WHO calls for balanced response to new virus variant

The World Health Organization has called for a balanced global response to the Omicron coronavirus variant, saying countries that report cases of the new strain will not be penalized, as the South African scientists behind Its findings prepare to send samples to laboratories worldwide.

The discovery of a new, highly mutated coronavirus variant in Botswana earlier this month alarmed global health officials, as it appeared to be behind a surge in cases in South Africa. The so-called Omicron variant displays preliminary characteristics that suggest it can re-infect patients and evade vaccines. It is not yet known whether it worsens symptoms.

Several countries have imposed severe travel restrictions on southern Africa. Switzerland has also restricted travel from Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium, where two cases of the variant have been confirmed.

Stock market falls on Friday as investors grapple with the possibility that much of the progress made in post-pandemic recovery could be undone.

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

Asked if travel ban Van Kerkhove said countries should increase surveillance for this and other variants, increase testing capacity and implement “smart sequencing” that is “more geographically representative, including more countries and test strategies, not only more, but strategic locations.”

“We need people to have a measured approach to risk,” she said. “Delta is [still] circulate around the world and kill people all over the world. We cannot forget how many people were infected with Delta.”

Van Kerkhove says that if global access to vaccines were more equal, “we would be in a very different epidemiology.”[al] and economic situation in the world. You will have poor and vulnerable people protected, less deaths.”

WHO took the unusual step of saying that the Omicron . variant is cared” on Friday, skip the intermediate “interested” step. The move has limited practical significance, but it serves as a signal to the world that the problem is serious.

Scientists on the WHO technical advisory group on vaccine development debated whether to designate it as a “variant of interest” first, but decided to give it a high designation. after agreeing that slow responses at key earlier points in the pandemic were catastrophic. familiar with what has been said.

Tulio de Oliveira, one of the scientists behind Omicron’s discovery and head of the South African Center for Epidemiological Response and Innovation, said the country had been “punished for hoarding vaccines, banned travel and discrimination since the discovery of Beta [variant] and now Omicron”.

“If this continues, we run the risk that many countries will stop reporting new variants and the world risks going back to the early stages of the pandemic,” he told the FT.

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 repository.

“We’re going to do the same thing we did with Beta – that’s send the virus stock to all the major biosecurity authorities in the world.”

“We work very closely with all the major security agencies around the world so that important questions can be answered as quickly as possible,” he said. “We do not send samples to private companies but work through our government with other government biosecurity organisations.”

Van Kerkhove says vaccine information and immune responses are expected in two to three weeks at the earliest © AFP via Getty Images

Van Kerkhove said Omicron appears to exhibit a so-called “growth advantage”, as the proxy measure for its detection – a gene missing in PCR tests – is increasingly showing up in cases. .

She would not give an overall estimate of detected cases.

She said that it is not known where the variant originated, but one of the theories under consideration is that it may have come from an infected immunocompromised patient who was unable to completely eradicate the virus. viruses and viruses have multiplied over a considerable period of time.

Van Kerkhove stressed that WHO doesn’t want people to panic and that “there are sharing arrangements in place that can share the virus, so scientists can collaborate in real time” to study the effects of the virus. vaccines and immune responses. She said results would be available within two to three weeks at the earliest.

Van Kerkhove said this is “probably” December 2019/January 2020, when the world first learned of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.

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

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