13 January 2022 – Welcome to our first press briefing of 2022, and I wish you and your loved ones a happy and healthy new year.

2021 was difficult for most of us. Despite the incredible progress made in developing effective tools to prevent and control the pandemic, including vaccines and therapeutics, we continued to see increasing numbers of people infected, too many of whom died of the disease. 

As of 8 January 2022, the Eastern Mediterranean Region has reported almost 17.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 317 000 deaths. During the first week of 2022, a total of 206 980 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1053 deaths were reported. Compared to the previous week, this marks a dramatic 89% increase in cases, although there has been a 13% decrease in deaths. 

It is almost certain that the highly infectious Omicron variant has caused this shocking increase in cases. Fifteen out of 22 countries in the Region have now officially reported Omicron, and as more and more people become infected, we need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. While Omicron appears to cause less severe disease compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, this certainly does not mean it should be underestimated, as it continues to lead to hospitalization and deaths. More countries in the Region are expected to report Omicron and we need to take it very seriously. 

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, we find ourselves still in the position of a full-fledged battle against the virus, despite

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