The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated an emerging strain of Covid-19, which originated in South Africa and has been named Omicron, as a “variant of concern.”
Ahead of the WHO designation, both the European Union (US) and United States announced plans to to block travel from the region in hopes of curtailing its spread, joining Britain’s decision on Thursday and Friday decisions by France, Japan, Israel, Italy and the Philippines, among several others.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO’s technical advisory group for Covid-19 said in a statement.
South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases confirmed Thursday the new variant, which comes with 32 mutations and has been spreading in three different provinces there.
Health experts have said that while data on the new variant, expected to be named for the Greek letter “Nu,” is still developing, so far it is spreading at a faster pace than the Delta variant. Israel has already reported three suspected cases of the new variant in their country.
“This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-susceptibility,” said Jenny Harries, chief executive of the British Health Security Agency, according to Politico.