The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed its technical brief and plan in anticipation of the effects of the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant.
The latest strain of COVID-19 was first identified as a ‘variant of concern’ on November 26, 2021.
Omicron was revealed as spreading faster than the Delta variant, and as being a ‘highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations’.
Yesterday, December 12, the WHO released a report titled, ‘Enhancing readiness for Omicron (B.1.1.529): Technical Brief and Priority Actions for Member States,’ which details its latest predictions for the new variant.
So far, 63 countries have been identified as having cases of the latest variant, according to the WHO.
The overall threat posed by Omicron largely depends on three key questions, including: (1) how transmissible the variant is; (2) how well vaccines and prior infection protect against infection, transmission, clinical disease and death; and (3) how virulent the variant is compared to other variants.
Public health advice is based on current information and will be tailored as more evidence emerges around those key questions.
At this moment in time, the WHO predicts that the ‘current limited evidence’ suggests that the latest variant ‘appears to have a growth advantage over Delta’.
It noted that the new variant appears to spread quickly in countries that have high levels of population immunity, such as the UK, but also countries with lower levels, such as South Africa.
‘Whether Omicron’s observed rapid growth rate in countries with high levels of population immunity is related to immune evasion, intrinsic increased transmissibility, or a combination of both remains uncertain,’ it said.
Despite the WHO predicting that the Omicron variant ‘will outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs’, it noted that ‘preliminary findings from South Africa suggest it may be less severe than the Delta’.
Symptoms of those who have contracted the new variant have been ‘mild or asymptomatic’ for those in the EU/EEA, however the organization admitted that ‘more data’ was needed.
According to ‘preliminary evidence’, the vaccine is thought to be less efficient in protecting against the Omicron variant, whether that be passing it on to someone else or contracting it.
However, the new variant is still considered to be detectable via routine PCR and lateral flow tests.