The Omicron variant of the coronavirus poses a "very high" risk globally, the World Health Organization warned Monday as a special session of the global health body began Monday.
"If another major surge of COVID-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe," the WHO in a technical note told its members ahead of the meeting set to address the need for an international pandemic treaty.
"Increasing cases, regardless of a change in severity, may pose overwhelming demands on health care systems and may lead to increased morbidity and mortality.
'Perilous and precarious'
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said: "The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is.”
“The Omicron variant demonstrates just why world needs new accord on pandemics, our current system" he said, explaining that “it is time to make choices to invest in healthier, safer, fairer future."
He said the emergence of the Omicron variant “proves just why world needs new accord on pandemics, response system.”
WHO on Friday named the COVID-19 variant Omicron that was tracked down in South Africa.
"South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting sequencing and reporting this variant not penalized," he said after European and North American countries immediately imposed travel bans on southern African nations.
"We don't yet know whether Omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of infections, or more risk of evading vaccines. Scientists at WHO and around the world are working urgently to answer these questions.
"This pestilence, one that we can prevent, detect, and treat, continues to cast a long shadow over the world," said Tedros.
He said that it is not yet known whether Omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of infections, or evading vaccines.
Scientists at WHO and around the world are working urgently to answer such questions, he said.
The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous, precarious our situation is, said the WHO head.
"Health workers must be vaccinated first," he said, also noting: "We don't need lockdowns, which are a last resort."
Depending on the characteristics of the new variant, WHO warned there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have "severe consequences," depending on various factors, including where surges may take place.
"The overall global risk related to the new VOC (a variant of concern) Omicron is assessed as very high," said the WHO.