The new variant named omicron poses “very high” global risk based on the early evidences, said WHO on Monday, it said that the virus has mutated which could increase with “severe consequences.” The researchers in South Africa few days ago identified the new version of the virus giving the most explicit warning and this was the assessment done from the U.N. health agency, contained in a technical paper issued to member states.
This warning came from all around the world who reported cases of the variant and moved to slam their doors in an act-now-ask-questions-later approach while scientists race to figure out just how dangerous the mutant version might be.
Witnessing this many countries have announced bans on the entry of foreign visitors joining Israel in doing so. On the other hand, Morocco too banned all the incoming flights including the U.S. and members of the European Union, have moved to prohibit travellers arriving from southern Africa.
WHO said there are “considerable uncertainties” about the omicron variant. But it said preliminary sign increases the possibility that the variant has mutations that could help it both escape an immune-system response and boost its ability to spread from one person to another.
“Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors, including where surges may take place,” it added. “The overall global risk … is assessed as very high.” The WHO stressed that while scientists are hunting evidence to better understand this variant, countries should accelerate vaccinations as quickly as possible.
While no deaths linked to omicron are reported thus far, little is understood surely about the variant, including whether it’s more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade vaccines. Last week, a WHO advisory panel said it’d be more likely to re-infect people that have already had about with coronavirus.
Scientists have long warned that the virus will keep finding new ways to take advantage of weaknesses within the world’s vaccination drive, and its discovery in Africa occurred during a continent where under 7% of the population is vaccinated.
“The emergence of the omicron variant has fulfilled, during a precise way, the predictions of the scientists who warned that the elevated transmission of the virus in areas with limited access to vaccine would speed its evolution,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, head of CEPI, one among the founders of the U.N.-backed global vaccine sharing initiative COVAX.
Spain on Monday became one among the newest countries to report its first confirmed omicron case, detected during a traveller who returned Sunday from South Africa after making a stopover in Amsterdam.
While the bulk of omicron infections recorded round the world are in travellers coming back from abroad, cases in Portugal and Scotland have raised fears that the variant may already be spreading locally.
“Many folks might think we are through with COVID-19. It’s not done with us,” warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general.
“There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues & wars take people equally by surprise.”
Omicron’s emergence remind us of how perilous & precarious our situation is. We should be wide awake to the threat of this virus. #WHASpecial https://t.co/QHvdd6SoGJ pic.twitter.com/lSougJ0gts
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) November 29, 2021
Days after the variant sent a shudder through the financial world nearly two years into the pandemic that has killed over 5 million people, markets had a mixed reaction Monday. European stocks rebounded and Wall Street steadied itself, while Asian markets fell further.
U.S. President Joe Biden called the omicron variant a cause for concern but “not a cause for panic.” He said he’s not considering any widespread U.S. lockdown and instead urged mask-wearing and vaccinations, whilst a federal judge blocked his administration from enforcing a requirement that thousands of health care workers in 10 states get the shot.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reacted to the potential threat by urging everyone 18 and older to urge booster shots, because “strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness.” Earlier this month, the U.S. opened boosters to all or any adults but recommended them just for those 50 and older or people in long-term care.
The omicron infections have underscored the problem keep the virus in restraint during a globalised world of jet travel and open borders. Yet many countries try to try to to just that, against the urging of the WHO, which noted that border closings often have limited effect and may wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.
Some have argued that such restrictions can purchase valuable time to analyse the new variant.
While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticised as slow and haphazard, the reaction to the omicron variant came quickly.
“This time the planet showed it’s learning,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, singling out South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for praise. “South Africa’s analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response.” Late last week, von der Leyen successfully pushed the 27-nation EU to comply with ban flights from seven southern African nations, almost like what many other countries do .
Cases are reported in such places as Canada, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Portugal, where authorities identified 13 omicron infections among members of the Belenenses professional soccer team.
Taking no chances, Japan, which has yet to detect any omicron cases, reimposed border controls that it had eased earlier this month.
“We are taking the step as an emergency precaution to stop a worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.
Israel likewise decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it might suspend all incoming flights for 2 weeks.
Britain reacted by expanding its COVID-19 booster program to everyone 18 and older, making millions more people eligible. Up so far , booster shots were available only to those 40 and over and other people particularly susceptible to the virus. The U.K. has reported a few dozen omicron cases.
Despite the worldwide worry, doctors in South Africa are reporting patients are suffering mostly mild symptoms thus far . But they warn that it is early. Also, most of the new cases are in people in their 20s and 30s, who generally don’t get as sick from COVID-19 as older patients.