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China Daily Global / 2021-12 / 09 / Page007

Experts: Omicron likely no worse than other variants

China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-12-09 00:00

GENEVA-The Omicron variant appears to be no worse than other coronavirus strains, top scientists from the WHO and the United States say while stressing that more research is needed to judge its severity.

Although it is likely more transmissible than previous variants, Omicron is also "highly unlikely "to completely evade vaccine protections, the World Health Organization's second-in-command told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

"The preliminary data doesn't indicate that this is more severe. In fact, if anything, the direction is toward less severity," WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said in an interview.

Ryan, while highlighting the need for research, also said there was no sign that Omicron could fully sidestep protections provided by existing COVID-19 vaccines.

However, Ryan acknowledged that it was possible that existing vaccines might prove less effective against Omicron, which counts more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that dots the surface of the coronavirus and allows it to invade cells.

Top US scientist Anthony Fauci echoed the global health agency's view, saying Omicron did not appear worse than prior strains based on early indications-and was possibly milder.

The new variant is "clearly highly transmissible", very likely more so than Delta, the current dominant global strain, he told AFP.

"It almost certainly is not more severe than Delta," said Fauci, who advises US President Joe Biden. "There is some suggestion that it might even be less severe."

The hopeful assessments came as global concern grew over the heavily mutated variant, which has forced dozens of nations to reimpose border restrictions and raised the possibility of a return of economically punishing lockdowns.

At least eight countries in Africa had reported the highly mutating variant as of Dec 2, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Jane Aceng, the minister of health in Uganda, the variant may have spread widely across the globe before it was detected, because at least 38 countries across the world have so far reported its presence.

She said Uganda detected seven cases of the Omicron variant in five travelers from Nigeria and two from South Africa.

Aceng, speaking on Tuesday, said the patients are not severely ill, so there is no need to worry even though the variant seems to be highly transmissible.

Namibian President Hage Geingob said on Monday that the country had detected 18 cases of the Omicron variant.

Enhancing surveillance

To contain spread of the variant, Geingob said the country will strengthen surveillance and response, including immediate contact tracing of close contacts.

As European Union health ministers were meeting on Tuesday to find ways to coordinate their response, Norway announced it would tighten restrictions to combat its surge.

Neighboring Sweden said on Tuesday it would also launch a series of anti-coronavirus measures.

Elsewhere in Europe, Poland said that from Dec 15, it will restrict the number of people allowed in churches, restaurants and theaters, and make vaccinations compulsory for healthcare workers, teachers and military personnel from March 1.

Agencies - China Daily

A woman lights one of more than 11,000 candles-one for each Swiss victim of the COVID-19 pandemic-during a candlelight vigil outside the federal parliament in Bern on Tuesday. ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS



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