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Covid-19 pandemic: WHO hits panic button as Omicron reaches 13 nations

The omicron variant, first sequenced in South Africa, has been identified in at least 12 other countries

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Coronavirus Tests | Coronavirus Vaccine

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Omicron, Covid-19, Coronavirus
A foreigner walks inside Bangkok’s International Suvarnabhumi Airport as Thailand bans entry from eight African countries due to the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus on November 29 (Photo: Reuters)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on member states to start testing widely for the new omicron variant, saying its divergent design could fuel future surges of Covid-19 with severe consequences.

The omicron variant, first sequenced in South Africa, has been identified in at least 12 other countries. Most have so far reported imported cases spotted in travellers from the African nation and other places. Still, the spread shows the difficulties of curtailing new strains of Covid-19.

The mutations may allow the variant to escape protection from vaccination or previous infection, and could give it a transmission advantage, the global health organization said in a technical briefing document for its members.

“The likelihood of potential further spread of omicron at the global level is high,” the report said, adding, “Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of Covid-19, which could have severe consequences.”

The degree of damage depends on a number of factors, including where the surges occur, the WHO document said. The global risk related to the variant is “assessed as very high”. No deaths have been linked to omicron through Sunday, according to the WHO.

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Meanwhile, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned travel bans enacted against his country and its neighbours and said he was "deeply disappointed" by the action.

The comments come as Australia halted border reopening over omicron fears and Japan said it will close its borders to new foreign arrivals from Tuesday and have its own citizens isolate on arrival from countries where the omicron variant has been found, while experts around the world analyze the risks it presents.

In Portugal, health authorities said on Monday that they have identified 13 cases of omicron among team members of a professional soccer club. The Ricardo Jorge National Health Institute said that one of those who tested positive at the Lisbon-based Belenenses soccer club had recently travelled to South Africa.

Meanwhile, BioNTech SE said it was working to adapt its Covid-19 vaccine to address the omicron variant and expects to have a new version ready within 100 days if necessary. The company has started development in order to move as quickly as possible, BioNTech said in a statement.

Oil rebounds

Oil rebounded from Friday’s omicron-driven rout as traders assessed the risks to global demand from the new variant, and speculation mounted that OPEC+ may decide this week to pause output increases.

Moderna, Top Glove shares jump

Moderna Inc. shares extended Friday’s surge in the US premarket trading after the company said a new vaccine to fight the omicron strain of the could be ready by early 2022 if required.

World’s biggest glove maker Top Glove Corp. surged on Monday to lead an advance in medical wear companies for a second session amid bets the emergence of omicron variant will boost demand for the industry’s products.

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First Published: Mon, November 29 2021. 23:22 IST
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