The global risk posed by the new omicron variant of the coronavirus is “very high”, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned in a technical report on this new strain of SARS-CoV-2. Taking into account the high mutations of omicron, with the potential to be more resistant to immunization and more contagious, the risk of the variant being transmitted worldwide is “high”, says the document, which was made public this Monday by the international health organization.
“There may be new waves of COVID-19 with serious consequences, depending on many factors, such as where those waves occur,” the report anticipated. Faced with these risks, the WHO asks its member states to take certain priority actions, including “speed up vaccination against coronavirus as soon as possible, especially among the population at risk that remains unvaccinated “.
It also requests all countries to increase surveillance measures, to report possible cases or outbreaks associated with the variant, and that laboratories increase the sequencing work necessary to analyze the structure of the coronavirus.
“WHO believes that available vaccines offer some protection against serious illness and death from omicron.“
The WHO does not recommend in the technical report openly that they ban flights to certain regions, stating only that national authorities “must use scientific bases when adjusting in a timely manner the measures around international travel.”
He admits, in any case, that for now the cases of the omicron that have already been detected in four regions (Africa, Europe, the Middle East and East Asia) they are related to travel, although “it is to be expected that the main origin of the cases will change as more information is obtained”.
The first confirmed case of omicron was detected in a specimen collected on November 9 in South Africa, and just two days later another with the same variant was confirmed in neighboring Botswana.
Surrounded by uncertainties
WHO experts clarify that “there are still considerable uncertainties.” First, they recognize that a doubt is “the degree of transmissibility of the variant and whether increases in infections in South Africa are related to immune escape, increased intrinsic transmissibility, or both. “
Likewise, the WHO still does not have a fixed position on “the efficacy of vaccines to protect against infection, transmission, clinical disease of different degrees of severity and death” in this new variant. Finally, it remains to be seen “if the variant presents a different severity profile”.
WHO expects “cases and infections in vaccinated people” to occur, albeit “in a small and predictable proportion relative to vaccine efficacy values.” “Despite the uncertainties, it is reasonable to assume that currently available vaccines offer some protection against serious illness and death“, they explain.
In any case, the experts point out that “further research is necessary to better understand the escape potential against vaccine-induced immunity and infection.” “The investigation is ongoing and the data is expected to be available in the coming weeks,” they emphasize.
“Ómicron reminds us that this is not over”
Along these lines, the Director General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stressed this Monday that the global emergency due to the new omicron variant highlights that the global health crisis “is not over” and the situation “remains dangerous and precarious.” “It is another reminder that although some think that COVID has ended, it is not, we continue to live cycles of panic and forgetfulness in which progress made with great effort can be lost,” he said at the opening of an extraordinary assembly of the WHO to negotiate a pandemic preparedness treaty.
The Ethiopian expert has stated that South Africa and Botswana, the first countries to report cases of the new variant, “should be grateful for it, not penalized.”, in the sense that many governments have suspended air links with these and other southern African territories.
“The current system discourages countries from alerting others to possible threats,” Tedros lamented in view of what happened with those countries, noting that “this shows that the world needs a new pandemic preparedness agreement” in which these problematic issues are corrected.
The general director affirms that it is not yet known if the omicron variant is associated with a greater ease of contagion or reinfection, with more serious cases or with greater resistance to vaccines, although he emphasizes that “scientists around the world are working against the clock to respond to this questions”. He adds that “the world should not need a wake-up call” like the one generated by the variant to remain alert in a crisis that “tests the world’s ability to prevent and respond to future pandemics.”
Tedros emphasizes that the inequality in the distribution of vaccines continues to demonstrate the management errors in the current pandemic, in which “80% of the doses in the world have gone to the G20 countries.” “Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received just 0.6% of all vaccines,” he lamented, warning that more than a hundred nations have not yet achieved the goal of immunizing at least 40% of its population, something that the WHO wanted to achieve in all territories before the end of the year.