WHO designates new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ as variant of concern – National

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The World Health Organization has designated a newly identified COVID-19 variant as a variant of concern, the organization announced Friday.

The B.1.1.529 variant, now officially called “Omicron” according to the WHO naming system, was first reported by South Africa on Nov. 24, the group said in a press release. The first known infection with the variant was from a specimen collected on Nov. 9.

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“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the organization wrote.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.”

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A “variant of concern” typically has characteristics like increased transmissibility, disease severity or immune escape – meaning that immunity granted through vaccination or previous infection with COVID-19 is likely to be less strong against this variant, the WHO said.

With the designation of the Omicron variant as a variant of concern, the WHO is asking countries to enhance surveillance activities, report findings to the WHO, and report initial cases and clusters of infection.

A number of countries have already announced travel restrictions to South Africa and other nations that have reported cases of this COVID-19 variant.

This is a developing story. More information to come.

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