**FILE** Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (International Telecommunication Union via Wikimedia Commons)
**FILE** Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (International Telecommunication Union via Wikimedia Commons)

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread faster throughout the globe than any other strain of the virus, the head of the World Health Organization warned.

“Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday during a COVID-19 update in Geneva, CNBC reported. “The reality is that omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet.”

The omicron variant is thought to be more contagious than other strains such as the delta, but it has yet to be determined whether it is more virulent.

Tedros said his WHO colleagues are worried that many countries are dismissing the newest variant as mild and not something to be concerned about.

“We have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril,” Tedros said, CNBC reported. “Even if the omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.”

Tedros said vaccines alone will not protect people against omicron. He recommended countries institute policies encouraging or mandating masks, social distancing, proper ventilation in homes and businesses and hand hygiene to prevent it from spreading.

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