WHO says it is too early to establish whether Ômicron has greater gravity

Variant already detected in 57 countries

Published in 09/12/2021 - 08:02 By RTP - Genebra

The Ômicron variant has already been detected in 57 countries, however over 99% of covid-19 cases continue to be caused by Delta. Although the new strain of coronavirus is spreading rapidly across South Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) believes it is too early to draw conclusions about its transmissibility or impact on combating the pandemic at a global level.

In South Africa, where Ômicron was first reported, the incidence continues to rise, with 62,021 new cases reported between 29 November and 5 December - an increase of 111% from the previous week, according to the latest WHO epidemiological report. So far, according to the same document, cases of the variant have been detected in 57 countries.

"Given, however, the predominant circulation of the Delta variant in many countries, particularly in Europe and the United States, it is too early to draw any conclusions about the impact Ômicron will have on the global epidemiology of covid-19", the experts clarify. in the report released on Wednesday (8), before a collective interview with the WHO.

The European Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that this newer variant will become dominant in Europe in the coming months. However, experts believe that more information is needed to see whether Ômicron is more infectious than other strains or whether vaccines might be less effective.

"While there appears to be evidence that the Omicron variant may have a growth advantage over others in circulation, it is not known whether this means it has greater transmissibility," the report adds.


At yesterday's press conference, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom asked for information to be shared by national authorities with the international community regarding Ômicron, for better follow-up, noting that existing data and known information are preliminary and that it is too early to make firm conclusions regarding the variant.

"Preliminary data from South Africa suggest a higher risk of reinfection with Ômicron, but more data is needed to draw firm conclusions. There is also evidence that Ômicron causes less severe symptoms than Delta, but here too it is too early to be sure," he said.

The WHO Director-General admitted that Ômicron "may have a major impact on the development of the pandemic", but insisted that it was too early to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of current vaccines against covid-19 in relation to the new variant, as well as about the treatments, transmissibility and other factors.

"We have to understand clearly whether the Ômicron variant can replace Delta, so we are asking countries to step up surveillance, testing and gene sequencing," he insisted.

According to the document, in the last 60 days, of the 900,000 cases analyzed by the global network of Gisaid laboratories (one of the SARS-CoV-2 analysis networks with which the WHO works), more than 99% continue to be caused by Delta variant and only 713 (0.1 percent) by Ômicron. However, in one week, the Ômicron cases detected by the Gisaid network increased from 14 to the current 713.

In addition, Ómicron already surpasses the cases of other previously detected variants, such as Alpha or Gamma.


In South Africa, there was an 82% increase in admissions for covid-19 during the week to December 4, but it has not yet been determined how many of these cases were caused by Ômicron. Experts estimate that between 60% and 80% of the South African population has already been infected by the new strain of coronavirus, with only about 35% being vaccinated.

The data are not yet sufficient to conclude whether this strain could cause more serious illness, but of the 212 cases confirmed on December 6 in the European Union, all were classified as asymptomatic or mild.

WHO considers that "even if the severity is equal to or potentially less than that of Delta, admissions are expected to increase if more people are infected".

“It is necessary to have more information to fully understand the clinical picture of people infected with Ômicron”, the report adds.

Last week, the WHO reported that preliminary data suggested that Ômicron mutations may reduce the immune-protective capacity of people who have recovered or been vaccinated against reinfection. However, there is still not enough information for this conclusion.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer has released preliminary results of a study that suggests that two doses of its covid-19 vaccine are effective in neutralizing the variant, but that three doses are needed for an effective inoculation.

Deborah Cromer, a researcher at the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales, told The Guardian that there is "preliminary data indicating a breakdown in immunity against Ômicron", according to blood tests from people who have recovered from covid-19 or who have already been vaccinated.

"All the studies show less immunity against Ômicron than against the original strain of coronavirus, however, the falls recorded vary widely," he said. "The results we've obtained, so far, of people's immunity against the new strain range from half to one fortieth of the immunity present against the original strain."

Therefore, experts believe that a boost in immunity is needed to ensure more protection against the strain.

The secretary-general of the WHO also reaffirmed, yesterday, the need to accelerate the vaccination against covid-19 of the population at greater risk.

"If countries wait for their hospitals to start filling up, it will be too late, we have to act now."

The Ômicron variant, classified as “worrying” by the World Health Organization, has been detected in southern Africa and since the South African health authorities issued the alert on 24 November, infections have been reported in several countries on all continents.

Text translated using artificial intelligence.

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