In a technical brief to member states, the WHO said the omicron variant has “a high number of mutations,” some of which are concerning because they “may be associated with immune escape and higher transmissibility.”
“However, there are still considerable uncertainties,” the WHO noted, pointing to transmissibility, how well existing vaccines protect against the new strain, and the severity level of an omicron infection.
Despite those unknowns, the WHO said the risk around the world from the variant is “very high,” and predicted that the new strain will continue to spread around the globe.
“Given mutations that may confer immune escape potential and possibly transmissibility advantage, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high,” the WHO wrote in the brief.
“Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors including where surges may take place. The overall global risk related to the new VOC Omicron is assessed as very high,” it added.
– World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) November 29, 2021
The agency convened for an emergency meeting on Friday when it labeled the omicron strain a variant of concern after it was first detected in South Africa.
The variant has since been found in a number of neighboring countries as well as in nations including Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.
As a result, the U.S. has imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and seven other African countries – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi – in an effort to control the spread of the new variant.
Anthony Fauci on Sunday said the omicron strain will “inevitably” arrive in the U.S., pointing to the fact that it has already spread to a number of countries after first being detected in South Africa.