The latest COVID-19 variant discovered in South Africa has been given the Greek name ‘Omicron,’ and has been classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization due to its significant number of mutations and potential for infection at a rapid pace.
In a statement released on Friday, the World Health Organization said preliminary research indicated that this strain of concern has a higher risk of reinfection than other strains like Delta.
According to the UN health agency, the number of cases appears to be rising in practically all of South Africa’s provinces.
WHO said, the variation has been found at higher rates than in past outbreaks, implying that it “may have a growth advantage.”
Experts from the World Health Organization have urged governments to increase surveillance and genome sequencing efforts to better understand the variation.
Several studies are underway, and the agency’s technical advisory committee, known as TAG-VE, will continue to assess this variant. New findings will be communicated to the Member States and the general public as warranted.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical head, indicated that information on the novel ‘Omicron’ version is currently scarce.
“There are fewer than 100 available whole-genome sequences, we don’t know very much about this yet.
“What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that when you have so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves,” she said.
Researchers are currently trying to figure out where the mutations are and what they could mean for diagnostics, treatments, and vaccinations, according to Kerkhove.
“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has, there’s a lot of work that is underway,” she added.
In addition, the United Nations Health Organization advised all countries to take a risk-based and scientific approach to travel bans associated with the novel type discovered in South Africa and Botswana. Kerkhove praised the researchers in these countries for sharing their findings with the UN health agency.
“Everyone out there: does not discriminate against countries that share their findings openly,” she urged, as countries such as Britain, France and Israel have moved to cancel direct flights from South Africa and surrounding nations.
People can do a lot to protect themselves from COVID, according to WHO officials, including continuing to use masks and avoiding crowds.
“Everybody that’s out there needs to understand that the more this virus circulates the more opportunities the virus has to change, the more mutations we will see,” said Kerkhove.
“Get vaccinated when you can, make sure you receive the full course of your doses and make sure you take steps to reduce your exposure and prevent yourself from passing that virus to someone else,” she added.
So far, fewer than 100 instances of the new type have been verified, mostly among young people, who have the lowest vaccination rate in the country, according to South African health officials.
“Countries can do a lot already in terms of surveillance and sequencing and work together with the affected countries or globally.
Countries can collaborate with afflicted countries or work together globally and scientifically to combat this variety and learn more about it so that we can figure out how to proceed.
“So, at this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told journalists in Geneva.