Overall global risk with Omicron very high: WHO

Washington: The overall global risk related to the new Covid variant, Omicron is assessed as very high, said the World Health Organisation on Monday.

The WHO said that Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, including 26-32 in the spike, some of which are of concern and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility. However, there are still considerable uncertainties, added the global health body.

Given mutations that may confer immune escape potential and possible transmissibility advantage, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high, said the WHO.

The global health body added further that there could be future surges of Covid-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors including where surge may take place. The overall global risk related to the new variant is assessed as very high, the WHO added.

While prescribing priority actions for the member states, the WHO emphasised on enhancing surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Omicron. This should include community testing to detect if Omicron is circulating in the community, said WHO.

Accelerating Covid vaccination coverage as rapidly as possible, especially among populations designated as high priority who remain unvaccinated or are not yet fully vaccinated, should remain top priority as per the WHO.

The use of masks, physical distancing, ventilation of indoor space, crowd avoidance, and hand hygiene remain key to reducing transmission of SARS CoV-2 even with the emergence of the Omicron variant. Contact tracing of Covid-19 cases to interrupt chains of transmission is strongly advised, said WHO in its technical paper on Covid-19 while including the preparedness action for member countries.

Botswana has so far confirmed a total of 19 cases of the newly-discovered Omicron variant of Covid-19, a health official said.

Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti said at a briefing on Sunday evening that additional assessments and analyses of other positive Covid samples had revealed 15 more cases of the Omicron variant on Sunday morning, after four foreigners were declared infected last week.

We will continue to expand our conduct tracing to ensure that no potential cases go undetected, he said.

Dikoloti also said that the initial cases of the Omicron variant in the country were detected after four foreign nationals, who had briefly visited Botswana, tested positive for the virus on November 11 and the variant was confirmed as the Omicron variant on November 24, Xinhua news agency reported.

Such detection should not be confused with Botswana being the country of origin of the strain, Dikoloti said.