WHO says Omicron has been found in 89 countries, with cases doubling every few days

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad, said Saturday the World Health Organization.

The variant, first discovered in late November, has spread rapidly even in countries with high vaccination rates or where a significant proportion of the population has recovered from the disease, but it is not yet clear whether Omicron’s rate of transmission was due to it being less prone to immune responses, higher transmissibility, or a combination of the two, the WHO said.

“There is still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron. More data is needed to understand the severity profile and how severity is affected by vaccination and pre-existing immunity, ”the organization said.

“There is still limited data available and no peer-reviewed evidence on the efficacy or efficacy of the vaccine to date for Omicron,” he added.

But Omicron’s “substantial growth advantage” over the Delta variant means that it is likely to soon overtake Delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, the said. United Nations health agency.

South Africa reported Omicron to the WHO on November 24, urging countries around the world to impose travel bans and reintroduce national restrictions to slow its spread.

The WHO said earlier this week that Omicron was more transmissible than the Delta strain and reduced the vaccine’s effectiveness but caused less severe symptoms, early data showed.

Faster transmission has been noted in South Africa, where Delta is less common, and Great Britain, where Delta is the dominant strain.

Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, noted On Friday that “we have had” two years of serial transmission in millions upon millions of human beings, so the virus has had two years to really become much better suited to enter human cells.

The Omicron variant has “a change in its genetic sequence that altered the shape … and the ability of the spike protein to attach to human cells … and this is probably what gives it its inheritance advantage.” Ryan said, adding that there are still many unknowns such as the virus variant’s ability to survive on surfaces.

An Israeli receives a dose of the COVID vaccine in Katzrin, Golan Heights, December 12, 2021 (Michael Giladi / Flash90)

In Israel, the latest figures from the Ministry of Health on the coronavirus released on Friday showed 838 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed the day before, the highest daily figure for about two months.

The number represented an increase of 181 from the previous day, as the pandemic appeared to be on an upward trajectory in Israel once again amid concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant.

The latest figures also showed that the reproduction rate of the basic virus in Israel had increased to 1.07. Also known as the “R-number,” the number represents the number of people infected on average by each confirmed patient. Any number greater than 1 means that the number of cases is increasing.

The Omicron coronavirus strain has dominated political discussions, leading Israel to once again close its borders to most foreigners and impose new restrictions on Israelis returning from countries with high infection rates.

The ministry said 45 of the new cases had been confirmed to be of the Omicron variant, bringing the total number of Omicron cases in Israel to 134. Most of the cases were found in people returning from overseas. There were 207 additional probable cases awaiting confirmation.

The ministry added that 92 of the 134 cases involved people considered “protected” with either a booster, two doses in the past six months or recently recovered. He did not say how serious their cases were.

The threat of rapid spread of the new strain also led the government to briefly announce the implementation of the Green Pass system in shopping malls starting Friday (requiring proof of immunity or a negative test to access stores. not essential). But a public outcry from business owners and threats of rebellion have led to the plan being put on hold for the time being.

It is not clear that the increase in infections in Israel was caused by Omicron, but the highly mutated strain is increasingly present in the country.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and some 130 other people in the Knesset entered quarantine on Friday after four members of parliament were confirmed to have the coronavirus, officials said.

At least one is suspected of carrying the Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

There is also growing concern about the spread of the coronavirus among college students. A girls-only religious school in Jerusalem was temporarily closed on Thursday and switched to distance education after at least 62 cases of COVID were reported there (although it is not yet clear whether it will be was Omicron).

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