Omicron proves we’re not in control of Covid – only global action can stop this pandemic

It has been almost two years since we first heard of Covid-19 and a year since the first Covid vaccines were rolled out. This progress is being wasted. With richer countries taking a very blinkered domestic focus, we have been drifting for months, lulled into thinking that the worst of the Pandemic was behind us. This variant reminds us that we are not out of the woods yet.

We need to learn more about the Omicron variant. It's not clear if this is a changing variant of the flu or if it's a different one. We must watch the data closely and give the brilliant scientific teams time to get the answers as research will tell us more in the coming days and weeks. I am cautiously hopeful that our current vaccines will continue to protect us against severe sickness and death if we are fully vaccine free.

That may not be the case for the next variant.

The longer this virus continues to spread in unvaccinated populations, the more likely it is that a variant that can overcome our vaccines and treatments will emerge. We could be close to square one if that happens.

The urgent things that need to be done right now are: wearing masks indoors, increasing testing, isolating if positive, and vaccination. We don't know how Omicron came to be, but we must protect the most vulnerable, including the elderly and healthcare workers.

It's understandable that countries are using boosters to protect their populations. Ensuring global vaccine supply must happen in parallel. With political will, supply can be achieved. Rich countries must share more of their existing supply over the coming months.

We must do everything we can to avoid a return to lockdowns, a sign that public health has failed, because Covid-19 has already killed millions and changed everyday life for us all. World leaders are playing with fire and putting our progress at risk by ignoring warnings and focusing only on their national populations. It's unbelievable that the Accelerator is still having to plead for funding.

It's important that world leaders see this as the most urgent threat facing our world.

Governments are unwilling to address inequitable access to the vaccines, tests and treatment because of political drift and lack of leadership. We are not in control of the situation, and Omicron or an even worse variant could arise at any time. There have been wonderful speeches, warm words, but not the actions needed to ensure fair access to what we know works and bring the Pandemic to a close.

The global picture was already troubling before we learned of this new variant. The US, central and south America, and Asia will soon be hit by the fourth wave. As the UK passes the G7 presidency to Germany, and Italy hands G20 to Indonesia later this month, it's important that world leaders see this as the most urgent threat facing our world.

We will bring this epidemic to an end by working together around the world and sharing access to the public health tools that are needed to reduce transmission and save lives. Two years have passed and governments still haven't woken up and realized this is in their self-interest.

The crisis will only be perpetuated by acting in national self-interest, trapping us in a cycle of waves, new variants, lost lives and continued economic and societal disruption.

No country should believe they are safe because they have vaccine populations. We must do better than this.

The director of the Wellcome Trust is Dr. Jeremy Farrar.