MANILA, Philippines – The Omicron variant of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been detected in 24 countries as of Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
The WHO said the United States is the latest country to be included in the list after it confirmed its first case of the heavily mutated and potentially more contagious variant as it continues to spread across borders.
The US said its first case of Omicron variant was a traveler in California who returned from South Africa on November 22. The case tested positive on Monday as reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other countries that have confirmed cases of Omicron variant include Australia, Canada, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Germany, Israel, Italy, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus said the variant’s mutation should not surprise countries, as this is what viruses do.
He said available “tools” such as vaccines, should be used to contain the spread of the COVID-19 variant.
The WHO official also noted that the Delta variant is still responsible for most COVID cases worldwide and curbing its spread will also help contain Omicron.
“At the same time, we must not forget that we are already dealing with a highly transmissible, dangerous variant – the Delta variant, which currently accounts for almost all cases globally,” he said.
“We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from Delta. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from Omicron,” he added.
“But if countries and individuals don’t do what they need to do to stop transmission of Delta, they won’t stop Omicron either,” he further stated.
Tedros said medical experts are still looking into the Omicron variant to understand how it affects transmission and its severity, and whether it will alter the effectiveness of COVID tests, treatment, and vaccines.