World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Wednesday that the highly mutated Omicron variant of coronavirus could have a major impact on the course of the pandemic, as more new cases are being reported across the world.
"The Omicron variant has now been reported in 57 countries, and we expect that number to continue growing. Certain features of Omicron, including its global spread and large number of mutations, suggest it could have a major impact on the course of the pandemic. Exactly what that impact will be is still difficult to know," said Ghebreyesus.
Speaking to reporters at a press briefing in Geneva, Ghebreyesus urged all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing of the virus, as emerging data from South Africa suggested that the new variant may more easily reinfect people.
Ghebreyesus said that Omicron variant could cause milder disease than the Delta variant, but more data are needed to draw firm conclusions.
Tedros called on all countries to take immediate actions to reduce the risk of infection and transmission. If countries wait until their hospitals start to fill up, it is too late, he said.
"Act now. We are running out of ways to say this, but we will keep saying it. All of us, every government and every individual, must use all the tools we have, right now," said Tedros.