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WHO designates new South African #B11529 strain a “variant of concern”, names it Omicron

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the new B11529 coronavirus strain a “variant of concern” high priority risks rating and named it Omicron, under its Greek-letter system.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the UN public health body said in a statement.

“The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November”, the statement added.

Earlier on Friday, the WHO said the number of cases of this variant, initially named B.1.1.529, appeared to be increasing in almost all of South Africa’s provinces.

Omicron has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel.

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Following the cases of the new variant, a number of countries around the world have banned or restricted travel to and from southern Africa.

WHO has cautioned against hasty measures, with a South African scientist labelled London’s decision to impose travel curbs a symptom of “vaccine apartheid”.

The WHO has said it would take weeks to determine how effective vaccines were against the variant, which was first identified this week.

The European Union and the United Kingdom were among those countries that are tightening border controls as researchers sought to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.

Saman Siddiqui

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