World Health Organization (WHO) officials have said that the more infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorised as "mild". Janet Diaz, WHO lead on clinical management, said early studies showed there was a reduced risk of hospitalisation from the variant first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November compared with Delta.

There appears also to be a reduced risk of severity in both younger and older people, she told a media briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Speaking at the same briefing in Geneva, Director-General,

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the variant should not be considered "mild" as global infections soar to records, healthcare systems are overwhelmed and governments struggle to tame the virus, which has killed more than 5.8 million people.

He repeated his call for greater equity globally in the distribution of and access to vaccines. Tedros added that based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO's target for 70% of the world's population to be fully vaccinated by July. He said booster after booster in a small number of countries will not end a pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected.

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