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Omicron poses very high global risk, world must prepare -WHO

CoronavirusNov 29, 2021 12:30
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© Reuters. A vial and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words "Omicron SARS-CoV-2" in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/file photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (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 resist vaccines and immunity induced by previous infections, it added.

Anticipating 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.

"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 ...is assessed as very high."

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said Omicron's emergence showed how "perilous and precarious" the situation was.

"Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics," he told the start of an assembly of health ministers expected to launch negotiations on such an agreement.

"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.

Scientist Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a foundation that funds vaccine development, said Omicron's emergence had fulfilled predictions that transmission of the virus in areas with low vaccination rates would speed its evolution. 

"The inequity that has characterized the global response has now come home to roost," he told the talks, noting that Botswana and South Africa had fully vaccinated less than a quarter of their populations.

'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 completely to foreigners.

The WHO reiterated that, pending further advice, countries should use a "risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures", 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.

Omicron poses very high global risk, world must prepare -WHO
 

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Comments (8)
Tudor Cirstea
Tudor Cirstea Nov 30, 2021 5:51
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why do they push vaccines at the same time as saying that the new variant evades vaccines?
Olvin Rodrigues
Olvin Rodrigues Nov 29, 2021 15:10
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I think you make us leave like scare world please stop nonsense
Drake Richards
Drake Richards Nov 29, 2021 13:43
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viruses mutate all the time.Get on with life instead of hyping up a mild variant as a rampaging risk
Janmeet Singh
Janmeet Singh Nov 29, 2021 13:01
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it seems that WHO officials are having very heavy short positions.
Darren Murdock
Darren Murdock Nov 29, 2021 12:49
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If symptoms are mild, its best to let this variant spread. Let our natural immune system do its job. Scientists and doctors can advise everyone how to get our immune systems into best condition.
mushaf munas
mushaf munas Nov 29, 2021 12:19
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Nobody listening to WHO as their credibility Tarnished. Any way, WHO cares….
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley Nov 29, 2021 11:43
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Markets can continue to fall as panic sets in regardless how virulent omicron is
Jonathan Stoner
Jonathan Stoner Nov 29, 2021 11:05
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This could be the end of the pandemic. Omicron is mild and could even be a 'natural vaccine', speedily infecting billions with mild symptoms and conferring immunity to more severe strains like Delta and Beta.
 
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