Some countries are warning about the spread of Omicron, a new strain of coronavirus, but the World Health Organization (WHO) insisted that it is now only a variant of concern, while delta remains responsible for most of the current infections around the world.
In an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Monday, Nov. 29, WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan pointed out that Delta is still the “major cause of the pandemic.”
“Over 99% of cases around the world are due to the Delta variant,” Swaminathan said. “I think that’s our priority while we wait to find out more about [the Omicron] variant.”
Omicron was first reported to WHO from South Africa on Nov. 24, and the COVID-19 infections have increased steeply in the country since then which coincided with the detection of the new variant.
A number of countries have found Omicron, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia, according to CNBC. Some countries, including the United States, have imposed travel bans from South Africa and some other countries.
Vaccine makers such as Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are investigating and testing the Omicron variant.
Swaminathan told CNBC that scientists need time to conduct experiments and collect data to find answers for the fundamental questions surrounding Omicron variant.
“What we would like to know is, is this variant more transmissible, even more than Delta? We would like to know if there is a different clinical pattern, is it less severe, more severe when it causes disease?” she said.
“And very importantly, is this variant able to evade immune responses either after natural infection or after vaccines,” she added.
Swaminathan urged those countries which detect Omicron to share their clinical and genomic sequence data through WHO for study.