WHO Chief Scientist urges people not to panic over Omicron


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GENEVA, Dec. 3 (Reuters) – The chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday urged people not to panic over the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant and said he was too early to say whether vaccines should be reworked.

Speaking in an interview at the Reuters Next conference,

Soumya Swaminathan said it was impossible to predict whether Omicron would become the dominant strain.

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Omicron has gained a foothold in Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and Europe and has reached seven of South Africa’s nine provinces, where it was first identified. read more Many governments have tightened travel rules to prevent the variant from entering.

Swaminathan said Omicron “is highly transmissible” and cited data from South Africa showing the number of cases is doubling daily.

“How worried should we be? We have to be prepared and careful, don’t panic, because we are in a different situation from a year ago,” she said.

“The delta accounts for 99% of the infections in the world. This variant should be more transmissible to outperform the competition and become dominant in the world. It is possible, but it is not possible to predict.”

Much remains unknown about Omicron, which has been detected in more than two dozen countries as parts of Europe grapple with a wave of infections from the more familiar Delta variant.

“We have to wait, let’s hope it’s smoother… but it’s too early to conclude on the variant as a whole,” said Swaminathan.

WHO Emergency Director Mike Ryan said there was no evidence to support a change in vaccines to make them suitable for Omicron.

“Right now we have some very effective vaccines that are working. We must focus on their more equitable distribution. We need to focus on vaccinating those most at risk, ”Ryan said at a social media event.

WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told a UN briefing in Geneva that vaccine makers should prepare for the likelihood of adjusting their products. Read more

Ugur Sahin, CEO of German company BioNTech (22UAy.DE), which is making a COVID vaccine with Pfizer (PFE.N), told the Reuters Next conference that the company should be able to adapt the shots relatively quickly .

Sahin also said current vaccines should continue to provide protection against serious illnesses, despite the mutations.

People walk along a platform at Kings Cross Station during the morning rush hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain on December 1, 2021. REUTERS / Henry Nicholls

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“I believe in principle that at some point we will need a new vaccine against this new variant. The question is how urgently it needs to be available,” Sahin said. Read more


Australia became the latest country to report community transmission of the new variant, a day after it was found in five US states.

Nearly 264 million people have reportedly been infected with the coronavirus since it was first detected in central China in late 2019 and 5.48 million people have died, according to a Reuters tally. Read more

Immunization rates vary from country to country, but there are worrying gaps in the poorest countries. Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country and once the epicenter of COVID-19 in Asia, has only fully inoculated about 35% of its population.

In the United States, the Biden administration has announced measures to guard against the spread of the virus. From Monday, international air travelers arriving in the United States will be required to have tested negative for COVID-19 within one day of their trip. Read more

“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” President Joe Biden said.

Less than 60% of the American population has been fully immunized, one of the lowest rates among wealthy countries.

In addition to wreaking havoc on the travel industry, the crackdown hit financial markets and undermined major economies as they began to recover from lockdowns triggered by Delta.

Bank of England policymaker Michael Saunders, who voted for an interest rate hike last month, said on Friday he wanted more information on Omicron before deciding how to vote this month.

“At this time, given that the new Omicron COVID variant was only detected very recently, there might be particular benefits to waiting to see more evidence of its possible effects on public health outcomes and therefore on the economy, ”Saunders said in a speech.

Germany has said it will ban unvaccinated people from all but essentials, and legislation making vaccination mandatory would be drafted early next year. Read more

Several countries, including Britain and the United States, have presented plans to offer booster shots, but, like the travel bans, they are controversial.

Many scientists say the way to stop the spread of the virus is to make sure poorer countries have access to vaccines, not to give general booster shots to people in richer countries.

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Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Stephen Coates and Nick Macfie; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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