The World Health Organization has warned that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading faster than the previous delta variant, based on the evidence available so far.
“Omicron has a substantial growth advantage over delta,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at a news briefing. “It is spreading significantly faster than the delta variant in countries with high levels of population immunity.”
Variant B.1.1.529 of the virus was labelled a variant of concern and given the name omicron on November 26th. To date the variant has been found in 89 countries.
“Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, including 26-32 mutations in the spike protein, some of which may be associated with humoral immune escape potential and higher transmissibility,” the UN agency said previously on identification of the variant.
Areas with confirmed community transmission of omicron are seeing case numbers double within two days. At present more research is needed before concluding both the severity of illness caused by the new variant and the efficiency of current vaccines against it. Early data does suggest though that the risk of hospitalization may well be lower.
The WHO was quick to warn though that hospitalizations was just one of many considerations regarding omicron’s impact.
“However, the risk of hospitalization is only one aspect of severity, which may be altered by admission practices,” it added. “More data across different countries are needed to understand how clinical markers of severity – such as the use of oxygen, mechanical ventilation, and deaths – are associated with omicron.”