By Ezra Odogu
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has now been detected in 89 countries.
Omicron — labelled a “variant of concern” — was detected by South African authorities and subsequently reported to the WHO.
Following the discovery of the new variant, there have been concerns about its possible higher transmissibility due to the increase in COVID cases experienced in South Africa.
In a statement on Saturday, the WHO said there is consistent evidence that Omicron has a substantial growth advantage over Delta.
It added that “given current available data, it is likely that Omicron will outpace Delta where community transmission occurs”.
“As of 16 December 2021, the Omicron variant has been identified in 89 countries across all six WHO regions. Current understanding of the Omicron variant will continue to evolve as more data becomes available,” the statement reads.
“It is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant in countries with documented community transmission, with a doubling time between 1.5–3 days. Omicron is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity and it remains uncertain to what extent the observed rapid growth rate can be attributed to immune evasion, intrinsic increased transmissibility or a combination of both.
“There are still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron. More data are needed to understand the severity profile and how severity is impacted by vaccination and pre-existing immunity. Hospitalizations in the UK and South Africa continue to rise, and given rapidly increasing case counts, it is possible that many healthcare systems may become quickly overwhelmed.
“Preliminary data suggest that there is a reduction in neutralizing titres against Omicron in those who have received a primary vaccination series or in those who have had prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, which may suggest a level of humoral immune evasion.
“There are still limited available data, and no peer-reviewed evidence, on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to date for Omicron.”