Story at a glance

  • Officials have yet to identify any omicron cases in the U.S., but health experts say the strain will inevitably be identified in the U.S. at some point.
  • Researchers are racing to determine the strain’s effect on severity of illness, transmissibility and whether it can erode or evade immunity provided by current vaccines.
  • Those questions are expected to be answered in the coming weeks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been identified in more than 20 countries as of Wednesday, and that number is expected to rise. 

“The emergence of the omicron variant has understandably captured global attention,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news briefing.

“At least 23 countries from five of six WHO regions have now reported cases of omicron, and we expect that number to grow. WHO takes this development extremely seriously, and so should every country. But it should not surprise us. This is what viruses do,” Tedros said. 

“And it’s what this virus will continue to do, as long as we allow it to continue spreading,” he added. 


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The WHO last week designated the omicron strain, initially detected in South Africa, a variant of concern due to its high number of mutations, some of which may be associated with immune escape and higher transmissibility. The global body warned the variant poses a “very high” risk across the globe but cautioned there’s still much to learn about the strain. 

Researchers are racing to determine the strain’s effect on severity of illness, transmissibility and whether it can erode or evade immunity provided by current vaccines. Those questions are expected to be answered in the coming weeks. 

Officials have yet to identify any omicron cases in the U.S., but health experts say the strain will inevitably be identified in the U.S. at some point. 

The Biden administration imposed travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other African countries in an effort to control the spread of the new omicron variant. The new travel restrictions do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents, though they must show proof of a negative test prior to traveling to the U.S.


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Published on Dec 01, 2021