The highly altered Omicron coronavirus strain is expected to be spread across the globe and carries a significant possibility of outbreaks of infection which could result in “severe consequences” in some locations The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday.
There have been no Omicron-related deaths that have been reported, but further studies are required to evaluate its potential to overcome immunity created through vaccinations or previous infections, the report said.
In anticipation of increasing number of cases due to the variant, first reported last week is spreading across the globe, and the U.N. agency urged its 194 member states to speed up vaccination for high-priority groups as well as make sure that plans are put in place to ensure the continued availability of the availability of health services.
“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 related to the new variant …is assessed as very high.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus WHO director general, raised the alarm prior to the beginning of a meeting of health ministers scheduled to begin negotiations for an international agreement to prevent the spread of future epidemics.
“The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” Tedros said. “Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores.”
The new global agreement that is expected by the end of May 2024, will address aspects like sharing genomic sequences and data of viruses that are emerging, and of any vaccines that could be developed from research.
Omicron was first identified on November. 24 in South Africa, where infections have increased dramatically.
The virus has expanded to over 12 countries, many of which have implemented travel restrictions in order to keep themselves out. Japan this week joined Israel in announcing it will shut its borders off to visitors from outside. Find out more
The WHO has reiterated that, pending any further recommendations that countries must adopt an “risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures in a timely manner” and acknowledged that an increase in coronavirus-related cases could cause a rise in morbidity or deaths.
“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.
(Adapted from TimesNow.com)