The new Omicron variant of COVID-19, which was detected by South African researchers last week, poses a “very high” global risk and could bypass even those who have been vaccinated, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Monday.

The strain is a “highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations… some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility,” the U.N. agency said.

“The overall global risk related to the new variant … is assessed as very high,” WHO said, adding that Omicron “has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic.”

But a doctor in South Africa said just the opposite. “A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain has said that symptoms of the Omicron variant appear to be mild and could be treated at home,” according to The Sun newspaper. “Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, told Reuters that on 18 November she noticed seven patients at her clinic who had symptoms different from the dominant Delta variant, albeit ‘very mild.'”

“Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” Coetzee told The Telegraph.

Little is known so far about the variant. According to The New York Times, experts “have said that it could be two weeks or longer before more information about the variant’s transmissibility, and the severity of illness it causes, is available,” but also believe that current vaccines “are likely to offer protection from severe illness and death.”

The WHO has declared Omicron to be a “variant of concern” and urged its 194 member states to vaccination high-priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” should the strain spread widely.

Still, Coetzee said none of those infected lost their sense of smell or taste or suffered serious health risks.

“It presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well,” Coetzee told the Telegraph. “So far, we have detected that those infected do not suffer the loss of taste or smell. They might have a slight cough. There are no prominent symptoms. Of those infected some are currently being treated at home.”

She detailed one case of a 6-year-old girl who had “a temperature and a very high pulse rate, and I wondered if I should admit her. But when I followed up two days later, she was so much better.”

Coetzee added that the cases she has seen so far involved healthy people but expressed worry over elderly people and those with comorbidities, such as diabetes or heart disease.

“What we have to worry about now is that when older, unvaccinated people are infected with the new variant, and if they are not vaccinated, we are going to see many people with a severe [form of the] disease,” she said.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that the U.S. should “be prepared to do anything and everything,” including lockdowns, to battle Omicron.

“We just really need to, as I said so often, prepare for the worst. It may not be we’ll have to go the route people are saying. We don’t know a lot about this virus. So we want to prepare as best we can, but it may turn out this preparation, although important, may not necessarily push us to the next level,” Fauci said.

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