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 suggests it could possibly 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. 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 instances of this variant seems to be rising in virtually all provinces in South Africa.”
In response, the White Home introduced new journey restrictions in opposition to flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. International nationals from these nations will probably be prohibited from getting into the US. .
“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 crew advises.”
The U.S. hasn’t detected any instances of the brand new variant but, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the Nationwide Institute of Allergy and Infectious Illnesses, told CNN.
“Proper now, we’re getting the fabric along with our South African colleagues to get to a scenario the place you could possibly really immediately take a look at it,” Fauci mentioned. “So, proper now you’re speaking about … a purple flag that this is likely to be a difficulty — however we don’t know.”
Scientists in South Africa started monitoring the variant this week after a bounce in COVID-19 instances 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 could possibly be a dependable approach to detect the brand new variant. The WHO’s virus evolution advisory group has began “quite a lot of research” to guage Omicron and can announce new findings as wanted, Van Kerkhove mentioned Friday.
Based mostly on the proof thus far, the WHO suggested nations to reinforce their surveillance and genomic sequencing efforts to raised perceive the variant. The WHO additionally requested that nations submit genomic sequences to public databases, resembling 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 subject 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 resembling 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 have now world vaccinations,” Biden mentioned. “The USA has already donated extra vaccines to different nations than each different nation mixed. It’s time for different nations to match America’s pace 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 the moment on the threshold of an emergency scenario,” Naftali Bennett, the prime minister of Israel, mentioned in a statement.
“I ask everybody to be ready and to completely be part of within the work across the clock,” he mentioned.