WHO names transmissible new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’

GENEVA (AP) – An advisory panel of the World Health Organization has classified a worrying new COVID-19 variant first detected in South Africa as a highly transmissible virus of concern, naming it “Omicron” under its Greek letter system.

The U.N. health agency also said early evidence on the new variant, until now known as B.1.1.529, has also shown an increased risk of reinfection compared to other highly transmissible variants, suggesting that people who contracted and recovered from COVID-19 could be more subject to catching it again with omicron.

It’s unclear from where the new variant actually arose, but it was first detected by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.

Its discovery in southern Africa sent a chill through much of the world as nations raced to halt air travel, markets fell sharply and scientists held emergency meetings.

The overall risks of omicron are not yet known. But the United States, the 27-nation European Union and some other countries quickly announced restrictions on travel from southern Africa and stepped up other precautions.