Omicron variant was spreading beyond Africa before it was identified, new evidence suggests

Omicron variant was spreading beyond Africa before it was identified, new evidence suggests

12/1/2021 4:11:00 PM

Omicron variant was spreading beyond Africa before it was identified, new evidence suggests

World health officials scrambled to react to the growing omicron outbreak Wednesday amid new evidence that the variant may have been spreading earlier than first detected.

."It will be coming," Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting director of the CDC, told NBC News Tuesday night."Being ready for it and being able to react based on how severe it is — is critically important."Download theNBC News appfor breaking news and politics

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The discovery of omicron has sparked international concern that it could prolong the pandemic, which has already claimed more than 5 million lives worldwide. Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more transmissible, leads to more severe illness or can escape immune defenses rendered by the vaccines.

That lack of certainty has prompted several countries to enact sweeping travel bans.Japanwas the latest to ban all foreign visitors starting Tuesday as it confirmed its first omicron case. In a further tightening of restrictions Wednesday, the country's flag airlines halted new reservations for international flights to Japan until the end of December, Reuters reported.

Dec. 1, 202101:41WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned against hasty travel bans, saying southern African countries that first reported the new variant are being “penalized” for doing the right thing.“I well understand the concern of all countries to protect their citizens against a variant that we don’t yet fully understand,” Tedros said. “But I am equally concerned that several member states are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities.”

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Tedros also warned that thedelta variant, which accounts for almost all cases globally, remains highly transmissible and dangerous.Also on Wednesday, the WHO agreed to launch negotiations on an international pact to prevent and control future pandemics, calling it a"once-in-a-generation opportunity" to strengthen global health response systems.

Tedros urged member states to end the current pandemic as"a matter of choice," and work towards vaccinating 40 percent of the population of every country by the end of this year.Yuliya Talmazan is a London-based journalist.

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