WHO warns Omicron variant poses ‘very high’ global risk

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The WHO says the new omicron coronavirus variant could have ‘serious consequences’ in some places, as the world battles to contain its spread.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) says the heavily-mutated Omicron coronavirus variant has the potential to spread internationally and poses a high risk of infection, which could have “serious consequences” in some places.

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No deaths linked to Omicron were yet reported, although further research is needed to assess its ability to evade immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it added on Monday.

In anticipation of an increased number of cases as the first reported last week, the UN health agency asked its 194 member states to ensure plans to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and maintain health services. urged to do.

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“Omicrons have an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are related to their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said.

“The assessment of the overall global risk … related to the new version is too high.”

The Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, sounded the alarm at the start of a meeting of health ministers on Monday, which is expected to start talks on an international agreement to prevent future pandemics.

“The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underscores how dangerous and precarious our situation is,” Tedros said.

“Omicron demonstrates why the world needs a new agreement on pandemics: Our current system discourages countries from alerting others to the dangers that will inevitably descend on their shores.”

The new global deal, expected by May 2024, will cover issues such as sharing of data and genome sequences of emerging viruses and any potential vaccines derived from the research.

The language was sought by EU member states and others working towards a treaty, but the United States and some other countries opposed that any agreement before any document could be named. The essence of the work should be done.

A “treaty” would suggest a legally binding agreement that may require ratification – and would likely lead to domestic political bargaining in some countries.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Geneva, Simon Manley, tweeted a copy of the draft text, which was agreed unanimously – as required under WHO rules on such issues – and with his co-chair Praised Chile and Australia for the work.

“The #Omicron variant once again shows why we need a common understanding of how we prepare and react to pandemics, so we are all playing by the same rules,” he wrote. Wrote.

COVID is ‘not done with us’

The draft makes no reference to the word “treaty”, but serves as an “intergovernmental negotiating body” between WHO member states to work on a potential deal to improve pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, among other things. calls for construction.

“The world should now be “widely awake” to the threat of the coronavirus,” Tedros said, “but the emergence of Omicron is another reminder that although many of us may think we are suffering from COVID-19, But it hasn’t happened to us.”

Omicron was first reported on 24 November in South Africa, where infections have increased rapidly.

It has since spread to more than a dozen countries, many of which have imposed travel restrictions to try to lock themselves in. Japan joined Israel on Monday and said it would close its borders to foreigners.

The WHO reiterated that, for further advice, countries should use a “risk-based approach to timely adjust international travel measures”, while acknowledging that the increase in coronavirus cases could lead to high morbidity and There may be mortality.

“The impact on vulnerable populations would be substantial, especially in countries with low vaccination coverage,” it added.

Meanwhile, among those vaccinated, “there is a potential for COVID-19 cases and infections … although this is in a small and predictable proportion”.

Overall, there was “considerable uncertainty in the magnitude of Omicron’s ability to evade immunity”, and more data were expected in the coming weeks.

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