Geneva [Switzerland]: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as 'Omicron'.
This variant of COVID-19 was first reported to WHO from South Africa on Friday.
The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant, the WHO informed in a statement.
"In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021," the statement said.
This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.
Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) has advised the WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron, the statement said.
The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behaviour of the virus.
Meanwhile, the WHO has also raised alarm among countries after a new variant of COVID-19 has been classified in South Africa, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said in a statement.
This came after the WHO held a meeting to discuss the newly-identified COVID-19 variant.
Amid rising concern about the new variant, India's Union Health Ministry has directed states to "rigorously' screen and test people travelling from three countries--South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong-- where the cases of the variant have been reported.