more likely people vaccinated or recovered from COVID could be infected or re-infected.
A second WHO official has also said some Christmas gatherings should be “changed or delayed” this year, urging the public to wear masks inside the home in order to keep people safe.
When asked what constitutes them not being safe, WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said: “If you have got a large number of people or a considerable number of people, especially people coming from different places.
“You don’t know what their exposure has been.
“People coming together in that sort of circumstance is what we call social mixing, that’s the moment at which you are most likely to spread COVID and particularly Omicron.”
If families go ahead with Christmas gatherings, they could mitigate the risks by opening windows, wearing masks inside homes, and keeping socially distanced, she said.
“If you have gatherings that are not going to be safe, change them, delay them, do them later don’t do them now,” said Dr. Harris.
Dr. Harris also issued a warning over Omicron’s transmissibility and said: “It is already very clear that is a very serious threat.”
“We are already getting a very strong message that it is much more transmissible and that in itself is a very serious threat,” she said.
“Because even if most people do not have the severe disease, especially as we have got a well-vaccinated population, if you have got huge numbers of people infected you will have a small percentage who get the severe form and that translates into big numbers.
“One percent of millions is a lot of people.”
It comes as Omicron continues to spread across the globe, with health experts in the US declaring it is now the dominant strain in the country.
A number of countries have tightened Covid restrictions to try to halt the spread of Omicron.
The Netherlands has introduced a strict lockdown over Christmas, while other European countries such as France and Germany have imposed travel curbs.
Omicron continues to take hold in the UK and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Government needed to “reserve the possibility” of bringing in new rules in England.
But no new restrictions are expected in England before Christmas.
On Tuesday a Government minister urged people across the UK to have a “cautious” Christmas.
Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay told LBC:
“We can all protect our families and friends by having the booster.”