According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have “severe consequences” in some places.
No Omicron-linked deaths had yet been reported, though further research was needed to assess its potential to resist vaccines and immunity induced by previous infections, it added.
Anticipating increased case numbers as the variant, first reported last week, spreads, the U.N. agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups.
“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said…
Omicron was first reported on Nov. 24 from South Africa, where infections have risen steeply.
It has since spread to more than a dozen countries, many of which have imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off. Japan on Monday joined Israel in saying it would close its borders completely to foreigners.
The WHO reiterated that, pending further advice, countries should use a “risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures”, while acknowledging that a rise in coronavirus cases might lead to higher morbidity and mortality rates.
“The impact on vulnerable populations would be substantial, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage,” it added.
In vaccinated persons, meanwhile, “COVID-19 cases and infections are expected … albeit in a small and predictable proportion”…