This new variant underscores the need to speed up vaccination and make drugs against Covid-19 available for health workers, the elderly and others at risk without receiving their first and second doses, WHO reported.
Preliminary evidence suggested a higher risk of reinfection with this new variant, compared to other coronaviruses, WHO experts said.
The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three different peaks in reported cases, the last of which was predominantly Delta variant.
In recent weeks, Covid-19 infections ramped up sharply, matching with the B.1.1.529 variant detection. South Africa notified WHO of the new cases on November 24, 2021, but the first sample collected dated back November 9, 2021.
Experts asked nations to improve surveillance and sequencing efforts to conduct lab studies and ground researchers to improve understanding of potential impacts, among others.
A case of the newly named Omicron was detected in Hong Kong and Israel (in a person returning from Malawi). Belgium on Friday reported it was the first European nation with the new variant.
Faced with such a situation, UK and the European Union (EU), the United States and Canada closed their borders to southern African countries, while India, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also tightened some travel restrictions.
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla classed these travel measures as unjustified, even though he admitted preliminary studies suggested greater transmissibility of B.1.1.529 variant.