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The omicron variant of the coronavirus has now been found in 23 countries and while there is still a lot to learn about the new strain, there is no indication that existing COVID-19 vaccines will not continue to save lives, according to the World Health Organization.
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on Wednesday, Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical manager of the WHO’s health emergency program, said scientists expect to learn more quickly about the speed to which the new variant spreads and its severity.
Although these are “the first few days,” there are “some indications that some of the patients have mild illness,” Van Kerkhove said.
“We expect to have more information on the transmission within days, not necessarily weeks, [and] in days in terms of the severity profile, ”she said.
Omicron, declared a “variant of concern” by the WHO last week after being identified in South Africa, quickly became a source of global concern amid speculation that it could eventually evade vaccines and gain immunity to the disease. infection with earlier strains, including the now dominant Delta variant strain.
Van Kerkhove said she wanted reporters at the press conference to clarify “that there is no indication to suggest that the vaccines will not work even if there is a reduction in effectiveness.”
“It’s still better to have the vaccine because it will save your life,” she said.
She warned that what continues to promote infections is “increased social mix in the context of inappropriate use of public health and social measures. Not lockdown, but things like masking, hygiene of the hands, distancing, improved ventilation, etc. “
“And in that context, if any of these types of factors are circulating in a virus, it will benefit,” she said.
Van Kerkhove praised South Africa for its transparency and willingness “to share not only data, not only information, but also samples”. But she said travel bans within the country “have posed problems for these samples to actually be shipped out of the country.”
Meanwhile, South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases on Wednesday reported a doubling of coronavirus cases to 8,561 in the past 24 hours. However, he said the number of deaths and hospitalizations had not changed significantly.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for “tailor-made” travel restrictions, including testing on travelers before and after arriving in a country, and advised against blanket bans that “pose a problem. heavy burden on life and livelihood ”.
Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergency program, said there were “contradictions” inherent in selective travel bans.
“[Does] the virus read your passport? “he said.” Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident? “