The US and Australia became the latest countries to confirm locally transmitted cases of the variant, as Omicron infections pushed South Africa’s total cases past three million.
The WHO warned it could take weeks to determine how infectious the variant is, whether it causes more severe illness and how effective treatments and vaccines are against it.
‘We’re going to get the answers that everybody out there needs,’ WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said.
The WHO said yesterday it had still not seen any reports of deaths related to Omicron, but the new variant’s spread has led to warnings that it could cause more than half of Europe’s Covid cases in the next few months.
The new variant could also slow global economic recovery, just as the Delta strain did, International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said on Friday.
‘Even before the arrival of this new variant, we were concerned that the recovery, while it continues, is losing somewhat momentum,’ she said.
‘A new variant that may spread very rapidly can dent confidence.’
Health Secretary Sajid Javid today met with the World Health Organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, describing it as ‘productive’.
He tweeted: ‘Productive meeting with @DrTedros and his team to share our findings so far on Omicron.
‘We continue to work with @WHO on our global treaty to prepare for and respond to future pandemics, and on building a global surveillance network.’
Data in South Africa shows the R-rate has soared to over three per cent in recent weeks as Omicron took hold in Gauteng province+5