U.S. blocks flights from several countries in southern Africa
The World Health Organization announced a new COVID-19 strain, the Omicron variant, on Friday.
The WHO dubbed the new strain as a “variant of concern” or VOC, which is the organization’s most serious category.
Also described as B.1.1.529, the strain had rapidly spread in South Africa, causing the U.S. to block flights from several countries in southern Africa. The European Union also announced similar travel restrictions.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO announced in a news release. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant.”
There is currently no proof that the variant is more lethal, and the World Health Organization announced it would be several weeks before they could garner any information on how contagious the variant is.
The WHO additionally cautioned against premature travel restrictions saying global authorities should take a “risk-based and scientific approach.”
So far, a few dozen cases have been confirmed in Botswana, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong.
It is unclear whether or not COVID-19 mutations pose a threat to vaccines’ effectiveness. However, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers the new variant could render vaccines less effective.
Scientists in South Africa discovered the Omicron strain while observing an increase in infections surrounding Johannesburg. They praised South African public health institutions for picking up on the variant in such an early phase.
The World Health Organization maintains that there is currently no substantive information about the Omicron variant and urges people not to panic over the news.
The organization announced it was meeting with South African public health leaders to discuss next steps.