Geneva, Nov 27 - A group of WHO experts named the new variant B.1.1.529 of Covid-19, detected for the first time in South Africa, as "omicron", which they described as worrisome due to its mutations.
This strain underscores the need to speed up vaccination and make drugs against the pathogen reach health workers, the elderly and others at risk without receiving their first and second doses, reported the United Nations entity.
Preliminary evidence suggests a higher risk of reinfection with this variant, compared to other SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses, specialists commissioned by the WHO to monitor the evolution of the disease explained in an emergency meeting.
The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the last of which was predominantly the Delta variant, they explained.
In recent weeks, infections increased sharply, coinciding with the detection of the B.1.1.529 variant, they warned. South Africa notified the WHO of it on November 24, 2021, but the first sample collected dates from November 9, 2021, the experts said.
They asked countries to improve surveillance and sequencing efforts as well as where capacity exists to conduct laboratory evaluations and field investigations to improve understanding of potential impacts, among others.
A case of the newly named omicron was detected in Hong Kong, another in Israel in a person returning from Malawi and Belgium announced on Friday that it was the first nation on its continent with the new variant.
Faced with this situation, the United Kingdom and the European Union were joined by the United States and Canada by closing their borders to southern African countries, while India, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates also tightened restrictions on trip.
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla considered these measures unjustified, although he admitted that preliminary studies suggested greater transmissibility of B.1.1.529. (PL)
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