World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday
urged countries not to panic but to prepare for
the likely spread of COVID-19 Omicron variant
as scientists continue to study it.
Speaking in Geneva, WHO spokesperson
Christian Lindmeier stressed that data
suggesting that Omicron was highly
transmissible was only preliminary.
The UN health agency repeated that it would
take another two weeks before more is known
about how transmissible and how dangerous it
He also repeated WHO advice against blanket
travel bans, except for countries whose health
systems were unable to withstand a surge in
“It is much more preferred to prepare your
country, your health system to possibly
incoming cases because we can be pretty sure
that this Omicron variant will spread around,”
The Delta mutation – declared a variant of
concern this summer – is now “predominant”,
Lindmeier added, “with over 90 per cent all
around the world.
“This is how this virus behaves and we will not
most likely be able to keep it out of individual
The WHO official also cautioned against knee-
jerk reactions to reports that Omicron had
continued to spread.
“Let’s not get deterred right now, let us first get
as much information as possible to make the
correct risk assessment based on the
information that we will have and then let’s
“Let’s not get completely worried or confused
by individual information which are all
individually important, but which need to be
brought together in order to assess together,”
The development comes as WHO said that it
was sending a technical surge team to South
Africa’s Gauteng province to monitor Omicron
and help with contact tracing, amid a spike in
For the seven days leading to Nov. 30, South
Africa reported a 311 per cent increase in new
cases, compared with the previous seven days,
WHO said on Thursday.
Cases in Gauteng province, where
Johannesburg is located, have increased by 375
per cent week on week.
Hospital admissions there rose 4.2 per cent in
the past seven days from the previous week
and COVID-19-related deaths in the province
jumped 28.6 per cent from the previous seven
Dr Salam Gueye, WHO Regional Emergency
Director for Africa, noted that just 102 million
Africans in Africa – 7.5 per cent of the
continental population are now fully
He said that more than 80 per cent of the
population had not received even a single dose,
noting that this is a dangerously wide gap.
In a statement, WHO said that South Africa is
reportedly seeing more patients contracting
COVID-19 after having already been infected, in
a way it did not with previous variants, citing a
microbiologist from the country’s National
Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
Working with African governments to
accelerate studies and bolster the response to
the new variant, WHO is urging countries to
sequence between 75 and 150 samples weekly.
“The detection and timely reporting of the new
variant by Botswana and South Africa has
bought the world time,” said Dr Matshidiso
Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“We have a window of opportunity but must
act quickly and ramp up detection and
“Countries must adjust their COVID-19
response and stop a surge in cases from
sweeping across Africa and possibly
overwhelming already-stretched health
facilities,” Moeti said.