WHO warns new virus variant poses “very high” risk


GENEVA (AP) – The World Health Organization warned on Monday that the global risk of the omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to outbreaks with “serious consequences” .

GENEVA (AP) – The World Health Organization warned on Monday that the global risk of the omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to outbreaks with “serious consequences” .

The United Nations health agency’s assessment, contained in a technical paper addressed to Member States, was WHO’s strongest and most explicit warning to date regarding the new version first identified. times a few days ago by researchers in South Africa.

It happened as a growing circle of countries around the world reported cases of variant and decided to slam their doors in an act now approach, to ask questions later while scientists are rushing to figure out just how dangerous the mutant version could be.

Japan has announced that it is barring entry to all foreign visitors, joining Israel in doing so. Morocco has banned all inbound flights. Other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, have decided to ban travelers from southern Africa.

WHO has said there are “considerable uncertainties” regarding the omicron variant. But she said preliminary evidence raises the possibility that the variant has mutations that could help it evade an immune system response and increase its ability to spread from person to person.

“Based on these characteristics, there could be future outbreaks of COVID-19, which could have serious consequences, depending on a number of factors, including where the outbreaks may take place,” he said. he added. “The overall overall risk (…) is assessed as very high.”

WHO has stressed that if scientists are looking for evidence to better understand this variant, countries should speed up vaccinations as quickly as possible.

While no omicron-related deaths have been reported so far, little is known for sure about the variant, especially whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness, or more capable of escape vaccines. Last week, a WHO advisory group said it may be more likely to re-infect people who have previously had a fight with COVID-19.

Scientists have long warned that the virus will continue to find new ways to exploit weaknesses in the global vaccination campaign, and its discovery in Africa came in a continent where less than 7% of the population is vaccinated.

“The emergence of the omicron variant accurately fulfilled the predictions of scientists who warned that high transmission of the virus in areas with limited vaccine access would accelerate its course,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, chief of CEPI, one of the founders of the UN-supported global vaccine sharing initiative COVAX.

Spain on Monday became one of the last countries to report its first confirmed case of omicron, detected in a traveler who returned from South Africa on Sunday after making a stopover in Amsterdam.

While the majority of omicron infections recorded globally are in travelers from overseas, cases in Portugal and Scotland have raised concerns that the variant is already spreading locally.

“A lot of us might think we’re done with COVID-19. It is not over with us, ”warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO.

Days after the variant rocked the financial world almost two years after the start of the pandemic that killed more than 5 million people, markets had a mixed reaction on Monday. European stocks rebounded and Wall Street stabilized, while Asian markets continued to decline.

US President Joe Biden called the omicron variant a cause for concern but “no cause for panic.” He said he was not considering a blanket lockdown in the United States and instead urged the wearing of masks and vaccinations, even as a federal judge blocked his administration from enforcing a requirement that thousands of workers from health in 10 states get vaccinated.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responded to the potential threat by urging all people 18 years and older to receive booster shots, because “strong immunity will likely prevent disease. serious”. boosters for all adults, but recommended only for people 50 years of age and over or people in long-term care.

Omicron infections have highlighted the difficulty of controlling the virus in a globalized world of air travel and open borders. Yet many countries are trying to do just that, against the urging of the WHO, which has noted that border closures often have a limited effect and can wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.

Some have argued that such restrictions can save valuable time in analyzing the new variant.

While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticized as slow and haphazard, the reaction to the omicron variant came quickly.

“This time the world has shown that it is learning,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, citing South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for his praise. “South Africa’s analytical work and transparency and the sharing of its findings were essential to enable a rapid global response. ”

At the end of last week, von der Leyen succeeded in pushing the 27 EU countries to agree to ban flights from seven southern African countries, much like many others are doing. country.

Cases have been reported in places such as Canada, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal, where authorities have identified 13 omicron infections among members of the Belenenses professional football team.

Taking no risk, Japan, which has yet to detect any cases of omicron, has reimposed border controls it relaxed earlier this month.

“We are taking this step as an emergency precautionary measure to avoid the worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

Israel has also decided to ban foreigners from entering, and Morocco has said it will suspend all inbound flights for two weeks.

Britain has responded by expanding its COVID-19 recall program to all people 18 and over, making millions more eligible. So far, booster shots have only been available to people 40 years of age and older and those particularly vulnerable to the virus. The UK has reported a dozen cases of omicron.

Despite global concern, doctors in South Africa are reporting that patients have mostly suffered from mild symptoms so far. But they warn that it is early. Additionally, most new cases involve people in their 20s and 30s, who typically do not get as sick from COVID-19 as older patients.


Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo, Casert from Brussels. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

Jamey Keaten, Raf Casert and Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

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