The heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have “severe consequences” in some places, the World Health Organization said on Monday.
No Omicron-linked deaths had yet been reported, though further research was needed to assess its potential to resist vaccines and immunity induced by previous infections, it added.
Anticipating increased case numbers as the variant, first reported last week, spreads, the UN agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups.
“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said. “The overall global risk is assessed as very high.”