The World Health Organization calls for a balanced response to the novel virus variant

The World Health Organization has called for a balanced global response to the Omicron coronavirus variant, saying countries that have reported cases of the new strain should not be penalized, as South African scientists behind its discovery prepare to ship samples to labs around the world.

The discovery of a new type of highly mutated novel coronavirus in Botswana earlier this month alarmed global health officials, as it appears to be behind the surge in cases in South Africa. The so-called Omicron variant displays initial characteristics that suggest it is capable of re-infecting patients and evading vaccines. It is not yet known if it worsens symptoms.

A number of countries have imposed severe restrictions on travel to the southern African region. Switzerland has also imposed travel restrictions from Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium, where two cases of the variant have been confirmed.

Stock markets fell on Friday Investors have grappled with the prospect that much of the progress made in recovering from the pandemic will be undone.

“We have countries reporting this information and we don’t want them to be further stigmatized,” Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for Covid-19 at the World Health Organization, told the Financial Times. “There has to be a balance in the response.”

When asked whether travel ban Justified, Van Kerkhove said countries should increase monitoring for this and other variables, increase testing capacity and do “smart sequencing” that was “more geographically representative, covering more countries, strategically testing not just more, but more strategic locations.”

“We need people to have a measured approach to risk,” she said. “Delta [still] It spreads all over the world and kills people all over the world. We cannot forget how many people have delta.”

If global access to vaccines were more equal, Van Kerkhove said, “we would be in a very different epidemiological situation.”[al] and the economic situation around the world. You will have protection for the poor and weak, and fewer deaths.”

The World Health Organization has taken the unusual step of saying a variant Omicron was “a concern” On Friday, skip the intermediate “important” step. This move has limited practical implications, but it serves as a signal to the world that the issue is serious.

Scientists at the World Health Organization’s Technical Advisory Group on Vaccine Development debated whether to designate it as an “interesting variant” first, but decided to give it the highest rating after agreeing that slow responses in key moments prior to the pandemic were disastrous, according to people familiar with the matter. what was said.

Tulio de Oliveira, one of the scientists behind the Omicron discovery and head of the South African Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said the country has “punished with vaccine hoarding, travel bans and discrimination since the beta discovery.” [variant] And now Omicron”.

“If this continues, we risk that many countries will stop reporting on new variables and the risks of the world returning to the first phase of the epidemic,” he told the Financial Times.

De Oliveira said he has received requests from the US National Institutes of Health, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the UK’s Health Security Agency and Porton Down Laboratories to share virus stocks.

“We will do the same thing we did with Beta – send a virus stockpile to all the major biosecurity agencies in the world.”

“We have always been very cooperative with all the major security agencies in the world so key questions can be answered as quickly as possible,” he said. “We don’t send samples to private companies but we work through our government with other government biosecurity organizations.”

Van Kerkhove said information about vaccines and immune responses was expected in at least two to three weeks. © AFP via Getty Images

Van Kerkhove said that Omicron appears to display a so-called “growth advantage,” as the proxy procedure for detecting it — a gene missing in PCR assays — has been increasingly present in growing cases.

It did not provide an overall estimate of the detected cases.

It was not known where the variant originated from, she said, but one hypothesis under study suggested that it may have come from an immunocompromised patient who was unable to clear the virus completely and in whom the virus recurred for an extended period of time.

Van Kerkhove stressed that the WHO did not want people to panic, and that “there are already sharing agreements in place where the virus can be shared, so that scientists can collaborate in real time” on studying the impact of vaccines and immune responses. She said results were expected within two to three weeks at the earliest.

This “could be” the moment in December 2019/January 2020, Van Kerkhove said, when the world first learned of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.

“South Africa submitted to [the WHO] this week. “We acted quickly,” she said. “no regret.”

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