The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated the B.1.1.529 variant of Covid-19 as a Variant of Concern following a meeting with the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution.
According to Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Covid-19 technical lead, the group advised WHO to designat the variant as such.
WHO has named it Omicron, in line with its naming protocols.
The TAG-VE was convened on November 26 to assess the B.1.1.529 variant
The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behaviour of the virus.
The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on November 24.
According to a WHO statement, the epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterised by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant.
“In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.”
According to WHO, Omicron has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other Variants of Concern.
Peoples of the world are advised to continue to adhere to proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.
WHO advised countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants as well as
submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.
“Report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism; where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics,” the international health agency advised.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how some countries and the European Union have imposed travel restrictions on southern African countries following the announcement of the new variant by South African scientists.
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