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Omicron COVID-19 variant poses ‘very high’ global risk, countries must prepare, warns WHO

The UN agency, in technical advice to its 194 member states, urged them to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.
 

Omicron COVID-19 variant poses very high global risk, countries must prepare, warns WHO-dnm
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Geneva, First Published Nov 29, 2021, 5:11 PM IST
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A three-day special session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) kicked off on Monday to discuss pandemic preparedness and response, amid concerns over the spread of the new Omicron variant. The Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk where COVID-19 surges could have “severe consequences” in some areas, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday.

The UN agency, in technical advice to its 194 member states, urged them to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.

“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. “The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.”

Further research is needed to better understand Omicron's potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it said, adding that more data was expected in the coming weeks.

“COVID -19 cases and infections are expected in vaccinated persons, albeit in a small and predictable proportion,” it added.

The UN health agency has warned against countries hastily imposing travel curbs. However, bans have been introduced in recent days, with the United Kingdom, European Union, and the United States among those to impose travel restrictions on arrivals from mostly Southern African nations.

Meanwhile, the chief of the World Health Organisation has called the spread of the new Omicron variant a “test of our collective ability to respond to future pandemics.” Addressing the WHA opening session, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “courageous and compassionate leadership” and an “unshakable commitment to solidarity” will be fundamental in ending the pandemic.

Tedros criticised the inequitable distribution of vaccines, adding that access to vaccinations for all countries was necessary to limit the spread of the virus and its mutations. “The more vaccine inequity persists, the more this virus will spread in ways we cannot predict or prevent,” Tedros said. “We are all in this together.”

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