The World Health Organization has assessed the overall global risk related to a newly discovered variant of the novel coronavirus as “very high.”
In a technical brief published Sunday, the WHO explained that omicron, or B.1.1.529, “is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations,” some of which it said “are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility.”
“Given mutations that may confer immune escape potential and possibly transmissibility advantage, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high,” the WHO concluded in a risk assessment. “Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors including where surges may take place.”
The variant was first identified in southern Africa last week and has quickly spread to several countries across the globe, sparking new travel restrictions and shaking financial markets. On Friday, the WHO officially named the variant omicron and designated it as a “variant of concern.” Both the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that variants of concern have shown to spread more easily than others and cause more severe disease.
While omicron has not yet been detected in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, told ABC News on Sunday that the variant will “inevitably” arrive.
“The question is,” he added, “will we be prepared for it?”