WHO warns new virus variant 'omicron' poses 'very high' risk

WHO warns new virus variant 'omicron' poses 'very high' risk
© The Manila Times People stand holding shopping bags on Regent Street in London, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Countries around the world slammed their doors shut again to try to keep the new omicron variant at bay Monday, even as more cases of the mutant coronavirus emerged and scientists raced to figure out just how dangerous it might be. In Britain, mask-wearing in shops and on public transport will be required, starting Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

GENEVA: The World Health Organization warned on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

The assessment from the UN health agency, contained in a technical paper issued to member states, amounted to WHO’s strongest, most explicit warning yet about the new version that was first identified days ago by researchers in South Africa.

It came as a widening circle of countries around the world reported cases of the variant and moved to slam their doors in an act-now-ask-questions-later approach while scientists race to figure out just how dangerous the mutant version might be.

Japan announced it is barring entry to all foreign visitors, joining Israel in doing so. Morocco banned all incoming flights. Other countries, including the US and members of the European Union, have moved to prohibit travelers arriving from southern Africa.

WHO said there are “considerable uncertainties” about the omicron variant. But it said preliminary evidence raises the possibility that the variant has mutations that could help it both evade an immune-system response and boost its ability to spread from one person to another.

While no deaths linked to omicron have been reported so far, little is known for certain about the variant, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade vaccines. Last week, a WHO advisory panel said it might be more likely to re-infect people who have already had a bout with Covid-19.

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