WASHINGTON – The United States and Australia announced their first locally transmitted cases of the Omicron variant as authorities worldwide rushed Friday to stem the spread of the heavily mutated strain of Covid-19.
The World Health Organization has said it could take weeks to determine whether Omicron is more transmissible and whether it causes more severe infections — as well as how effective current treatments and vaccines are against it.
But the new variant, first reported by South Africa, has already cast the world’s recovery into doubt, with the EU health agency warning it could cause more than half of Europe’s Covid cases in the next few months.
More than two dozen governments have now detected cases of the variant — including India, one of the countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, AFP reported.
A preliminary study by South African researchers suggests the strain is three times more likely to cause reinfections compared to the Delta or Beta strains.
Ten cases have so far been confirmed in the United States, including five in New York announced Thursday, one in Los Angeles county, and one in Hawaii.
Australia on Friday, too, reported three students had tested positive for the variant.
The cases, detected in the country’s largest city of Sydney, come despite a sweeping ban on non-citizens entering the country and restrictions on flights from southern Africa.
And just a day after Singapore reported two cases of the strain, neighboring Malaysia on Friday reported its own first infection with the variant.
The case was detected in a foreign student travelling from South Africa, who had arrived in Malaysia on November 19, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said, though the infection was only confirmed on December 2.
Sri Lanka also announced its first Omicron case, a citizen who returned from South Africa.