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Omicron poses ‘very high’ global risk, world must prepare: WHO

To date, no deaths linked to Omicron had been reported, though further research was needed to assess Omicron's potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it said.

By: Reuters | Geneva |
Updated: November 29, 2021 9:17:18 pm
Omicron news, omicron who news, omicron who symptoms, omicron who updates, omicron who guidelines, omicron who report, omicron virus, omicron symptoms, omicron virus symptoms, omicron virus india, omicron news, omicron WHO, Omicron Covid-19, coronavirus Omicron threat, WHO Covid Omicron, Omicron Covid-19 WHO, indian express news Travellers in personal protective equipment depart the international terminal for a taxi stand at Sydney Airport, as countries react to the new coronavirus Omicron variant. (Reuters)

The heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have “severe consequences” in some places, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

No Omicron-linked deaths had yet been reported, though further research was needed to assess its potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it added.

In anticipation of increased case numbers as the variant, first reported last week, spreads, the U.N. agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and ensure plans were in place to maintain health services.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said.

“The overall global risk related to the new variant …is assessed as very high.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, sounded the alarm at the start of an assembly of health ministers that is expected to launch negotiations on an international agreement on preventing future pandemics.

Omicron news, omicron who news, omicron who symptoms, omicron who updates, omicron who guidelines, omicron who report, omicron virus, omicron symptoms, omicron virus symptoms, omicron virus india, omicron news, omicron WHO, Omicron Covid-19, coronavirus Omicron threat, WHO Covid Omicron, Omicron Covid-19 WHO, indian express news  Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, WHO, speaks at the WHO headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland, May 24, 2021. (AP/File)

“The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” Tedros said. “Omicron demonstrates just why the
world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores.”

The new global deal, expected by May 2024, would cover issues such as sharing of data and genome sequences of emerging viruses, and of any potential vaccines derived from research.

‘OVERWHELMING DEMANDS’

Omicron was first reported on Nov. 24 from South Africa, where infections have risen steeply.

It has since spread to more than a dozen countries, many of which have imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off. Japan on Monday joined Israel in saying it would close its borders to foreigners.

A healthcare worker collects a swab from a passenger for a PCR test against the coronavirus disease before travelling to Uganda, amidst the spread of the new variant Omicron, at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 28, 2021. (Reuters)

The WHO reiterated that, pending further advice, countries should use a “risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures in a timely manner”, while acknowledging that a rise in coronavirus cases might lead to higher morbidity and mortality rates.

“The impact on vulnerable populations would be substantial, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage,” it added.

In vaccinated persons, meanwhile, “COVID-19 cases and infections are expected … albeit in a small and predictable proportion”.

Overall, there were “considerable uncertainties in the magnitude of immune escape potential of Omicron”, and more data was expected in coming weeks.

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