MANILA— The World Health Organization's Western Pacific Regional Office said Friday the Omicron COVID-19 variant has been found in at least four areas in the region.
These areas are Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, WHO Regional Emergency Director Dr. Babatunde Olowokure said in a virtual press conference.
But he warned, there are likely more places in the region where Omicron is already present. He said the new variant of concern, first detected in South Africa, has been found in all six global regions covered by the WHO.
"The geographic distribution is quite likely pretty wide already," Olowokure said.
He added, early data suggests Omicron is more transmissible than other COVID-19 variants. Meanwhile, there is no data yet to say it causes more severe illness or is more resistant to existing vaccines.
But Olowokure noted there is also no information yet showing that public health measures currently in place are ineffective against the new variant.
As for WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the enactment of strict border controls can only delay, but not completely prevent Omicron from entering a country.
Countries around the globe, including the Philippines, have banned travelers from several African and European countries in response to Omicron's threat.
"It's not possible to completely stop the virus unless you completely close the borders, which has a significant impact," Kasai said.
The regional director outlined five tools that can be used to cut Omicron's health impact: border control, vaccines, public health and social measures, and caring for people with COVID-19.
"What's important is we should not just rely on the border control," he said. "What is very important is to prepare and be ready for this next surge."