Dr Margaret Harris, spokesperson for WHO, warned that reports from South Africa of a milder form of the virus could not necessarily be applied to Scotland due to the different age demographic in the country.
Her comments come as Deputy First Minister John Swinney warned that the Omicron variant is “galloping through Scotland”. This comes days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told of a “tsunami” of Omicron cases heading for Scotland.
Mr Swinney refused to rule out further restrictions in Scotland ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, but said that closing down schools and hospitality would be a last resort, while expanding the vaccine passport scheme would also be under consideration. He said the Scottish Government is also increasing the booster vaccine programme. He said that overall, 60,000 people were given Covid jags yesterday.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Show, Dr Harris said: “In South Africa, they were reporting fewer severe cases, but that has been the situation in their earlier waves as well. Their population structure is very different from that in Europe and in the UK, where we have much many more older people, and many people with chronic illnesses have been kept going for a long time by the excellent health care they receive. So we can't really extrapolate from what's happening necessarily in South Africa, in the hospitals, to what will happen in the UK. But it's very important that we take the measures we know to stop transmission right now.
“Now, the best scenario is that few people end up in hospital because indeed, of the excellent vaccination programme [in the UK] but also, because we'll be taking public health social measures and keeping the transmission down. And that is something that will evolve in the next few weeks. I would love to be talking to you in a couple of weeks after Christmas and saying, ‘Well, we put in a tough Christmas, but look what we achieved’."
She urged people to speak to anyone they know who is not yet vaccinated and encourage them to do so.
Mr Swinney said that even a small proportion of a large number of cases requiring hospital treatment could “overwhelm” the NHS.
He said: “Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that Omicron is quite literally galloping through Scotland. In the space of a week, Omicron has changed from being two per cent of the cases in Scotland, to yesterday, 18 per cent of the cases. So the doubling rate is about just over two days and that compares to other variants of the virus, which were closer to 14 days.
"So that's why I think it's appropriate to use language like ‘galloping through Scotland’ and ‘a tsunami of infections’, because Omicron is coming towards us at a much more aggressive rate and pace than any of the previous variants of the virus. And we have to address that and we have to address it early and swiftly, to protect the population.”