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WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2

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WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2

We call on all Member States to take rational and proportionate risk reduction measures, in accordance with the International Health Regulations.

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 30, 2021 / APO Group / –

Honorable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends:

Understandably, the appearance of the Omicron variant has captured global attention.

The appearance of any new variant should catch our attention, especially one as mutated as Omicron.

The WHO Secretariat takes this development extremely seriously, as do all Member States.

But it shouldn’t surprise us. That is what viruses do.

And as I’ve said many times, the longer we allow the pandemic to drag on, by not addressing vaccine inequity or by not implementing social and public health measures in a personalized and consistent way, the more opportunities we give this virus to mutate into ways we cannot predict or prevent.

We still have more questions than answers about the effect of Omicron on transmission, the severity of the disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics, and vaccines.

The Secretariat is working with partners around the world to fill our knowledge gaps as soon as possible.

Drs. Mike Ryan and Maria Van Kerkhove will provide more details in a few minutes.

Once again, I thank Botswana and South Africa for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant so quickly.

I am deeply concerned that these countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing.

I well understand the concern of all countries to protect their citizens against a variant that we still do not fully understand.

But I am equally concerned that several Member States are introducing strong and comprehensive measures that are neither evidence-based nor effective on their own, and that will only exacerbate inequalities.

We urge all Member States to adopt rational and proportionate risk reduction measures, in accordance with the International Health Regulations.

We continue to call on all Member States to optimize public health and social measures and ensure that vulnerable and high-risk people in all countries are immediately fully vaccinated.

The overall response must be calm, coordinated and consistent.

At the same time, we must not forget that we are already dealing with a dangerous and highly communicable variant: the Delta variant, which accounts for almost all cases worldwide.

We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save Delta’s lives. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save Omicron lives, thus improving surveillance, testing, sequencing and reporting.

The Secretariat will keep Member States and the public updated as we learn more.

Mike, it’s your turn.

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