As the world is preparing to battle with another mutated COVID-19 virus variant â€˜Omicronâ€™ the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday said that the COVID-19 variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a â€œvery highâ€ global risk of infection surges that could have â€œsevere consequencesâ€ some areas.
â€œOmicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,â€ the WHO said.
â€œThe overall global risk related to the new variant â€¦is assessed as very highâ€, WHO said.
â€œIncreasing cases, regardless of a change in severity, may pose overwhelming demands on health care systems and may lead to increased morbidity and mortality. The impact on vulnerable populations would be substantial, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage,â€ it said.
The UN agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and, in anticipation of increased case numbers, to â€œensure mitigation plans are in placeâ€ to maintain essential health services.
No Omicron-linked deaths had yet been reported, though further research was needed to assess its potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it added.
â€œThe presence of multiple mutations of the spike protein in the receptor-binding domain suggests that Omicron may have a high likelihood of immune escape from antibody-mediated protection. However, immune escape potential from cell-mediated immunity is more difficult to predict,â€ it said.
â€œOverall, there are considerable uncertainties in the magnitude of immune escape potential of Omicron.â€
â€œCOVID-19 cases and infections are expected in vaccinated persons, albeit in a small and predictable proportionâ€, it added.
The variant was first reported to WHO on Nov. 24 from South Africa, where infections have risen steeply.
It has since spread around the world, with new cases found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia. The WHO, in its latest guidance, reiterated that countries should use a â€œrisk-based approach to adjust international travel measures in a timely mannerâ€.