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World Health Organization warns of risks of Omicron COVID-19 variant

World Health Organization warns of risks of Omicron COVID-19 variant
November 30, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the Omicron Coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a "very high" risk of infection surges that could have "severe consequences" in some areas.

The United Nations agency yesterday urged its 194 member nations to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and, in anticipation of increased case numbers, to "ensure mitigation plans are in place" to maintain essential health services.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised "Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic

"The overall global risk related to the new variant … is assessed as very high."

While the WHO has yet to report deaths linked to Omicron, a statement warned “increasing cases, regardless of a change in severity, may pose overwhelming demands on health care systems and may lead to increased morbidity and mortality.

"The impact on vulnerable populations would be substantial, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage.

"COVID-19 cases and infections are expected in vaccinated persons, albeit in a small and predictable proportion."

With new cases of the Coronavirus variant confirmed around the world, countries announced a reintroduction of border measures, with the Japanese Government announced it will suspend entry of all foreign visitors.

Other countries are also tightening their border and entry controls as fear spreads of yet another extension of pandemic suffering, although the WHO called for frontiers to remain open, noting that the variant had already been detected in many countries and closing borders often had a limited effect.

New restrictions to fight Omicron have already left some international travellers stranded while for many tourism businesses, it’s also threatening hopes of ramping up towards the Christmas holiday period and into 2022.

The timing is also causing concern in the airline industry, with Emirates airline President Tim Clark today advising that a major hit to the peak December travel season because of the Omicron variant would cause "significant traumas" in the global aviation business, which had been seeing a recovery.

In an interview for the Reuters Next conference, Clark said Emirates was working on the basis the newly discovered variant could be dealt with effectively by vaccines, but acknowledged the next few weeks would prove critical for the industry as scientists assess the risks.

In an estimate it made shortly before the discovery of the Omicron variant, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projected the pandemic had cost the world’s tourism industry a loss of US$1.6 trillion in 2021.

Main image: WHO Secretary General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Credit: United Nations.

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