Nov. 26, 2021 — The World Health Organization on Friday labeled a brand new COVID-19 variant from South Africa as a “variant of concern,” which suggests it may very well be extra contagious, trigger extra extreme illness and scale back the efficacy of vaccines and coverings.
The WHO convened an unbiased group of consultants on Friday to evaluate the brand new variant based mostly on the speedy enhance in COVID-19 infections in South Africa this week. Known scientifically as B.1.1.529, the variant was named Omicron.
“Omicron has some concerning properties. This variant has a large number of mutations, and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the coronavirus pandemic, stated in a video assertion.
“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other [variants of concern],” the WHO stated in a press release. “The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.”
In response, the White House introduced new journey restrictions in opposition to flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Foreign nationals from these nations can be prohibited from coming into the United States. .
“These new restrictions will take effect on November 29,” President Joe Biden stated in a press release.” As we transfer ahead, we are going to proceed to be guided by what the science and my medical group advises.”
The U.S. hasn’t detected any instances of the brand new variant but, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN.
“Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get to a situation where you could actually directly test it,” Fauci stated. “So, right now you’re talking about … a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don’t know.”
Scientists in South Africa started monitoring the variant this week after a leap in COVID-19 instances and reported the variant to the WHO on Wednesday. The first identified confirmed an infection was from a pattern collected on Nov. 9, the WHO stated.
Several labs have discovered that one broadly used take a look at may very well be a dependable technique to detect the brand new variant. The WHO’s virus evolution advisory group has began “a number of studies” to guage Omicron and can announce new findings as wanted, Van Kerkhove stated Friday.
Based on the proof up to now, the WHO suggested nations to boost their surveillance and genomic sequencing efforts to higher perceive the variant. The WHO additionally requested that nations submit genomic sequences to public databases, corresponding to GISAID. On Friday, 66 sequences of the B.1.1.529 variant had been reported to GISAID, together with 58 in South Africa, six in Botswana and two in Hong Kong.
The WHO additionally requested nations to conduct discipline investigations and lab analyses in regards to the severity of the variant, in addition to immune responses, antibody neutralization and effectiveness of public well being and social measures.
“Individuals are reminded 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 WHO stated.
Biden referred to as on different nations to extend vaccine donations to poorer nations.
“The news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” Biden stated. “The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity.”
Israel imposed a journey ban overlaying most of Africa after discovering its first case in somebody who had just lately traveled from Malawi. A rising listing of nations halted or restricted flights, together with Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Malta, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore, The New York Times reported.
“We are currently at the threshold of an emergency situation,” Naftali Bennett, the prime minister of Israel, stated in a statement.
“I ask everyone to be prepared and to fully join in the work around the clock,” he stated.