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Experts warned that the appearance of strain B.1.1.529 in South Africa coincided with a strong upturn in infections.
The technical leader of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the fight against Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said Friday that the new variant identified a few days ago in South Africa, called B.1.1.529, was baptized with the Greek letter Omicron and is a risk variant.
During this day, the WHO group of experts met on an emergency basis to analyze the impact of the new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, detected in South Africa, although it does not mean that it originated there.
According to media reports, experts warn that the appearance of this variant, first confirmed in a specimen collected on November 9, coincided with a sharp increase in infections in that African nation.
In an audiovisual broadcast through social networks, Kerkhove explained that not much is yet known about the new variant, which would have around 30 mutations with respect to the original strain of the virus detected at the end of 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
"What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that when there are so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves," he said.
The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution met today to review what is known about the #COVID19 variant B.1.1.529. They advised WHO that it should be designated a Variant of Concern. WHO has named it Omicron, in line with naming protocols https://t.co/bSbVas9ydspic.twitter.com/Gev1zIt1Ek
He added that at the moment less than 100 complete genome sequences of this variant are available, and it could take weeks to determine its impact on the vaccines designed so far to deal with COVID-19.
During the last hours, several countries began to suspend flights to the southern part of the African continent.
According to press reports, about thirty cases of the omicron variant have already been confirmed in South Africa, neighboring countries, and in distant countries such as Hong Kong (China) or Belgium.