Meanwhile, the U.S. administration is introducing new restrictions on entry from some African countries.
The World Health Organization said that a new strain of COVID-19, originally called B.1.1.529, recently discovered in South Africa, is of concern to epidemiologists. WHO officially renamed the new strain, naming it Omicron.
“Based on the presented data indicating detrimental changes in the epidemiology of COVID-19… WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as an option of concern, assigning it the name Omicron,” the agency said in a statement.
The statement was made based on a decision by an independent technical advisory group tracking the evolution of the SARS-CoV virus. The experts in the group periodically assess the development of the virus and how certain mutations can affect its behavior.
The first report of a new strain of coronavirus called B.1.1.529 detected in South Africa was received by WHO on November 24. The statement says that since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, three peaks of infections have been registered in South Africa, the last of which was associated with the Delta strain and has already begun to decline.
However, in recent weeks, the number of infections in the country has increased dramatically, which coincided with the identification of the strain B.1.1.529. The first analysis confirming the appearance of a new strain was made on November 9.
“This strain has a large number of mutations, some of which are worrisome. Preliminary data indicate an increased risk of re-infection with this strain,” WHO representatives said.
Experts continue to assess the possible consequences and features of the new strain.
WHO recommended that the Governments of all countries strengthen epidemiological control, send the identified complete genome sequences of the new strain to publicly available databases, and inform WHO in a timely manner about the initial cases of infection and clusters associated with the Omicron strain.
The decision of the U.S. administration
On Friday afternoon, based on the recommendations of the Chief Medical Adviser to the President and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. administration announced that starting Monday, restrictions will be imposed on travel from the Republic of South Africa, as well as from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The restrictions will not affect U.S. citizens and owners of American green cards. However, to board the flight, they will need to provide a negative test result for COVID-19.
“President Biden promised to take all necessary measures to keep Americans safe and defeat the pandemic, and this step was recommended by U.S. government medical experts and the White House COVID-19 working group,” the White House said in a statement.