Prepare for likely spread of Omicron COVID variant, WHO alerts countries

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to prepare for the possible spread of Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant.

Christian Lindmeier, WHO spokesperson, who spoke in Geneva on Friday, said it would take two weeks before more is known about how transmissible and how dangerous the variant is.

Lindmeier advised against the implementation of blanket travel bans, except for countries whose health systems are unable to withstand a surge in infections.

“It is much more preferred to prepare your country, your health system for possible incoming cases because we can be pretty sure that this Omicron variant will spread around,” he said.

“This is how this virus behaves and we will most likely not be able to keep it out of individual countries.”

The WHO official also cautioned against decisions that are induced by fear and not backed by scientific research and evidence.

“Let’s not get deterred right now, let us first get as much information as possible to make the correct risk assessment based on the information that we will have and then let’s move on,” he said.

“Let’s not get completely worried or confused by individual information which are all individually important, but which need to be brought together in order to assess together.”

The development comes as the WHO said it is sending a technical team to South Africa’s Gauteng province to monitor Omicron and help with contact tracing, amid a spike in coronavirus reinfections in the country.

“The detection and timely reporting of the new variant by Botswana and South Africa has bought the world time,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, had said on Thursday.

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“We have a window of opportunity but must act quickly and ramp up detection and prevention measures.

“Countries must adjust their COVID-19 response and stop a surge in cases from sweeping across Africa and possibly overwhelming already-stretched health facilities.”

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