WHO warns of new virus variants pose “very high” risk
The World Health Organization warned on Monday that, based on early evidence, the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high”, saying that the mutated coronavirus could cause a surge with “serious consequences.”
The United Nations health agency’s assessment is contained in a technical document sent to member states. It is the strongest and clearest warning of the WHO to date of the new version discovered by South African researchers for the first time.
As more and more countries around the world report cases of this variant, and begin to take immediate action, and then close the door by asking questions, scientists are racing to figure out how dangerous this variant may be.
Japan announced that all foreign tourists are prohibited from entering the country, and it has joined the ranks of Israel. Morocco bans all inbound flights. Other countries, including the United States and EU member states, have taken action to ban travelers from southern Africa.
The WHO stated that there is “considerable uncertainty” in the omicron variant. But it said that preliminary evidence suggests that the variant has mutations that can help it evade immune system responses and enhance its ability to spread from one person to another.
It added: “Based on these characteristics, there may be a surge in COVID-19 in the future, which may have serious consequences, depending on a variety of factors, including where the surge may occur.” “The overall global risk… is assessed as very high. .”
The WHO emphasized that although scientists are looking for evidence to better understand this variation, countries should speed up vaccination as soon as possible.
Although no deaths related to omicron have been reported so far, little is known about the exact variant, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness, or more capable of evading vaccination. Last week, a WHO advisory group stated that it may be more likely to re-infect people who have already been infected with COVID-19.
Scientists have long warned that the virus will continue to find new ways to take advantage of the weaknesses of the world’s vaccination campaign. Its discovery in Africa occurred on a continent where less than 7% of the population was vaccinated.
“The emergence of the omicron variant accurately met the predictions of scientists, who warned that the increased spread of the virus in areas where vaccine access is limited will accelerate its evolution,” said research leader Dr. Richard Hatchett. CEPI is one of the founders of COVAX, a global vaccine sharing program supported by the United Nations.
Spain became one of the countries to report the first confirmed case of omicron on Monday. The case was discovered on a traveler who returned from a stopover in Amsterdam on Sunday from South Africa.
Although most omicron infections recorded around the world have been travellers from abroad, the cases in Portugal and Scotland have raised concerns that the variant may have spread locally.
WHO Director-General Tan Desai warned: “Many of us may think that COVID-19 is over. But we are not over.”
Nearly two years after this variant broke out in a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, the financial community was shocked for a few days, and the market reacted mixed on Monday. European stocks rebounded, U.S. stocks opened higher, and Asian stocks fell further.
US President Joe Biden called the omicron variant worrying, but “not the cause of panic.” He said that instead of considering any widespread lockdown in the United States, he urged masks and vaccinations, even though a federal judge prevented his government from mandating thousands of health care workers in 10 states to be vaccinated.
In response to potential threats, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urged everyone 18 years and older to get booster vaccines because “a strong immune system may prevent serious Diseases”. Earlier this month, the United States opened up boosters to all adults, but only recommended to people 50 years and older or people receiving long-term care.
The omicron infection highlights the difficulty of controlling the virus in a globalized world of jet travel and open borders. However, many countries are trying to do so, regardless of WHO’s urging. The WHO pointed out that border closures usually have limited effects and may cause serious damage to lives and livelihoods.
Some believe that such restrictions can buy valuable time for analyzing new variants.
Although the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticized as slow and random, the response to the omicron variant was quick.
“This time the world shows that it is learning,” said Ursula von der Lein, President of the European Commission, and paid special tribute to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. “South Africa’s analytical work and transparency and sharing of its results are essential for a rapid global response.”
Late last week, von der Lein successfully pushed the 27-nation EU to agree to ban flights from seven southern African countries, which is similar to what many other countries are doing.
Cases have been reported in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Portugal, where authorities have identified 13 cases of omicron infection among members of the Belenenses professional football team.
Japan, which has not detected any omicron cases, desperately re-implemented border controls that were relaxed earlier this month.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “We are taking this measure as an emergency preventive measure to prevent the worst in Japan.”
Israel also decided to ban the entry of foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all inbound flights for two weeks.
The UK’s response is to expand its COVID-19 booster program to all people 18 years of age and older, bringing millions of people eligible. So far, booster injections are only suitable for people 40 years and older and people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus. Approximately 12 cases of omicron have been reported in the UK.
Despite global concerns, doctors in South Africa report that so far, patients’ symptoms have mostly been mild. But they warned that it was too early. In addition, most of the new cases occur in people in their 20s and 30s, who usually do not get sick from COVID-19 like elderly patients.