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WHO says omicron Covid variant has spread to 38 countries

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The World Well being Group on Friday mentioned the Covid omicron variant has been detected in 38 international locations, up from 23 two days in the past, with early knowledge suggesting the pressure is extra contagious than delta.

“We do see an rising progress fee, we see rising numbers of omicron being detected,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, mentioned throughout a Q&A livestreamed on the group’s social media channels Friday. “However we now have reviews of omicron in 38 international locations in all six WHO areas.”

“There’s a suggestion that there’s elevated transmissibility, what we have to perceive is that if it is kind of transmissible in comparison with delta,” Van Kerkhove mentioned, noting that the delta variant remains to be dominant throughout the globe.

Dr. Mike Ryan, government director of the WHO’s well being emergencies program, mentioned “clearly the virus does look like transmitting effectively.”

“And we noticed that earlier than with delta. So once more, there’s sure issues we should not be stunned with,” Ryan mentioned. 

Omicron has some 30 mutations on the spike protein, which is the mechanism used to bind to human cells. A few of these mutations are related to increased transmission and the power to flee immune safety, based on the WHO.

South African scientists this week discovered that omicron is related to a “substantial potential” to reinfect individuals who already had Covid, in contrast with previous variants of the virus. The examine, printed by the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Evaluation and the Nationwide Institute of Communicable Illnesses, has not but been peer reviewed.

Van Kerkhove mentioned it is nonetheless too early to know the severity of illness brought on by omicron. Early reviews of delicate signs in a few of the first instances the place it was recognized have been based mostly on a cluster of college college students who are typically youthful and expertise extra delicate signs than older adults, she mentioned.

“There was preliminary reviews that it tended to be extra delicate, however it’s actually too quickly,” Van Kerkhove mentioned. “All people who’s contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 no matter what variant will all the time begin out with a light illness. And so perhaps it is going to cease there with delicate, some persons are asymptomatic in fact, however it might cease with delicate illness or it might take a while.”

Van Kerkove mentioned there are rising hospitalizations in South Africa, however public well being officers have not seen an elevated danger of demise but, however they’re ready on extra knowledge.

Ryan mentioned public well being officers initially noticed delicate instances with the alpha and delta variants as effectively. It might take two weeks to see elevated mortality related to omicron if the variant does, in actual fact, trigger extra extreme illness.

“It takes time sadly,” Ryan mentioned. “We noticed that as effectively in earlier waves of this pandemic. When the incidence fee goes up, it takes every week or two for that to end in hospital admissions and deaths.”

Van Kerkhove cautioned there is a reporting bias in the intervening time which can obscure how virulent the variant actually is. Lots of the folks all over the world who’ve examined optimistic for omicron have been wholesome vacationers, which might clarify why the signs reported to this point are delicate.

“For those who’re touring, you are not sick otherwise you should not be touring if you happen to’re sick,” Van Kerkhove mentioned. “So there is a bias when it comes to what’s being detected in the intervening time, however that can change over time.”

The primary individual within the U.S. who examined optimistic for omicron was a totally vaccinated traveler between 18 and 49 years of age coming back from South Africa to the San Francisco space.

Van Kerkhove known as on nations all over the world to extend genetic sequencing of Covid-19 instances to detect new variants and share the outcomes publicly to raised perceive the evolution of the virus.

“Now’s the time to beef up the methods,” she mentioned. “You have heard us say that for fairly a while now, however it’s not too late to do that — methods must be bolstered.”

Van Kerkhove famous that South Africa was the primary nation to report omicron to the WHO, however the timeline might change as extra international locations sequence a backlog of Covid instances from November.

“So a few of the earliest instances of this explicit variant might very effectively not be in South Africa,” she mentioned.

Van Kerkhove and Ryan mentioned the present vaccines stay the best measure to sluggish transmission of the virus. Ryan mentioned there is a “clear relationship” between vaccine inequity and the event of variants all over the world. The WHO has repeatedly criticized rich nations for not doing sufficient to get vaccines to folks in poorer international locations.

Pfizer and Moderna have mentioned it is going to take about two weeks to understand how omicron impacts the present vaccines as researchers collect knowledge.

“Proper now there isn’t a want to vary the vaccines we’re at the moment utilizing,” Ryan mentioned. “There is no such thing as a proof to assist that. There is no such thing as a proof there to vary,  however there’s numerous work occurring to have a look at if we have been to vary, how would possibly we alter these vaccines and that work must be accomplished upfront.”

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