The World Health Organization has warned that the emergence of the new Corona virus, Omicron, poses a “very high” risk globally, but stressed that the rate of transmission and the extent of its severity are not yet clear.
The organization said, in a technical note, that “if omicron leads to another severe spread of Covid-19, the consequences will be dire,” although it stressed that “to date, no deaths associated with the omicron mutant have been recorded.”
The organization stressed that Omicron, whose first cases were detected in South Africa, “is very different, containing a high number of copies … some of them are worrisome and may be associated with the possibility of immune escape and increased transmission.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the Organization, sounded the alarm at the start of a meeting of health ministers in the Group of Seven countries, which is expected to launch negotiations on an international agreement related to preventing future epidemics.
“The emergence of the mutated Omicron strain underscores how fragile and precarious our situation has become,” Tedros said. “Omicron explains why the world needs a new deal on pandemics: Our current system discourages countries from warning other countries about the dangers they will inevitably reach.”
The new international agreement, expected by May 2024, will cover issues such as sharing data and sequencing the genomes of emerging viruses, and any potential vaccines found through the research.
Professor Salim Abdelkarim, an expert in infectious diseases in South Africa, said that currently available vaccines against Covid-19 should be very effective in preventing the emergence of serious symptoms of the disease and in reducing the number of patients hospitalized with the new mutant Omicron.
Abdul Karim, who worked as a senior government advisor during the initial response to the pandemic, said in press statements that it is still too early to say that Omicron leads to the emergence of clinical symptoms more severe than previous mutations.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the travel ban imposed on his country.
Since the discovery of the new strain in South Africa on November 24, it has moved to more than a dozen countries, most of which have imposed travel restrictions in an attempt to isolate themselves.
On Monday, Japan joined Israel in declaring its intention to close its borders to foreigners.
Poland announced that it will impose a ban on flights to seven African countries and will extend the quarantine period for some travelers and impose other restrictions on the number of people allowed to enter some places such as restaurants, amid fears of the new mutant Omicron.
The Canadian government said that it had discovered that two people who had recently entered the country from Nigeria were infected with the omicron mutation. However, Nigeria said that it had not recorded any cases of the new strain.
As for the Netherlands, it said that the number of cases of the new mutation among travelers from South Africa rose to 14.
The World Health Organization stressed that countries should now take a “risk-based approach to adjust travel procedures in a timely manner”, while recognizing that a rise in coronavirus cases may lead to higher rates of illness and death.
But doctors who have treated patients in South Africa say the Omicron mutant so far appears to be producing mild symptoms including dry cough, fever and nighttime sweats.
Joe Vahla, Minister of Health of South Africa, said that his country’s government is doing everything in its power to prepare its medical facilities to deal with the new mutant and is asking countries that have imposed restrictions on travel to and from South Africa to amend it.
South African public health officials said that Gauteng state, which has seen an increase in cases of the disease since the discovery of the new strain, has not yet seen an increase in the number of deaths from COVID-19. They added that it was still not possible to say whether the mutant Omicron had caused any deaths.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the travel ban imposed on his country and its neighbors after the emergence of the new strain of the Corona virus.
Ramaphosa said he was “deeply disappointed” by this behaviour, which he called unjustified and called for the ban to be lifted urgently.
Passengers at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg wait to exit the country after some airlines canceled flights to some countries.
The United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States are among the countries that have imposed travel bans.
However, Machidiso Moti, director of the World Health Organization’s Africa division, said that “with the Omicron strain now detected in several regions of the world, a travel ban targeting Africa is an attack on global solidarity.”
But the list of countries that imposed travel bans and restrictions included two African countries, Rwanda and Angola, which imposed restrictions on flights to and from South Africa.
The South African president said there was no scientific basis for the travel ban and that South Africa had been the victim of unfair discrimination.
It is reported that current procedures in South Africa require people to wear a mask in public places, and limit internal meetings to 750 people and external meetings to 2,000 people.
And there is no shortage of vaccines in South Africa itself whose president has urged people to get vaccinated, saying it remains the best way to combat the virus.