The World Health Organization (WHO) has shared a technical brief on priority actions for countries regarding the discovery of the highly-mutated COVID-19 variant Omicron (B.1.1.529). While there is still not enough information to assess how dangerous it is, the WHO believes that the likelihood of further global spread of the variant is high.
“We don’t yet know whether Omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of reinfections, or more risk of evading vaccines. Scientists at WHO and around the world are working urgently to answer these questions,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly today.
Dr Tedros also stressed that many countries have ignored the call by the WHO to not penalize countries such as South Africa and Botswana with travel bans, and that the world should actually thank them for the scientific work of identifying and reporting the discovery so that counter-measures can be taken. Many have commented that travel bans penalizing South-African nations do not extend to the richer countries in Europe, the middle-East, Asia, and Oceania where the Omicron variant has also been detected.
The Director-General also stressed once again the crucial link between vaccine inequality and the emergence of new variants. Currently, just 5.8 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
“We understand and support every government’s responsibility to protect its own people. It’s natural. But vaccine equity is not charity; it’s in every country’s best interests,” Dr Tedros said. “No country can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic alone. The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more opportunity this virus has to spread and evolve in ways we cannot predict nor prevent. We are all in this together.”