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WHO warns world creating recipe for new variants

2021-12-02 HKT 02:17
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  • A woman receives a coronavirus vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria. File photo: AP
    A woman receives a coronavirus vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria. File photo: AP
The WHO warned on Wednesday that the world was creating toxic conditions for new Covid-19 variants like Omicron to emerge and then spread around the globe.

The World Health Organisation said the combination of low vaccination coverage across the planet, mixed with very low testing to track the virus, was a fertile breeding ground.

The UN health agency stressed that measures to stop the globally-dominant Delta variant would also hinder Omicron.

The new variant of concern has rattled countries around the world.

"We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from Delta. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from Omicron," WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference.

"But if countries and individuals don't do what they need to do to stop transmission of Delta, they won't stop Omicron either.

"Globally, we have a toxic mix of low vaccine coverage, and very low testing – a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants.

"That's why we continue to urge countries to... ensure equitable access to vaccines, tests and therapeutics all over the world."

Omicron was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24, while the first known laboratory-confirmed case was identified from a specimen collected on November 9.

The Netherlands said on Tuesday it had found the variant in two samples taken on November 19 and 23, one having recently been to southern Africa and the other having no travel history.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's Covid-19 technical lead, said timelines around first detections of Omicron may change as there was a backlog of sequencing of cases that occurred in November.

Tedros said the WHO was taking the emergence of Omicron "extremely seriously", but added that the mutation "should not surprise us. This is what viruses do.

"And it's what this virus will continue to do, as we long as we allow it to continue spreading."

Tedros said Omicron was in at least 23 countries – with that number expected to grow. (AFP)