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Omicron strain detected in 57 countries, WHO says

The Omicron coronavirus strain has been detected in 57 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Wednesday.

The organization’s COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update noted that "at present, Omicron cases have been reported in 57 countries across all WHO regions."

Experts noted the fact that the number of detected coronavirus infections is quickly growing in the south of Africa. Although "drivers of these increases remain unknown," it is "plausible" that this was caused by the spread of Omicron in this region as well as by enhanced testing for the presence of the coronavirus after this strain was designated as a "Variant of Concern" (VOC).

The WHO stressed that "preliminary analysis suggests that the mutations present in the Omicron variant may reduce neutralising activity of antibodies resulting in reduced protection from natural immunity." According to the organization, this explains "why the variant seems to be spreading rapidly in a highly immune population such as South Africa."

According to the WHO, additional information is needed in order to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines against the Omicron strain. "There is a need for more data to assess whether the mutations present on the Omicron variant may result in reduced protection from vaccine derived immunity and data on vaccine effectiveness, including the use of additional vaccination doses," the experts stated. It is stressed that "WHO will continue to work with partners to monitor and evaluate these data once they become available."

The organization noted reports according to which "the Omicron variant may have a growth advantage over other circulating variants." At the same time, the experts do not know yet "whether this will translate into increased transmissibility." Information on the clinical severity of the Omicron variant is also limited. Citing those 212 infections with this strain detected in 18 EU countries, the experts noted that the course of the disease was "asymptomatic or mild."

[Source: Tass, Geneva, 08Dec21]

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