The new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 57 countries so far, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
"Even if the severity is equal or potentially even lower than for delta variant, it is expected that hospitalizations will increase if more people become infected and that there will be a time lag between an increase in the incidence of cases and an increase in the incidence of deaths," the WHO said in its weekly epidemiological report.
The report said more data is needed to assess whether the omicron variant may result in reduced protection from vaccines.
"Vaccine effectiveness studies are vital to understand how vaccines protect against infection, symptomatic and severe disease, and death," it added.
Omicron is the fifth SARS-CoV-2 variant designated as a Variant of Concern by WHO, following the alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants.
Omicron variant first identified on Nov. 9
WHO said the first known laboratory-confirmed case of omicron was identified from a specimen collected on Nov. 9 in South Africa, with the variant first reported on Nov. 24.
Globally, weekly case incidence plateaued in the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5, with over 4 million confirmed new cases.
"New weekly deaths increased by 10% as compared to the previous week, with over 52,500 new deaths reported," said WHO, noting that the over 5.2 million deaths have been reported globally from the coronavirus.
The European region covering 53 nations reported the highest weekly case incidence per 100,000 population with 288.0 new cases per 100,000 population, and the Region of the Americas with 91.4 new cases per 100,000 population followed.
Both regions also reported the highest weekly incidence in deaths of 3.1 per 100,000 population for Europe and 1.3 for the Americas.
The highest numbers of reported new deaths continued from Russia, with 8,523 new fatalities or 5.8 new deaths per 100,000. Ukraine with 3,163 further deaths and Poland with 2,636 recent fatalities followed.
In South Africa, WHO said the number of reported COVID-19 cases doubled the week before Dec. 5 to more than 62,000.
In South Africa's neighboring countries of Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Lesotho, there were “very large” incidences in COVID-19.