The World Health Organization warned on Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “serious consequences.”
The United Nations health agency’s assessment, contained in a white paper issued to Member States, is WHO’s strongest and clearest warning of a new version, which was first discovered a few days ago by researchers in South Africa.
This happened when an increasing number of countries around the world reported cases of this variant and slammed its doors in the action-now-ask-later-later approach, while scientists rush to find out how dangerous the mutant version could be. …
Japan has announced that it will ban all foreign visitors from entering, joining Israel to do so. Morocco has banned all inbound flights. Other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, have banned travelers arriving from southern Africa.
WHO said there was “significant uncertainty” about the omicron option. But it says preliminary evidence raises the likelihood that the variant has mutations that could help it both avoid an immune response and increase its ability to spread from one person to another.
“Depending on these characteristics, outbreaks of COVID-19 may occur in the future, which could have serious consequences depending on a number of factors, including where the outbreaks may occur,” they added. “The overall global risk … is assessed as very high.”
WHO stressed that while scientists are looking for evidence to better understand this option, countries should accelerate vaccination as soon as possible.
While no omicron-related deaths have been reported so far, little is known for certain about this variant, including whether it is more infectious, more likely to cause serious illness, or more able to avoid vaccination. A WHO advisory group said last week that people who have already had an attack of COVID-19 may be more likely to be reinfected.
Scientists have long warned that the virus will continue to find new ways to exploit weaknesses in the global vaccination campaign, and its African discovery took place on a continent where less than 7% of the population is vaccinated.
“The emergence of the omicron variant has fully met the predictions of scientists who warned that increased transmission of the virus in areas with limited vaccine access would accelerate its evolution,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, head of CEPI, co-founder of the UN-backed global exchange initiative. COVAX vaccines.
Spain on Monday was one of the last countries to report its first confirmed case of omicron, found in a traveler who returned from South Africa on Sunday after stopping in Amsterdam.
While most of the omicron infections reported worldwide have been in travelers arriving from overseas, cases in Portugal and Scotland have raised concerns that the variant may already be spreading locally.
“Many of us may think that COVID-19 is over. We’re not done yet, ”warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
A few days after the option caused a shudder in the financial world, almost two years after the pandemic that killed more than 5 million people, the markets on Monday reacted with mixed reactions. European stocks recovered and Wall Street opened higher, while Asian markets continued to fall.
US President Joe Biden called the omicron option a cause for concern, but “not a cause for panic.” He said he was not considering any widespread isolation in the U.S. and instead called for the wearing of masks and getting vaccinated, even though a federal judge blocked his administration from complying with the requirement that thousands of medical workers in 10 states get vaccinated. …
Dr. Rochelle Walenski, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responded to the potential threat by urging everyone 18 and older to get a booster shot because “strong immunity is likely to prevent serious illness.” Earlier this month, the US opened boosters for all adults, but only recommended them to people 50 and older or on long-term care.
Omicron infections have highlighted the challenge of containing the virus in a globalized world of airliners and open borders. However, many countries are trying to do just that, despite the insistence of WHO, which noted that border closures often have limited effects and can damage lives and livelihoods.
Some have argued that such restrictions can buy valuable time to analyze a new option.
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While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticized as slow and haphazard, the response to the omicron variant came quickly.
“This time the world showed that it is learning,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, thanking South African President Cyril Ramaphos. “South Africa’s analytical work, transparency and sharing of results have been indispensable for a swift global response.”
Late last week, von der Leyen successfully pushed the 27 EU countries to agree to ban flights from seven South African countries, similar to what many other countries are doing.
Cases have been reported in places such as Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal, where authorities have identified 13 omicron infections among members of the Belenenses professional soccer team.
Taking no chances, Japan, which has yet to identify a single case of omicron, has reintroduced border controls that it eased earlier this month.
“We are taking action as an extreme precaution to prevent the worst-case scenario in Japan,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Israel has also decided to ban foreigners from entering, and Morocco has said it will suspend all arriving flights for two weeks.
Britain has responded by expanding its COVID-19 revaccination program to everyone aged 18 and over, with the result that millions of people are eligible for it. Until now, booster vaccines have only been available to people over 40 and people especially vulnerable to the virus. The UK has reported a dozen omicron cases.
Despite global concern, doctors in South Africa report that patients are still showing mostly mild symptoms. But they warn that it’s early. In addition, most new cases are in people between the ages of 20 and 30, who usually do not get COVID-19 as badly as older patients.