WHO / COVID-19 UPDATE

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26-Nov-2021 00:02:49
Based on evidence indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) has advised the World Health Organization (WHO) that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a Variant of Concern (VOC) named Omicron. WHO

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STORY: WHO / COVID-19 UPDATE
TRT: 02:49
SOURCE: WHO
RESTRICTIONS: NONE
LANGUAGE: ENGLISH / NATS

DATELINE: 26 NOVEMBER 2021, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND / FILE

SHOTLIST:

1. Wide shot, WHO’s COVID-19 Technical lead Dr Maria Van Kerkhove and interviewer walking together
2. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead, Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO):
"So, today WHO's Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG VE) met to discuss the variant B.1.1.529 to discuss what we understand about this variant and if it should be classified as a variant of interest or variant of concern. Based upon the information that we have, particularly from South Africa, they have advised WHO that this variant should be classified as a variant of concern. So, today we are announcing B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern named Omicron."
3. Med shot, interviewer listening to Van Kerkhove
4. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead, Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO):
"So, Omicron, B.1.1.529, is named as a variant of concern because it has some concerning properties. This variant has a large number of mutations and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics. Right now, there are many studies that are underway. There's a lot of work that is ongoing in South Africa and in other countries to better characterize the variant itself in terms of transmissibility, in terms of severity and any impact on our countermeasures, like the use of diagnostics, therapeutics or vaccines. So far, there's little information, but those studies are underway, so we need researchers to have the time to carry those out. And WHO will inform the public and our partners and our member states as soon as we have more information."
5. Med shot, interviewer listening to Van Kerkhove
6. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead, Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO):
"Once a variant is classified as a variant of concern, it's really important that we have good SARS-CoV-2 surveillance around the world, including better genomic sequencing, because we want to be able to detect this variant where it is circulating. It's also really important that studies are undertaken in the field to look at any clusters and also the studies that are needed in the lab to look to see if there's any changes in severity, any changes in our impact on diagnostics, therapeutics or vaccines."
7. Med shot, interviewer listening to Van Kerkhove
8. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead, Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO):
"The Technical Advisory Group for Virus Evolution will be meeting regularly about Omicron. It will take days to weeks for some of these studies to be undertaken. It's really important that these studies are done and they're done comprehensively. As soon as we have more information, we will make that information public. But it's important to know that there's a lot that you could do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe."
9. Med shot, interviewer listening to Van Kerkhove
10. SOUNDBITE (English) Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead, Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO):
"We understand that people are concerned. The good thing is that we have monitoring systems around the world to detect these variants very quickly. This variant was detected a few weeks ago, and already scientists are sharing research with us, information with us so that we can take action. What's really important as an individual is to lower your exposure. The measures, these proven public health measures, have never been more important: Distancing, wearing of a mask, making sure that it's over your nose and mouth with clean hands, making sure you avoid crowded spaces, be in rooms where there's good ventilation and when it's your turn, get vaccinated."
11. Wide shot, Van Kerkhove and interviewer walking together

STORYLINE:

Based on evidence indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) has advised the World Health Organization (WHO) that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a Variant of Concern (VOC) named Omicron.

The TAG-VE is 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.

WHO's COVID-19 Technical lead Dr Maria Van Kerkhove today (26 Nov) said, “based upon the information that we have, particularly from South Africa, they have advised WHO that this variant should be classified as a variant of concern. So, today we are announcing

Van Kerkhove said, “Omicron, B.1.1.529, is named as a variant of concern because it has some concerning properties. This variant has a large number of mutations and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics. Right now, there are many studies that are underway. There's a lot of work that is ongoing in South Africa and in other countries to better characterize the variant itself in terms of transmissibility, in terms of severity and any impact on our countermeasures, like the use of diagnostics, therapeutics or vaccines. So far, there's little information, but those studies are underway, so we need researchers to have the time to carry those out. And WHO will inform the public and our partners and our member states as soon as we have more information."

She noted that “once a variant is classified as a variant of concern, it's really important that we have good SARS-CoV-2 surveillance around the world, including better genomic sequencing, because we want to be able to detect this variant where it is circulating. It's also really important that studies are undertaken in the field to look at any clusters and also the studies that are needed in the lab to look to see if there's any changes in severity, any changes in our impact on diagnostics, therapeutics or vaccines."

The WHO scientist informed that the TAG-VE will be meeting regularly about Omicron. She said, “it will take days to weeks for some of these studies to be undertaken. It's really important that these studies are done, and they're done comprehensively. As soon as we have more information, we will make that information public. But it's important to know that there's a lot that you could do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe."

There are a number of studies underway and the TAG-VE will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new findings with Member States and to the public as needed.

Van Kerkhove said, “we understand that people are concerned. The good thing is that we have monitoring systems around the world to detect these variants very quickly. This variant was detected a few weeks ago, and already scientists are sharing research with us, information with us so that we can take action. What's really important as an individual is to lower your exposure. The measures, these proven public health measures, have never been more important: Distancing, wearing of a mask, making sure that it's over your nose and mouth with clean hands, making sure you avoid crowded spaces, be in rooms where there's good ventilation and when it's your turn, get vaccinated."

The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterised by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.
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