After it was first reported Wednesday in South Africa, the new strain of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus has been found in Botswana, Israel, Belgium, and Israel.
“The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant,” said WHO in its statement. “In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant.”
Further, the variant has a “large number” of mutations, WHO said, which “suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other” COVID-19 variants of concern.
“The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant,” according to WHO.
The U.N. health agency did not say whether common COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the Omicron variant, although the statement suggested that individuals should still receive the shot. Some scientists have said that due to the number of mutations, the strain may be able to penetrate through vaccines.
The United Kingdom, Japan, Israel, Kenya, and European countries have started to issue travel restrictions on southern African countries such as Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and others. Earlier, a WHO spokesman cautioned against quickly imposing travel restrictions until more data can be gathered.
The EU Commission presidential chief spokesman Eric Mamer confirmed Friday that European Union member states have agreed to bring rapid travel restrictions from seven countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.