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WHO: Omicron poses very high global risk, world must prepare

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The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that the heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have severe consequences in some places, according to Reuters. 

The WHO stated that no Omicron-linked deaths had yet been reported, though further research was needed to assess its potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections.

In anticipation of increased case numbers as the variant, first reported last week, the U.N. agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and ensure plans were in place to maintain 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 overall global risk related to the new variant …is assessed as very high,” the WHO said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, sounded the alarm at the start of an assembly of health ministers that is expected to launch negotiations on an international agreement on preventing future pandemics. 

The new global deal, expected by May 2024 would cover issues such as sharing of data and genome sequences of emerging viruses, and of any potential vaccines derived from research.

Omicron was first reported on November 24 from South Africa and has now been detected in EU countries Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, along with Australia, Botswana, Britain, Hong Kong and Israel.

Global authorities reacted with alarm on Friday to a new coronavirus variant with the EU, Britain and India among those announcing stricter border controls as scientists sought to determine if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.