WHO to Hold Special Meeting Due to Concerns over New COVID Variant

Actions made to combat the delta version should still be successful in combating the newly discovered omicron variation, according to World Health Organization officials.

After the trending reports on reported cases with a new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa and Botswana, the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold a special meeting, officials informed Thursday.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the COVID-19 Technical Lead for the WHO, said that the international body’s technical advisory group on virus evolution is discussing the news with their colleagues in South Africa but without causing alarm.

Van Kerkhove noted that officials are well aware of the huge amount of mutations – 32 – the new variant, known as B.1.1.529, has and are now in the process to learn more about it to establish if it’s really a reason for great concern.

The Imperial College London virologist Dr. Tom Peacock, who posted details of the new variant, suggested that the incredibly high amount of spike mutations could be of real concern buy it may also turn out to be a not very transmissible “odd cluster.”

Only 10 cases of the variant are so far reported in Botswana and South Africa, and there’s also one case registered in Hong Kong, but that individual had recently traveled to South Africa.

Commending South Africa for being transparent about what they were finding, the executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, Mike Ryan, warned against “knee-jerk responses” to the information.

Stressing it’s important to remain focused on understanding and characterizing the problem, he also warned against punishing countries for doing outstanding scientific work and being open and transparent.

Yet, that warning seems to have arrived a bit too late in the UK, which has already placed half a dozen nations, including South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, under its red travel list, barring flights from those regions.

When it comes to the United States and CDC’s current travel advisory, only Botswana is rated level 4 or “COVID-19 very high.” Lesotho is rated level 3 while South Africa, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe are still rated as level 1 or “COVID-19 low.”

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