WHO Warns Omicron Variant Poses 'Very High' Global Risk

By Jason Hall

November 29, 2021

Microscopic view of covid-19 omicron variant or B.1.1.529, variant of concern.
Photo: iStockphoto

The World Health Organization said the new omicron variant of COVID-19 poses a "very high" global risk as it continues to spread to more countries amid the ongoing pandemic.

“Omicron's very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we’re done with Covid-19, it’s not done with us,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, told a special session of the World Health Assembly on Monday (November 29) via NBC News.

The announcement comes as a growing number of countries have implemented tighter border restrictions in response to the spreading new variant.

The United Nations agency urged member states to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination coverage "as rapidly as possible," specifically among high-priority groups and increase surveillance and sequencing efforts to combat the spread of 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,” WHO shared on its verified Twitter account. “If another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by omicron, consequences may be severe.”

The omicron variant -- which gets its name from the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet -- was initially detected in Botswana last week and has since been located in South Africa, Germany, Belgium and Hong Kong, officials confirmed to ABC News.

On Sunday (November 28), Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said the new omicron variant of COVID-19 will "inevitably" reach the United States.

"We all know when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here," Dr. Fauci told ABC's "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday (November 28) morning. "The question is, will we be prepared for it?"

Fauci confirmed that the new variant "appears to be" as or more transmissible than the delta variant and other mutations previously detected.

"It has a bunch of mutations," Fauci confirmed, which includes, "a disturbingly large number of mutations in the spike protein, which is the business end of the virus."

Fauci said that traveling during the pandemic is "always risky" but added that if Americans had to travel, it's recommended that they be vaccinated and wear a mask in airports -- which he said were "one of the most congregate settings you can imagine" -- and during flights to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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