Nov. 26, 2021 — The World Well being Group on Friday categorized a brand new COVID-19 variant from South Africa as a “variant of concern,” which implies it may very well be extra contagious, trigger extra extreme illness and scale back the efficacy of vaccines and coverings.
The WHO convened an impartial group of specialists on Friday to evaluate the brand new variant primarily based on the speedy enhance in COVID-19 infections in South Africa this week. Recognized scientifically as B.1.1.529, the variant was named Omicron.
“Omicron has some regarding properties. This variant has a lot of mutations, and a few of these mutations have some worrying traits,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the coronavirus pandemic, mentioned in a video assertion.
“Preliminary proof suggests an elevated threat of reinfection with this variant, as in comparison with different [variants of concern],” the WHO mentioned in a press release. “The variety of circumstances of this variant seems to be rising in nearly all provinces in South Africa.”
In response, the White Home introduced new journey restrictions towards flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Overseas nationals from these international locations might be prohibited from getting into the USA. .
“These new restrictions will take impact on November 29,” President Joe Biden mentioned in a press release.” As we transfer ahead, we’ll proceed to be guided by what the science and my medical workforce advises.”
The U.S. hasn’t detected any circumstances of the brand new variant but, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the Nationwide Institute of Allergy and Infectious Illnesses, advised CNN.
“Proper now, we’re getting the fabric along with our South African colleagues to get to a state of affairs the place you could possibly truly straight take a look at it,” Fauci mentioned. “So, proper now you’re speaking about … a purple flag that this is perhaps a problem — however we don’t know.”
Scientists in South Africa started monitoring the variant this week after a leap in COVID-19 circumstances and reported the variant to the WHO on Wednesday. The primary recognized confirmed an infection was from a pattern collected on Nov. 9, the WHO mentioned.
A number of labs have discovered that one broadly used take a look at may very well be a dependable solution to detect the brand new variant. The WHO’s virus evolution advisory group has began “plenty of research” to guage Omicron and can announce new findings as wanted, Van Kerkhove mentioned Friday.
Primarily based on the proof up to now, the WHO suggested international locations to reinforce their surveillance and genomic sequencing efforts to raised perceive the variant. The WHO additionally requested that international locations submit genomic sequences to public databases, akin 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 international locations to conduct area investigations and lab analyses concerning the severity of the variant, in addition to immune responses, antibody neutralization and effectiveness of public well being and social measures.
“People are reminded to take measures to cut back their threat of COVID-19, together with confirmed public well being and social measures akin to carrying well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, bodily distancing, bettering air flow of indoor areas, avoiding crowded areas and getting vaccinated,” the WHO mentioned.
Biden known as on different nations to extend vaccine donations to poorer nations.
“The information about this new variant ought to make clearer than ever why this pandemic won’t finish till we’ve got international vaccinations,” Biden mentioned. “America has already donated extra vaccines to different international locations than each different nation mixed. It’s time for different international locations to match America’s velocity and generosity.”
Israel imposed a journey ban masking 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 Occasions reported.
“We’re at present on the threshold of an emergency state of affairs,” Naftali Bennett, the prime minister of Israel, mentioned in a press release.
“I ask everybody to be ready and to totally be a part of within the work across the clock,” he mentioned.