WHO classifies new ‘omicron’ variant as ‘highly transmissible’ virus



Medical experts warned against any overreaction before all elements were clear but nations who acted said their concerns were justified.

Passengers walk through international arrivals at London’s Heathrow Airport on Nov. 26. | Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo

BRUSSELS (AP) — The discovery of a new coronavirus variant sent a chill through much of the world Friday as nations raced to halt air travel, markets fell sharply and scientists held emergency meetings to weigh the exact risks, which were largely unknown.

A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the delta variant, the world’s most prevalent. The panel said early evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection.

Medical experts, including the World Health Organization, warned against any overreaction before the variant that originated in southern Africa was better understood. But a jittery world feared the worst nearly two years after COVID-19 emerged and triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe.

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