WHO classifies new COVID variant ‘Omicron’, triggers travel bans

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The world is confronting a new coronavirus variant, and officials have named it “omicron.” A World Health Organization panel has classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern.

A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the delta variant, the world’s most prevalent. The panel said early evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection.

Medical experts, including the World Health Organization, warned against any overreaction before the variant that originated in southern Africa was better understood. But a jittery world feared the worst nearly two years after COVID-19 emerged and triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe.

“We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers.

There was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. As with other variants, some infected people display no symptoms, South African experts said.

Even though some of the genetic changes appear worrisome, it was unclear if the new variant would pose a significant public health threat. Some previous variants, like the beta variant, initially concerned scientists but did not spread very far.

Its discovery in southern Africa sent a chill through much of the world as nations raced to halt air travel, markets fell sharply and scientists held emergency meetings.

The overall risks of omicron are not yet known. But the 27-nation European Union and some other countries quickly suspended air travel from southern Africa and stepped up other precautions.

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