Brussels (WNews) – WHO says new COVID-19 variant Omicron is a ‘variant of concern’ as travel restrictions imposed in several countries.
The new variant, originally named B.1.1.529, and from South Africa. The variant was first reported on November 24 as cases has spiked in recent weeks.
“The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.”
A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States.
“It seems to spread rapidly,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the new variant, only a day after celebrating the resumption of Thanksgiving gatherings for millions of American families and the sense that normal life was coming back at least for the vaccinated. In announcing new travel restrictions, he told reporters, “I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious.”
In response to the new variant’s discovery in southern Africa, Canada, the United States, Russia and other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a fresh surge of infections.
The White House said the U.S. will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region beginning Monday. Biden said that means “no travel” to or from the designated countries except for returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents who test negative.
Medical experts, including the WHO, warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied. But a jittery world feared the worst after the tenacious virus triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe.
“We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” – British Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
Omicron has now been seen in travelers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, as well as in southern Africa.
There was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. As with other variants, some infected people display no symptoms, South African experts said. The WHO panel drew from the Greek alphabet in naming the variant omicron, as it has done with earlier, major variants of the virus.
In BC, Dr. Bonnie Henry said that the province has seen no cases arising from Omicron variant. Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix say the province does “not yet know the impact this new VOC will have on transmission or of severity of illness. We will continue to closely monitor developments around the world.”
South Africa’s health minister says, based on a small sample of Omicron cases, the majority of hospital patients are unvaccinated: “It indicates that the vaccines are providing protection”
At least 15 people on 2 flights from South Africa has tested positive for coronavirus at Amsterdam Airport; number expected to rise, variant not yet known.