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  • WHO says Omicron poses very high global risk, world must prepare
  • Still unclear if variant causes more severe disease
  • Biden says variant is cause for concern, not for panic

GENEVA/JOHANNESBURG, Nov 29 (Reuters) — The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday the Omicron coronavirus variant carried a very high risk of infection surges, while border closures by more countriescast a shadow over an economic recovery from the two-year pandemic.

Big airlines acted swiftly to protect their hubs by curbing passenger travel from southern Africa, where the new Omicron variant was first detected, fearing that a spread of the variant would trigger restrictions from other destinations beyond the immediately affected regions, industry sources said. read more

But shares in carriers bounced back with the rest of the market on Monday following Friday’s rout as hopes grew that the variant might prove to be milder than initially feared. read more

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President Joe Biden urged Americans not to panic and said the United States was working with pharmaceutical companies to make contingency plans if new vaccines were needed. read more

Biden said the country would not go back to lockdowns this winter, but urged people to get vaccinated, get their boosters and wear masks.

«This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,» Biden said in remarks at the White House following a meeting with his COVID-19 team. «We’re going to fight and beat this new variant.»

The United States has blocked entry for most visitors from eight southern African nations. Biden said the travel restrictions would give the U.S. time to get more people vaccinated.

Vaccine hesitancy in the United States and elsewhere has thwarted public health officials’ attempts to control the virus.

On Monday, afederal judge ruled that the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for healthcare workers likely exceeded its authority. read more

The WHO advised its 194 member nations that any surge in infections could have severe consequences, but said no deaths had yet been linked to the new variant.

«Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,» the WHO said. «The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.»

NEEDS MORE RESEARCH

Further research was needed to understand Omicron’s potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it added.

An infectious disease expert from South Africa, where scientists first identified Omicron, said it was too early to say whether symptoms were more severe than previous variants, but the variant did appear to be more transmissible.

The expert, Salim Abdool Karim, also a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, said existing vaccines were probably effective at stopping Omicron from causing severe illness. Scientists have said it could take weeks to understand the severity of Omicron.

South African cases were likely to exceed 10,000 a day this week, up from barely 300 a day two weeks ago, Karim…

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Read More: WHO flags Omicron risk, travel curbs tighten, Biden urges vaccination

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