Don’t panic over new Covid variant: WHO

Speaking in an interview at the Reuters Next conference, World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said it was impossible to predict if Omicron would become the dominant strain.
Thanks to Omicron, South Africa's daily Covid-19 infection rate is expected to quadruple to more than 10,000 by the end of this week.(AFP)
Thanks to Omicron, South Africa's daily Covid-19 infection rate is expected to quadruple to more than 10,000 by the end of this week.(AFP)
Published on Dec 04, 2021 07:12 AM IST
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The World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist on Friday urged people not to panic over the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant and said it was too early to say if vaccines would be need to be reworked.

Speaking in an interview at the Reuters Next conference, Soumya Swaminathan said it was impossible to predict if Omicron would become the dominant strain.

Swaminathan said Omicron “was highly transmissible” and cited data from South Africa showing the number of cases doubling daily. “How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago.”

Delta accounts for 99% of infections around the world. This variant would have to be more transmissible to outcompete and become dominant worldwide. It is possible, but it’s not possible to predict.”

We need to wait, lets hope it’s milder... but it’s too early to conclude about the variant as a whole,” Swaminathan said.

WHO’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, said there was no evidence to support a change in vaccines to tailor them to Omicron. “Right now, we have highly effective vaccines that are working. We need to focus on getting them more equitably distributed. We need to focus on getting people most at risk vaccinated,” Ryan said at a social media event.

“I have not seen reports of Omicron-related deaths yet,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said separately.

‘Some cases in people who came from Europe’

Botswana’s President Mokg-weetsi Masisi said some of the four diplomats who first tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant in the country had come from Europe, calling for a reversal of widespread travel bans imposed against southern African countries.

“The diplomats came from a number of countries ... and they passed through a number of countries to get to Botswana.”

He declined to disclose their nationalities, only saying “some had been to Europe and some had been elsewhere”.The country has so far reported more than 20 cases of the new variant.

Presidential spokesman Batlhalefi Leagajang told Reuters on Friday that Masisi will not disclose the countries the diplomats passed through, or their countries of origin, because “the virus should never be geo-politicised”.

Omicron spreads in United States, Australia

The US and Australia announced their first locally transmitted cases of the Omicron variant.

Nine cases have been confirmed in France and 10 in the United States. One case each in Hawaii and Minnesota involved residents with no recent international travel history - showing that Omicron is already circulating inside the country.

Australia on Friday, too, reported three students had tested positive for the variant.

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