As the omicron variant spreads across the world, here’s what we know so far

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  • The World Health Organization said on Monday that the variant has a “very high” global risk, which could have “serious consequences”, as some of its mutations may bypass immune defenses and suggest greater transmission potential.
  • The South African doctor who first raised the alarm over the new strain, Dr Angelique Coetzee, told the BBC on Sunday that the associated symptoms seen so far have been “extremely mild”.

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The heavily-mutated Omicron Covid-19 variant has been detected in more countries as governments around the world weigh new travel restrictions and restrictive measures.

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The World Health Organization said on Monday that the variant has a “very high” global risk, which could have “serious consequences”, as some of its mutations may bypass immune defenses and suggest greater transmission potential.

However, the South African doctor who first raised the alarm over the new strain, Dr Angelique Coetzee, told the BBC Sunday that the associated symptoms observed so far are “extremely mild”.

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The UK has identified nine cases as of Monday morning, six of them in Scotland, while the Netherlands and Portugal have discovered 13 cases.

Elsewhere in Europe, small numbers of cases have been identified in Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Austria.

travel ban

Australia has reported five cases and will temporarily halt the next phase of its plan to reopen borders while more information is gathered on the new version. Meanwhile, cases have also been found in Canada and Hong Kong.

Scientists around the world are racing to assess Omicron’s ability to evade existing vaccines and natural immunity, with the WHO saying it will take weeks to fully understand how it will affect diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

Preliminary data suggest that the variant is spreading more rapidly in South Africa than previous variants and that the strain, formally known as B.1.1. can start doing According to an analysis by the Financial Times,

At a special session of the World Health Assembly on Monday to discuss a new pandemic treaty, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the discovery of the Omicron variant “underscores how dangerous and precarious our situation is.”

He also said that South Africa, where the strain was first identified, should be thanked for its detection, sequencing and reporting of the findings, and not “punished” in the form of travel restrictions.

Britain on Friday imposed a temporary travel ban on six southern African countries. The US has now banned travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Japan will on Tuesday become the second country after Israel to close its borders to all foreigners.

The WHO urged wealthy countries to share vaccine supplies, saying vaccine disparity would enable the virus to “spread and evolve in ways that we cannot predict or prevent.”

Tedros highlighted that more than 80% of the world’s vaccines had gone to G-20 advanced economies, while low-income countries, many of them in Africa, received just 0.6% of all vaccines.

Vaccine Booster Expectations

Even before the new variant was detected, Europe was in the grip of a growing number of cases as a result of the globally dominant and highly viral “delta” variant, which sent cases to record highs in some countries and once social restrictions were imposed. was inspired. Then.

Dr. Kavita Patel of the Brookings Institution told CNBC on Monday that it will take about one to two weeks for scientists to be able to replicate the virus, and demonstrate whether it can be neutralized by existing antibodies.

Patel suggested that travel restrictions would be ineffective and countries should instead focus on testing and isolating cases, as existing PCR testing mechanisms successfully detect the new strain. He also suggested that scientists are optimistic about the ability of existing vaccines to prevent omicrons.

“Existing vaccines don’t just generate these type-specific antibodies. They try to generate a broad antibody response, and here’s where the human body’s genius comes in: B-cells, the cells that make antibodies, they You actually have the ability to create antibody responses to the threats your body poses,” Patel explained.

He said there is strong data that vaccine boosters can enhance existing immunity, highlighting the need for people to get vaccinated and get boosters when they become available.

CNBC Health & Science

Read CNBC’s latest global coverage of the COVID pandemic:

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WHO says fully vaccinated people should wear masks and physically distance themselves as COVID infections rise

‘Vaccinated, cured or dead’: Germany warns its people of severe winter

White House says US will not stop fighting Covid as European nations impose sanctions

– CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt

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