The World Health Organization on Friday classified the new B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant as a ‘variant of concern’ and gave it the name omicron.
In a statement, the UN health body said the new Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529 carries higher risk of reinfection than other variants.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs,” WHO said.
The Organization said news of the variant was first reported from South Africa on 24 November 2021.
“Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron,” WHO said.
The development followed an urgent meeting held by the World Health Organization on November 26 in Geneva over the risks posed by the omicron variant.
Countries across the globe are reacting to the new variant by shutting down travel from southern Africa.
Reports suggest that the European Union also is looking at halting air travel from southern Africa.
However, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier has warned countries against acting in hasty urging them to take a “risk-based and scientific approach.”
“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” Lindmeier said.
As such, the WHO has asked countries to do the following:
•enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.
• submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.
• report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.
• where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.
The World Health Organization has also reminded the public to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.
The World Health Organization revealed that there were a number of studies going on and that the TAG-VE would continue to evaluate this variant. And thereafter, new findings will be communicated with Member States and to the public as needed.