Christmas has snuck up on us once again but for a second year running its arrival has been dampened by the ongoing spread of COVID-19, now bolstered by the even more transmissible, Omicron variant. With the new strain already being the most dominant in the US, medical experts have been warning against large family gatherings over the festive period for fears that they will spread a lot more than Christmas cheer.
Speaking on the subject, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave a grim warning about the possible consequences of Christmas gatherings. "An event canceled is better than a life canceled," he said during a press conference yesterday at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, reports Business Insider.
While the religious celebration of Christmas centers around December 25, experts are encouraging people to celebrate within their households until the rate of spread has stabilized to avoid overrunning hospitals that are already struggling. Large gatherings can then safely resume at a later date when the emergency services aren’t stretched so thin.
"It's better to cancel now and celebrate later, than to celebrate now and grieve later,” continued Ghebreyesus.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Omicron variant has already become the dominant version of COVID-19 currently circulating in the US, constituting 73.2 percent of new infections in the past week. A dramatic increase from the previous week which reported just 12.6 percent of cases were down to Omicron.
In spite of the setback, vaccination remains the best form of defense against severe disease. While breakthrough infections in double-vaccinated people have been widely reported, the majority of cases ending up in intensive care sit within the unvaccinated community. This sentiment was reflected by White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients in a firm but fair teleconference earlier this week.
“Our vaccines work against Omicron, especially for people who get booster shots when they are eligible," said Zients. "If you are vaccinated, you could test positive. But if you do get COVID, your case will likely be asymptomatic or mild.
“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm. So, our message to every American is clear: There is action you can take to protect yourself and your family. Wear a mask in public indoor settings. Get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and get a booster shot when you’re eligible.”