"South Africa should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalized"


The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday warned that Omicron, the new variant of concern of Covid-19 poses a very high risk, globally.

According to WHO, given mutations that may confer immune escape potential and possibly transmissibility

advantage, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high.

Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors including where surges may take place.

The organisation has recommended for its member states to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating variants, including Omicron.

It further urged all countries to accelerate Covid-19 vaccination coverage as rapidly as possible especially among populations designated as high priority who remain unvaccinated or are not yet fully vaccinated.

During a presser organised Monday, WHO also advised countries to use a risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures in a timely manner.

It has recommended all to maintain the current health guidelines including physical distancing, ventilation of indoor space, crowd avoidance, and hand hygiene remain key to reducing transmission of SARS CoV-2 even with the emergence of the Omicron variant.

"South Africa should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalized. Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentivises countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores." said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, during the Special session of World Health Assembly on Monday.

"We don't yet know whether Omicron is associated with more: transmission, severe COVID19 disease, risk of reinfections, risk of evading vaccines."

"Scientists at WHO & around the Earth globe Europe-Africa are working urgently to answer these questions," Dr Tedros added in his speech at the WHA.

WHO had designated variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, named Omicron on 26 November, on the advice of WHO's Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).