The Omicron variant of Covid-19 poses a “very high” global risk and could lead to surges with “severe consequences”, the World Health Organisation says.
The WHO made the announcement on Monday night (local time) just days after naming the new strain of concern.
“The emergence of the high mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“We shouldn’t need another wake up call.
“We should all be awake to the threat of this virus, but Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we’re done with Covid-19, it’s not done with us.”
The biologist said the world was living “through a cycle of panic and neglect” and warned the hard work undertaken by countries could “vanish in an instant”.
“Our most immediate task therefore is to end this pandemic,” Dr Tedros said.
Scientists are still working to determine if Omicron is more transmissible, more at risk of evading diseases or leads to more severe diseases, he added.
More countries record Omicron cases
The disturbing announcement comes after it was revealed Australia’s Omicron outbreak has swelled to five cases.
Genomic sequencing confirmed on Monday two more travellers from South Africa who had landed in Sydney were infected with the variant.
Fears of the latest strain has prompted the Morrison government to delay the reopening of the Australian border to skilled workers, international students and other visa holders.
Researchers in South Africa announced Omicron’s discovery last week, which resulted in multiple countries – including Australia, the United Kingdom and the US – slamming the door shut to travel to that region.
Countries like Spain, Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic confirmed their first cases of Omicron on Monday, the latest on a long list, while multiple others added to their counts.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.