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New Omicron Covid-19 variant ‘highly transmissible’: WHO

The variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa

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New Omicron Covid-19 variant ‘highly transmissible’: WHO
GNN Media: Representational Photo

Geneva: An advisory panel of the World Health Organization has named the new Covid-19 variant, recently detected in South Africa, Omicron. The strain has been classified as “highly transmissible”.

Omicron has been put into the most troubling category of coronavirus variants after Delta, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma.

Nations rushed to ban flights to slow the spread of Omicron on Friday, while stock markets and oil prices plunged on fears surrounding the variant, potentially dealing a heavy blow to the global economic recovery.

“Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology… the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern (VOC), named Omicron,” the UN health agency said in a statement.

The WHO said it could take several weeks to complete studies of Omicron to see if there are any changes in transmissibility, severity or implications for Covid vaccines, tests, and treatments.

 

Reinfection concerns

The change in classification came after a quickly-assembled virtual meeting of the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution.

The variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Wednesday.

The first known confirmed Omicron infection was from a specimen collected on November 9. In recent weeks, infections in South Africa have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said, pointing to worrying characteristics.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.”

It said the number of Omicron cases appeared to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa.

As for testing for the strain, the WHO added: “Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.”

 

Greek alphabet names

All viruses mutate over time, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19 disease.

During late 2020, the emergence of variants that posed an increased risk to global public health prompted the WHO to start characterizing them as variants of interest, and the more-worrying variants of concern, to inform the response to the pandemic.

The UN health agency decided to name the variants after the letters of the Greek alphabet, to avoid the countries that first detected them being stigmatized.

The WHO on Friday called on countries to increase their surveillance and virus sequencing efforts to better understand circulating variants.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, urged people to reduce their chances of catching the virus.

“We understand that people are concerned,” she said.

“What’s really important as an individual is to lower your exposure.

“These proven public health measures, have never been more important,” she said, citing distancing, mask-wearing, avoiding crowded spaces, good ventilation, “and when it’s your turn, get vaccinated”.

 

Travel concerns

Apart from South Africa, Omicron has been detected in Israel in a person coming from Malawi; Botswana; Belgium and Hong Kong.

Despite countries scrambling to ban flights, the WHO earlier cautioned against imposing travel restrictions due to Omicron.

The organization said countries should take a risk-based and scientific approach when considering travel curbs in light of the variant — but cautioned against restrictions.

“At this point, again, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters.

Besides Delta, Omicron and the three other VOCs, there are currently two lower variants of interest and below that, a further seven under monitoring.

Delta, which is more transmissible than the original strain, is now overwhelmingly dominant around the world, having all but out-competed other variants.

Of 845,000 sequences uploaded to the GISAID global science initiative with specimens collected in the last 60 days, 99.8 percent were Delta.

SOURCE: AFP

Siddra Sumreen

Syeda Siddra has been working as a web journalist for over the past seven years. She earned her M.Phil degree in Mass Communication from the Lahore Leads University. Ms. Siddra has previously worked with other renowned channels and is now associated with GNN as Senior Content Writer.

Technology

Twitter expands feature that allows users to flag misleading content

The feature was first tested in the United States, Australia and South Korea

Published by Faisal Ali Ghumman

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Twitter expands feature that allows users to flag misleading  content

Twitter said on Monday it will expand its test feature which allows users to flag misleading content on its social media platform to Brazil, Spain and the Philippines.

The company had introduced the pilot test of the feature in August last year, as a part of its effort to reduce misinformation on its platform.

It was first tested in the United States, Australia and South Korea.

Since it was first announced, Twitter said it has received around 3 million reports from users who have used it to flag tweets which they believe are in violation of its policies.

The social media giant last year launched another program called Birdwatch, which lets participants write notes and provide additional context to misleading tweets, though those notes are held on a separate website.

SOURCE: REUTERS

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Crime

Two alleged terrorists killed, cop martyred in Islamabad face-off

Two motorcyclists opened fire on policemen at a picket

Published by Faisal Ali Ghumman

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Two alleged terrorists killed, cop martyred in Islamabad face-off

Islamabad: Two alleged terrorists were killed while a police head constable was martyred in crossfire between the police and suspects at a police picket on Monday, police said.

Some policemen were performing duty at Jilania police check post in Sector G-8 when two motorcylists reached there and opened fire on cops.

The exchange of gunfire led to killing of two suspects. A policeman also lost his life. Two other cops suffered injuries who were shifted to a state hospital.

Senior police officers rushed to the spot. Karachi Company police are dealing the case and collecting evidence from the crime scene. 

The Islamabad police chief told reporters that the incident was reported at around 9:30pm.

The suspects, who were killed, were terrorists, he said, adding they were wearing bullet proof jackets.

 

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World

PM appreciates Putin, discusses bilateral cooperation

Imran Khan said he looks forward to President Putin's visit to Pakistan as well as his own visit to Russia at an appropriate time.

Published by Mehak Javed

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PM appreciates Putin, discusses bilateral cooperation

Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan has appreciated Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that insulting Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) does not count as an expression of artistic freedom but is a violation of religious freedom.

In a telephonic conversation with the Russian President, the Prime Minister said he has been regularly highlighted the appalling rise in Islamophobia and associated hatred in his addresses to the UN General Assembly, pointing towards its serious ramifications. 

The Prime Minister underscored that Pakistan's bilateral relationship with Russia is on an upward trajectory, with an increased focus on trade and economic ties and energy cooperation.

He reiterated the government's resolve for early realization of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project.

Both leaders agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in different areas, increase high-level exchanges, and remain in close contact on matters relating to Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister underscored that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is pivotal for regional stability.

He said Afghanistan is facing dire humanitarian and economic challenges and support of the international community to the people of Afghanistan at this critical juncture remained vitally important.

The Prime Minister also underscored the importance of release of Afghanistan's financial assets for addressing the dire needs of the Afghan people.

Imran Khan said he looks forward to President Putin's visit to Pakistan as well as his own visit to Russia at an appropriate time.

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