The World Health Organisation (WHO) says cases of the Omicron COVID variant have been reported in at least 23 countries.
Omicron — labelled a “variant of concern” — was detected by South African authorities and subsequently reported to the WHO.
Speaking on Wednesday during a virtual briefing in Geneva, Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the number of cases is expected to grow.
“WHO takes this development extremely seriously, and so should every country,” he said
“But it should not surprise us. This is what viruses do. And it’s what this virus will continue to do, as long as we allow it to continue spreading.”
He said experts were learning more about the variant, “but there’s still more to learn about its effect on transmission, severity of disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines”.
The WHO DG urged countries to take “rational, proportional risk-reduction measures,” including those aimed at delaying or reducing spread, such as screening passengers or implementing quarantines for international travellers.
He, however, said travel bans would not prevent the international spread of Omicron, adding that they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.
Ghebreyesus warned that the current “toxic mix” of low vaccine coverage and low testing is a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants.
“We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from Delta,” he said
“And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from Omicron. But if countries and individuals don’t do what they need to do to stop transmission of Delta, they won’t stop Omicron either.”