Omicron variant now in 23 countries, says WHO

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also thanked Botswana and South Africa "for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant so rapidly".

FILE: World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - At least 23 countries have reported cases of the Omicron variant and that number is expected to grow, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

"We are learning more all the time about Omicron, but there’s still more to learn about its effect on transmission, severity of disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing.

He also thanked Botswana and South Africa "for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant so rapidly".

"It is deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalised by others for doing the right thing," Ghebreyesus said.

Many nations closed their borders to South Africa and other southern African nations after the announcement of the discovery, resulting in many travel disruptions ahead of the festive season.

"Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of Omicron, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," said Ghebreyesus.

He called on countries to take "rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the international health regulations".