The WHO Says Omicron Is A 'Very High Global Risk' & Here's How Far The Variant Has Spread

"We should be wide awake to the threat of this virus."

Senior Global Editor
The WHO Says Omicron Is A 'Very High Global Risk' & Here's How Far The Variant Has Spread

Every country in the world should be watching out for the Omicron variant.

That’s according to the latest update from the World Health Organization, which warned on Monday that the newest variant of COVID-19 poses a risk to everyone and that stopping travellers will not be enough to keep it out.

“The overall global risk related to the new variant […] is assessed as very high,” the WHO said in a technical briefing. The organization also noted, however, that "the evidence for this assessment contains considerable uncertainty and will be updated as more information becomes available."

"We should be wide awake to the threat of this virus," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a meeting about the new variant.

Omicron started setting off alarm bells in South Africa last Wednesday, and in less than a week, it’s become a named variant of concern on the WHO's global watch list.

"If another major surge of COVID-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe," the WHO said.

Many countries have closed their borders to travellers from infected areas, although Dr. Tedros said the virus will "inevitably land on their shores."

Cases had been detected in over a dozen countries on five continents as of Monday morning.

The locations with reported cases are:

  • Canada
  • South Africa
  • Botswana
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • The United Kingdom
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Hong Kong
  • Israel

Officials are worried about this variant because it has a large number of mutations, meaning it has a lot of new traits that set it apart from other COVID variants such as Delta. Delta was the last notable variant to go global earlier this year after it proved to spread more quickly than earlier instances of the virus.

The WHO says vaccines likely still offer some protection against severe disease and death related to Omicron.

No deaths have been linked to Omicron as of Monday morning, the WHO says.

Health Canada has a robust website with all the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines and can answer any questions you may have.

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