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WHO chief calls on states to take rational, proportional risk-reduction steps against omicron

Tedros Ghebreyesus concerned after blanket travel bans, not-evidence based, against African states after new coronavirus variant arises

Peter Kenny   | 30.11.2021
WHO chief calls on states to take rational, proportional risk-reduction steps against omicron

GENEVA

The World Health Organization chief expressed concern Tuesday that several nations are introducing "blunt, blanket measures" not based on evidence, penalizing southern African countries after announcing the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, at a briefing of the 194 member states in the organization, thanked Botswana and South Africa for detecting, sequencing, and reporting this variant so rapidly.

"It is deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing," he said after European and North American nations imposed severe travel restrictions on Botswana, South Africa, and neighboring countries.

Tedros said he could understand the concern of all countries to protect their citizens against a variant "that we don't yet fully understand."

But he was equally concerned that several countries are introducing "blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own," and which he said will only worsen inequities.

"We call on all member states to take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the International Health Regulations," said the WHO chief.

Taken extremely seriously

He said the WHO takes the development of the emergence of a new variant, especially one as highly mutated as omicron, "extremely seriously," and so should all nations.

"And as I have said many times, the longer we allow the pandemic to drag on – by failing to address vaccine inequity, or to implement public health and social measures in a tailored and consistent way – the more opportunity we give this virus to mutate in ways we cannot predict or prevent," said Tedros.

He said there are more questions than answers about the effect of Omicron on transmission, the severity of disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics, and vaccines after the new variant was named last Friday.

WHO officials are working with partners worldwide to fill in knowledge gaps as quickly as possible.

"We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from the delta," the variant currently causing havoc worldwide, said Tedros.

"And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from omicron – so enhancing surveillance, testing, sequencing, and reporting."

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