The UN health body has given the new variant a name and said it is a variant of concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) urged against hasty travel curbs while it gathers more data.

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The World Health Organization on Friday classified the new B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant as a ‘variant of concern’ and gave it the name omicron.

It held an urgent meeting in Geneva over the risks posed by the omicron variant, first discovered in South Africa.

The variant has caused stock markets to plummet and led to a suspension of flights from southern African countries.

However, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier urged countries against quickly imposing travel restrictions, saying officials should take a “risk-based and scientific approach.”

“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” Lindmeier said.

Concerns that this variant will ‘evade’ vaccines
Ahead of the meeting, the WHO’s Special Envoy on COVID-19, David Nabarro, told the BBC that, in his view, “it is appropriate to be concerned” about the new variant spreading in southern Africa.

“I’ll tell you why — the virus looks like it will have greater capacity to evade the defenses that we’ve all built up as a result of the vaccinations we’ve received since the beginning of this year.”

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirmed that there had been 22 confirmed cases of the omicron variant.

Fewer than 100 full genome sequences of the variant are so far available according to the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, Maria Kerkhove.

She said it would take a few weeks to determine whether it should be identified as a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern.”

“Everybody that’s out there needs to understand that the more this virus circulates, the more opportunities the virus has to change, the more mutations we will see,” Kerkhove said.

Currently only 6.6% of people on the African continent have been fully vaccinated. However, fears are also growing in areas with much higher vaccination rate

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