The World Health Organization is calling on member states to start testing widely for the new omicron variant, saying its divergent design could fuel future surges of Covid-19 with severe consequences.
The mutations may allow the variant to escape protection from vaccination or previous infection, and could give it a transmission advantage, the global health organization said in a technical briefing document for its members.
“The likelihood of potential further spread of omicron at the global level is high,” the report said. “Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of Covid-19, which could have severe consequences.”
The degree of damage depends on a number of factors, including where the surges occur, the WHO document said. The global risk related to the variant is “assessed as very high.” No deaths have been linked to omicron through Sunday, according to the WHO.
The WHO called on member states to take immediate action, including:
- Enhancing surveillance and sequencing efforts
- Widespread use of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.’s PCR test to detect the variant
- Accelerated vaccination coverage, especially in high-risk groups
- Adjusting international travel measures in a “timely manner”
- Using masks, physical distancing and crowd avoidance to reduce transmission risk
- Putting early warning systems in place to inform and adjust public-health measures