WHO warns Omicron variant poses ‘very high’ global risk
Geneva, Nov 29 (EFE).- The new Omicron variant poses a “very high” global risk of new Covid-19 waves sweeping across countries with “serious consequences,” the World Health Organization warned on Monday.
“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said at a special session that will last three days.
“The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high,” the WHO said in a statement.
The agency encouraged countries to increase surveillance measures, to report possible cases or outbreaks of the new variant, boost vaccination of vulnerable people and for international laboratories to accelerate the necessary sequencing work to analyze Omicron’s structure.
The WHO said national authorities would have to use scientific data to inform policies on international travel at a time when several countries, particularly in Europe, are scrambling to roll out fresh restrictions.
Cases of the new variant have been detected in four regions: Africa, Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.
The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant was detected on November 9 in South Africa, and just two days later another infection was identified in neighboring Botswana.
Portugal’s national health institute (INSA) on Monday confirmed 13 suspected cases of the Omicron variant in the country.
The outbreak involves players from the Portuguese First Division team Belenenses after South African defender Cafu Phete returned to Portugal on November 22 after playing two games with his national squad, sources from the football team told Efe.
According to the health authority, there are clear signs that all 13 cases are “related to the Omicron variant” although samples will need to be sequenced, INSA sources told Efe.
The players, and anyone they came into contact with, are isolating and in quarantine.
However, a league game against Benfica went ahead on Saturday night.
Because of the outbreak, Belenenses could only field nine players and just six returned to the pitch after half-time, by which time the Lisbon team was down 7-0.
The match was suspended two minutes into the second half but it was too late to quell a public outcry over the game going ahead in the first place. League officials are due to meet Monday to clarify the situation.
Other European nations have identified Omicron outbreaks.
Scottish health authorities on Monday identified six cases of the newly-identified variant, including some cases without travel history, which suggests a level of community transmission.
Austria’s health ministry reported its first Omicron case, which was detected in a person who recently returned from South Africa.
Meanwhile, Dutch authorities detained a Spanish national and a Portuguese national who left a hotel where they were quarantined with passengers who were on a plane from South Africa, on which authorities detected 13 cases of the new variant. The pair were attempting to flee the Netherlands to Spain.EFE