WHO classifies new COVID-19 strain, Omicron as ‘Variant of Concern’

The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution assembled on Friday and classified B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern and identified it as Omicron.

Amidst the discovery of a novel COVID-19 modification and a rise in cases elsewhere, the WHO on Saturday urged nations in the Southeast Asia region to intensify surveillance, establish public health and social measures, and enhance immunisation coverage.

The global health body announced that festivities and celebrations need to incorporate all preventive actions, and large gatherings must be avoided. “At no cost should we let our guards down,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO, South-East Asia Region.

“Though COVID-19 cases have been declining in most countries of our Region, the surge in cases elsewhere in the world and confirmation of a new Variant of Concern is a reminder of the persisting risk and the need for us to continue to do our best to protect against the virus and prevent its spread,” she said in a statement.

Comprehensive and tailored public health and social measures to prevent transmission must continue, Singh stressed, noting that the earlier the protective measures are implemented, the less confining they would need to be efficient.

“The more COVID-19 circulates, the more opportunities the virus will have to change and mutate, and the pandemic will last longer,” the Regional Director said.

“As of today 31 per cent of the Region’s population is fully vaccinated, 21% partially vaccinated while nearly 48% or about a billion people are yet to receive even a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said, adding that they continue to be at risk of contracting the severe disease and spreading the virus further.

The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution assembled on Friday and classified B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern and identified it as Omicron. Researchers strive to learn how transmissible or destructive this variant is and change diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccinations.

“We must not forget that the pandemic is far from over. As societies open up, we should not get complacent. Festivities and celebrations must include all precautionary measures. Crowds and large gatherings must be avoided. The current situation warrants further stepping up efforts on all fronts,” the Regional Director said.

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