The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a new Coronavirus mutation, Omicron Variant to be a “variant of Concern”.
The variant with the name Omicron was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24th.
Formerly known as B.1.1.529, it was also identified in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, and Israel.
WHO announced on Friday that preliminary evidence indicates an increased risk of reinfection with this variant.
In a statement on Friday, in which the new variant was officially named, the organization said the number of cases of this variant appeared to be increasing in almost all South African provinces.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” it said in a statement.
It is not uncommon for a virus to change, or mutate, over time. A variant becomes a variant of concern when that mutation might affect things like transmissibility, virulence or the effectiveness of vaccines.
The WHO has said it will take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, as scientists work to determine how transmissible it is.
It has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should look to a “risk-based and scientific approach”.
Nevertheless, the UK, EU countries and Switzerland have temporarily halted flights from some southern African countries.