A World Health Organisation representative has revealed exactly why Omicron has turned the fight against Covid on its head, following an "astonishing" spike in global cases.
In a recent Facebook video post, WHO Covid-19 technical lead Dr Maria Van Kerkhove confirmed a staggering 10 million new cases have been reported in the past week alone, and explained why Omicron was transmitting so efficiently – as well as how to contain the spread.
"What we are seeing is a very sharp increase in case numbers. You will have noticed in the last World Health Organisation update, almost 10 million cases reported in the last seven days, and there are a number of reasons for this," she began.
"The first is the mutations that it has. The virus is able to adhere to human cells more easily, and it has mutations that allows it to do this.
"Second is that we have what is called immune escape, and that means that people can be reinfected.
"The other reason is that we are seeing the replication of Omicron in the upper respiratory tract, and that's different from Delta and other variants, including the ancestral strain, which replicated in the lower respiratory tract, in the lungs.
"This combination of factors allows the virus to spread more easily."
Van Kerkhove said the "sheer number" of infections threatened to overwhelm healthcare systems across the world.
"What we are learning is that your risk of getting severe disease with Omicron is less than Delta, but the sheer number of cases we're seeing around the world is really astonishing, and even with a lower risk of hospitalisation, we're still seeing a large number of people who need clinical care, who are hospitalised, and that will overburden the system," she said.
Van Kerkhove said while Omicron is tearing through the planet, we all have a responsibility to play our part.
Firstly, she said it was essential to get vaccinated once you are eligible, noting vaccination was "incredibly protective against severe disease and death", including for both Omicron and Delta.
She stressed that included protecting the vulnerable, and people in all countries, which was likely a reference to the lag in vaccination rates in the developing world.
Next, she said it was essential for good testing systems to be put in place to allow authorities to detect new cases as soon as possible, and ensure the best care for patients who may require it.
Finally, she urged everyone to do their best to protect themselves, which will in turn protect others. That includes basic health measures such as wearing face masks, observing social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
Van Kerkhove's warning comes as cases surge in Australia and across the world.
On Sunday, NSW recorded 30,062 new Covid cases and 16 deaths, making it the deadliest day since the pandemic began.
Victoria confirmed 44,155 cases and four deaths on Sunday, while cases also jumped in most other states and territories.