New Delhi: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday warned that the new Omicron variant of coronavirus poses a “very high” risk globally and may have “severe consequences” if another major surge of Covid-19 takes place due to Omicron.
Warning that the Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally, the WHO urged countries to prepare by ramping up vaccinations and putting mitigation plans in place to maintain essential 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,” WHO said in a statement.
“If another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe,” the WHO said. However, it added that no deaths linked to Omicron have been reported so far.
“The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high,” said the organisation. More research is needed to understand Omicron’s potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, said WHO.
The WHO said all variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people and thus prevention is always the key.
Preliminary Evidence On Omicron
On November 26, the WHO had designated B.1.1.529, first detected in Southern Africa, as a “variant of concern”, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), and named it Omicron.
“This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes,” it said.
Further, preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (i.e., people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern, but information is “limited”, the WHO said.
WHO Members Eye Pandemic Preparation
The WHO is opening a long-planned special session of member states to discuss ways to strengthen the global fight against pandemics like the coronavirus. In the wake of diplomatic wrangling, a draft resolution at the special World Health Assembly stops short of calling for work toward specifically establishing a “pandemic treaty” or “legally binding instrument” sought by some, which could beef up the international response when — not if — a new pandemic erupts.