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The new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, first detected from South Africa, was on Friday designated as a Variant of Concern by the World Health Organisation, which named it omicron.

A variant of concern is the WHO's top category of worrying Covid variants.

The WHO said the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), 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, convened on Friday to assess the B.1.1.529 variant, first reported to the world health body from South Africa on November 24.

Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a Variant of Concern, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron.

Countries are asked to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID and report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.

Countries are also advised that where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, they should perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, the effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralisation, or other relevant characteristics.
 

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