The Omicron variant has been reported in 57 nations, with COVID cases rising in southern Africa including Zimbabwe, and the number of patients needing hospitalisation is likely to rise as it spreads, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
The WHO, in its weekly epidemiological report, said more data was needed to assess the severity of disease caused by the Omicron variant and whether its mutations may reduce protection from vaccine-derived immunity.
“Even if the severity is equal or potentially even lower than for Delta variant, it is expected that hospitalizations will increase if more people become infected and that there will be a time lag between an increase in the incidence of cases and an increase in the incidence of deaths,” it said.
About the Omicron variant
On November 26, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, named Omicron, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes. Here is a summary of what is currently known.
Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available.
It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.