New COVID-19 Variant Emerges, Named “Omicron”


The world is confronting a new coronavirus variant, and officials have named it “omicron.”

A World Health Organization panel has classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern. 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 27-nation European Union and some other countries quickly suspended air travel from southern Africa and stepped up other precautions.

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.

Health minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was linked to an “exponential rise” of cases in the last few days, although experts are still trying to determine if the new variant is actually responsible.

In a statement on Friday,  the World Health Organization designated it as a “variant of concern.”

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