The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the new Omicron COVID-19 variant poses a “very high” global risk.
It has not yet been confirmed whether the mutated strain is more contagious, causes more serious illness or is able to circumvent protection from vaccines.
The Agency’s Director General Tedro’s Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday that the variant’s sudden emergence in South Africa last week has illustrated how “hard-won gains could disappear in an instant”.
He told a special session of the World Health Assembly that “Covid-19 is not done with us” and urged world leaders to focus on vaccinating third world nations.
Earlier Monday, the WHO said in a statement that the Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high global risk” of infection increases that could have “serious consequences” in some areas.
“Increasing cases, regardless of a change in severity, can place overwhelming demands on health systems and can lead to increased morbidity and mortality,” it said.
“The impact on vulnerable populations will be significant, especially in countries with low vaccination coverage.”
To date, no deaths have been reported with Omicron, although the WHO says further research is needed to assess Omicron’s potential to bypass vaccines.
Experts say they need at least two weeks of real-world data before they can draw early conclusions about what the strain is capable of.
“Omicron has an unprecedented number of peak mutations, some of which are concerned about their potential impact on the orbit of the pandemic,” the WHO said.
“The overall global risk related to the new variant is considered to be very high.”
Omicron, which was discovered in South Africa last week, was singled out as a variant of concern by the WHO on Friday.
It has since been discovered in several countries around the world, including Australia.
Heads of state and territory will meet the Prime Minister on Tuesday afternoon for an emergency meeting of the National Cabinet to discuss our nation’s response.
Victoria, NSW and ACT have already installed a 72-hour quarantine requirement for all international travelers.
The federal government has closed Australia’s border to eight South African nations as health authorities struggle to gather more information about the variant.
Late Monday, the Morrison government also announced that it is also delaying the reopening of the border for skilled workers, international students and other visa holders.
The border ban was supposed to have been lifted for these groups of travelers on Wednesday, but Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly recommended that it be put on hold until December 15th.
“The temporary break will ensure that Australia can gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant, including the effectiveness of the vaccine, the range of diseases, including if it can generate milder symptoms, and the level of transmission,” says a statement. from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office said.
“The reopening for travelers from Japan and the Republic of Korea will also be suspended until December 15.”
– With AAP