The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday assigned the Greek letter Omicron to the newly identified COVID-19 variant in South Africa.
The UN health agency recognized the strain, previously referred to as lineage B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern, according to CNBC.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said in a statement released Friday. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.”
It is feared that a sharp upswing of COVID-10 cases in South Africa’s Gauteng province — where the heavily mutated strain of the virus was first identified — could mean it has greater potential to escape prior immunity than other variants.
The number of Omicron cases “appears to be increasing” in almost all of South Africa’s provinces, the WHO said in its statement.
The new variant arrived in Israel Thursday night. So far, only one case has been verified, but two other individuals are waiting for the results of their COVID-19 test’s genetic sequencing.