The organization urges countries to adjust policies on international travel based on the risk of spreading the new strain.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the general risk at the global level in relation to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as “very high”, according to a document published in the last hours by the organization.
From the entity they emphasize that “there could be future outbreaks of covid-19, which could have severe consequences ” as a result of the spread of the new strain.
Although they clarify that “in general, there are considerable uncertainties about the magnitude of Omicron’s potential to escape immunity .”
Likewise, the document emphasizes that the new strain presents an ” unprecedented number of mutations ” in the S protein — Spike ‘or spike—, which is the part of the virus that most existing anticovid vaccines target. .
Given this perspective, the WHO urges the 194 member countries to implement policies on international travel in a timely manner based on the risk of contagion.
It is also urgent to accelerate vaccination programs in the high-risk population, such as the elderly and those with comorbidities, as well as to guarantee mitigation plans to keep essential health services in operation.
The new variant was first detected in early November on the African continent. For this Monday, cases of the B.1.1.529 strain have already been registered in Germany, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, among other countries.
According to the UK Health Security Agency, this variant has a radically different protein S than the original coronavirus on which the covid vaccines are based.
After the appearance of the new variant, which is feared may be resistant to some vaccines, several countries, including Israel, Germany, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and Spain, announced that they prohibit their citizens from traveling to the south of the continent, as well as the entry of foreigners from that region.
The World Health Organization assigned the Greek letter Omicron to the new coronavirus variant, calling it “worrisome.”
What is already known?
What is known at the moment about the new variant is the following:
- the presence of a large number of mutations , more than 30 only in the area that encodes the spike protein;
- Some of the mutations detected are also present in the already known variants, such as Delta and Alpha, and are associated with greater transmissibility and evasion of the defenses of the immune system, such as antibodies.
The main unknowns
The questions that for now remain unanswered and pose uncertainty in the scientific community are many more:
- Is it transmitted more easily and quickly than the already known variants?
- Does it evade the protection of vaccines and the immune system, and to what extent?
- Does it aggravate the course of covid-19 in those infected or does it pass in a milder way?
- Will it be responsible for new waves of covid-19 and can it become the dominant variant in the world or exacerbate the already existing situation, made worse by Delta?
- What does its appearance mean in the fight against the pandemic?