New Covid-19 variant Omicron poses very high global risk: WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday the heavily mutated coronavirus variant named Omicron is likely to spread globally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have "severe consequences" in some places.
There has so far been no deaths linked to Omicron, which was first reported last week, though further research was needed to assess its potential to evade the immune system induced by vaccines and previous infections, WHO added in a statement.
In anticipation of increased infection numbers as the variant spreads, the UN health agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and ensure plans were in place to maintain 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."
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday the agency is pushing for an international accord to help prevent and fight future pandemics amid the emergence of a worrying new omicron
"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 deal, expected by May 2024, would cover issues such as sharing of data and genome sequences of emerging viruses, and of any potential vaccines derived from research.
Omicron was first reported on Nov. 24 from South Africa, where infections have risen steeply.
It has since spread to more than a dozen countries, many of which have imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off.