WHO Warns That Omicron Virus Variant Poses ‘Very High’ Risk

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GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization warned Monday that the worldwide danger from the omicron variant is “very high” based mostly on the early proof, saying the mutated coronavirus may result in surges with “severe consequences.”

The evaluation from the U.N. well being company, contained in a technical paper issued to member states, amounted to WHO’s strongest, most specific warning but concerning the new model that was first recognized days in the past by researchers in South Africa.

It got here as a widening circle of nations around the globe reported circumstances of the variant and moved to slam their doorways in an act-now-ask-questions-later method whereas scientists race to determine simply how harmful the mutant model is perhaps.

Japan introduced it’s barring entry to all overseas guests, becoming a member of Israel in doing so. Morocco banned all incoming flights. Other international locations, together with the U.S. and members of the European Union, have moved to ban vacationers arriving from southern Africa.

WHO stated there are “considerable uncertainties” concerning the omicron variant. But it stated preliminary proof raises the chance that the variant has mutations that would assist it each evade an immune-system response and increase its capability to unfold from one individual to a different.

“Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors, including where surges may take place,” it added. “The overall global risk … is assessed as very high.”

The WHO harassed that whereas scientists are looking proof to higher perceive this variant, international locations ought to speed up vaccinations as shortly as attainable.

While no deaths linked to omicron have been reported to date, little is thought for sure concerning the variant, together with whether or not it’s extra contagious, extra more likely to trigger critical sickness or extra in a position to evade vaccines. Last week, a WHO advisory panel stated it is perhaps extra more likely to re-infect individuals who have already had a bout with COVID-19.

Scientists have lengthy warned that the virus will maintain discovering new methods to take advantage of weaknesses on this planet’s vaccination drive, and its discovery in Africa occurred in a continent the place below 7% of the inhabitants is vaccinated.

“The emergence of the omicron variant has fulfilled, in a precise way, the predictions of the scientists who warned that the elevated transmission of the virus in areas with limited access to vaccine would speed its evolution,” stated Dr. Richard Hatchett, head of CEPI, one of many founders of the U.N.-backed international vaccine sharing initiative COVAX.

Spain on Monday grew to become one of many newest international locations to report its first confirmed omicron case, detected in a traveler who returned Sunday from South Africa after making a stopover in Amsterdam.

While nearly all of omicron infections recorded around the globe have been in vacationers arriving from overseas, circumstances in Portugal and Scotland have raised fears that the variant might already be spreading domestically.

“Many of us might think we are done with COVID-19. It’s not done with us,” warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general.

Days after the variant despatched a shudder by means of the monetary world practically two years into the pandemic that has killed over 5 million folks, markets had a blended response Monday. European shares rebounded and Wall Street opened increased, whereas Asian markets fell additional.

U.S. President Joe Biden known as the omicron variant a trigger for concern however “not a cause for panic.” He stated he’s not contemplating any widespread U.S. lockdown and as an alternative urged mask-wearing and vaccinations, at the same time as a federal decide blocked his administration from imposing a requirement that hundreds of well being care staff in 10 states get the shot.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reacted to the potential menace by urging everybody 18 and older to get booster photographs, as a result of “strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness.” Earlier this month, the U.S. opened boosters to all adults however really useful them just for these 50 and older or folks in long-term care.

The omicron infections have underscored the problem in retaining the virus in test in a globalized world of jet journey and open borders. Yet many international locations are attempting to just do that, in opposition to the urging of the WHO, which famous that border closings typically have restricted impact and may wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.

Some have argued that such restrictions should buy useful time to investigate the brand new variant.

While the preliminary international response to COVID-19 was criticized as sluggish and haphazard, the response to the omicron variant got here shortly.

“This time the world showed it is learning,” stated EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, singling out South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for reward. “South Africa’s analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response.”

Late final week, von der Leyen efficiently pushed the 27-nation EU to comply with ban flights from seven southern African nations, much like what many different international locations are doing.

Cases have been reported in such locations as Canada, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal, the place authorities recognized 13 omicron infections amongst members of the Belenenses skilled soccer workforce.

Taking no possibilities, Japan, which has but to detect any omicron circumstances, reimposed border controls that it had eased earlier this month.

“We are taking the step as an emergency precaution to prevent a worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated.

Israel likewise determined to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco stated it might droop all incoming flights for 2 weeks.

Britain reacted by increasing its COVID-19 booster program to everybody 18 and older, making tens of millions extra folks eligible. Up till now, booster photographs have been accessible solely to these 40 and over and other people notably susceptible to the virus. The U.Okay. has reported a couple of dozen omicron circumstances.

Despite the worldwide fear, docs in South Africa are reporting sufferers are struggling largely delicate signs to date. But they warn that it’s early. Also, a lot of the new circumstances are in folks of their 20s and 30s, who typically don’t get as sick from COVID-19 as older sufferers.

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

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

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