According to early findings, the global risk from the omicron variety is “extremely high,” and the altered coronavirus might lead to surges with “serious effects,” according to the WHO.
The WHO’s judgment, contained in a technical study distributed to member states, amounts to the organization’s strongest and most specific warning yet concerning the new version, which was discovered just days ago by researchers in South Africa.
It came as a growing number of countries around the world reported cases of the mutant version and slammed their doors in an act-now-ask-questions-later approach as experts raced to figure out just how hazardous the mutant version might be.
Japan, like Israel, has announced that all international visitors will be denied entry. Morocco has imposed a total ban on all inbound flights.
Other countries, including the United States and European Union members, have taken steps to restrict travelers from southern Africa from entering their countries.
The omicron variety has “substantial uncertainties,” according to the WHO. However, preliminary evidence suggests that the variation may have changes that allow it both elude immune responses and spread from one person to another.
“Future COVID-19 surges, depending on these features, could have serious implications, depending on a variety of circumstances, including where surges may occur,” it noted. “The global risk as a whole… is rated as “very high.”
While scientists search for information to better understand this variety, the WHO advises that governments expedite vaccines as soon as possible.
Although no deaths have been connected to omicron so far, little is known about the variety, such as whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious disease, or more resistant to immunizations.
A WHO advisory panel concluded last week that people who have once been infected with COVID-19 are more likely to become infected again.
Scientists have long warned that the virus will continue to find new ways to exploit flaws in the global vaccination campaign, and the virus’s discovery in Africa happened on a continent where just 7% of the population is vaccinated.
“The emergence of the omicron variant has precisely fulfilled the predictions of scientists who warned that increased virus transmission in areas with limited vaccine access would hasten its evolution,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, head of CEPI and one of the founders of the United Nations-backed global vaccine sharing initiative COVAX.
Spain became one of the most recent countries to announce its first confirmed omicron case, which was discovered in a tourist returning from South Africa during a layover in Amsterdam on Sunday.
While the bulk of omicron infections have been found in visitors returning from overseas, incidents in Portugal and Scotland have sparked concerns that the variation is spreading domestically.
“Many of us may believe we’re finished with COVID-19. “It’s not over yet,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned.
Markets had a mixed reaction Monday, only days after the variation sent shivers through the financial world over two years into the pandemic that has killed over 5 million people. While European equities recovered and Wall Street stabilized, Asian markets continued to fall.
The omicron variety is a cause for caution, but not panic, according to US President Joe Biden.
Even as a federal judge prevented his administration from imposing a requirement that thousands of health-care workers in ten states obtain the vaccine, Obama said he is not planning a nationwide lockdown and instead promoted mask-wearing and immunizations.
The director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, responded to the potential threat by recommending everyone 18 and older to obtain booster vaccinations, stating that “high immunity will certainly prevent serious illness.”
Earlier this month, the United States made boosters available to all individuals, but only those 50 and older or in long-term care were advised to use them.
The omicron infections have shown how difficult it is to keep the virus in check in today’s globalized world of open borders and jet travel.
Despite the WHO’s warnings, many nations are attempting to do so, despite the fact that border closures frequently have limited impact and can wreak havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods.
Some have suggested that putting such limits in place can buy critical time for researchers to examine the new variety.
While the global response to COVID-19 was first criticized for being tardy and disorganized, the response to the omicron variation was swift.
“This time the world demonstrated that it is learning,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, praising South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. “South Africa’s analytic effort, honesty, and openness in sharing its findings were critical in allowing a quick worldwide response.”
Late last week, von der Leyen persuaded the EU’s 27 member states to agree to a ban on flights from seven countries in southern Africa, similar to what many other countries are doing.
Cases have been documented in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Portugal, where 13 omicron infections were discovered in members of the Belenenses professional soccer team.
Japan, which has yet to find any omicron cases, has reimposed border controls that it had reduced earlier this month, taking no chances.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated, “We are taking this move as an emergency precaution to avoid a worst-case scenario in Japan.” In a similar move, Israel has barred foreigners from entering the country, while Morocco has announced a two-week suspension of all incoming planes.
Britain retaliated by extending the COVID-19 boosting program to all adults aged 18 and up, bringing the total number of people eligible to millions.
Booster shots were previously only accessible to persons aged 40 and older, as well as those who were highly susceptible to the virus. About a dozen omicron instances have been documented in the United Kingdom.
Despite widespread concern, doctors in South Africa claim that patients are only experiencing minor symptoms so far.
However, they caution that it is still early. Furthermore, the majority of the new instances are among adults in their 20s and 30s, who are less susceptible to COVID-19 than older patients.