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.’
The Omicron variant has now been discovered in 38 countries but has not yet resulted in any deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)
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
Official data shows that the proportion of positive Covid tests with a mutation synonymous with the highly-evolved strain is on the rise. Like Alpha, or the ‘Kent variant’, Omicron has a specific alteration which means it can be detected through PCR tests without the need for genomic sequencing. The proportion of positive tests in England with this so-called S-gene dropout has risen from 0.1 per cent in the past week to 0.3 per cent, the equivalent of one in 330. Scientists said the increase in S-gene dropouts suggests there could be hundreds of Omicron cases that are flying under the radar currently
Another 75 cases of Omicron Covid are found in England
Another 75 cases of the super-mutant Omicron variant have been identified in England, health officials confirmed, after it was revealed that the majority of sequenced infections of the new variant are in fully vaccinated people.
Yesterday’s new cases bring the total number of confirmed Omicron infections in England to 104, while the total for the whole of the UK now stands at 134, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.
Cases of the new variant were identified in the East Midlands, East of England, London, North East, North West, South East, South West and West Midlands.
Scotland’s cases today increased by 16 to 29, while Wales announced yesterday afternoon that its first case had been found in Cardiff.
No cases have been found in Northern Ireland.
The individuals who have tested positive for Omicron, and their contacts, have been asked to self-isolate, and work is under way to identify any links to travel, the UKHSA said.
Six more US states confirmed infections of the variant yesterday but the Delta strain likely remains a greater threat as winter sets in and Americans gather for the holidays, experts said.
New Jersey, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Utah each reported their first cases of the Omicron variant on Friday.
Missouri was awaiting CDC confirmation of a case involving a St. Louis resident who had recently traveled within the United States.
And the variant spread in Australia today, testing plans to reopen the economy as a cluster in Sydney grew to 13 cases and an infection was suspected in the state of Queensland.
Federal authorities are sticking with a plan to reopen the economy on the hope that the new variant proves to be milder than previous strains, but some state and territory governments have moved to tighten their domestic border controls.
Australia reported its first community transmission of Omicron on Friday at a school in Sydney. Authorities are investigating the source.
Further Omicron cases were expected over the weekend when more tests results come, said Kerry Chant, chief health officer of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital.
Meanwhile India reported its third case of the variant today with the country’s total amount of Covid cases inching closer to the 35 million mark.
Officials in the western state of Gujarat said the patient who tested positive for Omicron was a 72-year old man of Indian origin who had lived in Zimbabwe for decades, and returned on Nov. 28.
India reported 8,603 new Covid cases on Saturday, taking the total to 34.6million. Deaths rose by 415 to 470,530.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month asked officials to focus on countries identified at risk, after the WHO declared the new variant to be ‘of concern’.
And South Korea reported a record daily 5,352 new Covid infections and 70 deaths, while a nationwide total of nine cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Saturday.
The government on Friday announced that people visiting restaurants, cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes.
It is also reducing the limit on private gatherings to six people in the greater Seoul area, from 10 currently, and to eight from 12 for those residing outside of the capital, starting next Monday.
The hospitalisation rate was rising rapidly led by severe cases of COVID-19, with the number of serious and critical patients at 752 as of Friday, KDCA said.
South Korea has also confirmed three additional Omicron cases, bringing the total to nine after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after travelling from Nigeria last week.