WHO labels the new Covid strain, named omicron, a 'variant of concern,' citing possible increased reinfection risk

WHO labels the new Covid strain named omicron a variant of concern

November 30, 2021: On Friday, The World Health Organization assigned the Greek letter omicron to an identified Covid variant in South Africa. The U.N. health agency is recognizing the strain, referring to lineage B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern.

Health experts are concerned about the transmissibility of the omicron variant, given that it has a constellation of mutations and a profile that is different from different variants of concern.

“Omicron, B.1.1.529, is named as a variant of concern due to some concerning properties,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said in a video published on Twitter. “This variant has a large number of mutations, and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics,” it added.

Experts fear that the sharp upswing of Covid cases in South Africa’s Gauteng province, where the heavily mutated strain of the virus was first identified, could mean it has more significant potential to escape prior immunity than different variants. The number of omicron cases “appears to be increasing” in almost all of South Africa’s provinces, the WHO reported.

The organization labels Covid strains as variants of concern when they’re more transmissible, more virulent, or more adept at eluding public health measures, which include vaccines and therapeutics. Data presented at a briefing on Thursday hosted by South Africa’s Department of Health indicates that some of the omicron’s mutations are connected with improved antibody resistance, which could reduce the protection offered by vaccines.

Specific mutations could also make omicron more contagious. In contrast, others haven’t been reported until now, preventing researchers from understanding the way they could impact the strain’s behavior, according to a presentation at the briefing.

“Preliminary evidence is suggesting an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs,” the WHO said on Friday.

The designation of concern, coupled with mounting alarm from health officials, sent global markets into a tailspin on Friday. Oil prices and travel and leisure stocks took heavy losses on the news.

WHO has said it will taking weeking to understand how the variant may affect diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.

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