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 may very well be extra contagious, trigger extra extreme illness and cut back the efficacy of vaccines and coverings.
The WHO convened an unbiased group of consultants 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, stated 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 stated in an announcement. “The variety of instances of this variant seems to be growing in virtually 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. International nationals from these nations shall be prohibited from getting into the US. .
“These new restrictions will take impact on November 29,” President Joe Biden stated in an announcement.” As we transfer ahead, we’ll proceed to be guided by what the science and my medical staff 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 possibly can truly immediately take a look at it,” Fauci stated. “So, proper now you’re speaking about … a crimson flag that this may be a problem — 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 identified confirmed an infection was from a pattern collected on Nov. 9, the WHO stated.
A number of labs have discovered that one extensively used take a look at may very well be a dependable method to detect the brand new variant. The WHO’s virus evolution advisory group has began “plenty of research” to judge Omicron and can announce new findings as wanted, Van Kerkhove stated Friday.
Based mostly on the proof thus far, 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, 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 nations 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 scale back their threat of COVID-19, together with confirmed public well being and social measures akin to sporting well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, bodily distancing, enhancing air flow of indoor areas, avoiding crowded areas and getting vaccinated,” the WHO stated.
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 is not going to finish till we now have international vaccinations,” Biden stated. “The US has already donated extra vaccines to different nations than each different nation mixed. It’s time for different nations to match America’s velocity and generosity.”
Israel imposed a journey ban protecting 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 Instances reported.
“We’re at present on the threshold of an emergency scenario,” Naftali Bennett, the prime minister of Israel, stated in a statement.
“I ask everybody to be ready and to totally be part of within the work across the clock,” he stated.