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A woman gets vaccinated against COVID-19 in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo: Sebastian Barros/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The World Health Organization added a coronavirus strain called Mu, which was first detected in Colombia in January, to its "Variants of Interest" list on Monday.

Why it matters: The WHO warned that data suggests protection from prior infection or vaccination may not be as strong against the Mu variant, adding that further research is needed to confirm that.

The big picture: The Mu variant, formally known as B.1.621, has a cluster of mutations that "that indicate potential properties of immune escape," WHO noted in its weekly epidemiological report.

  • The variant has thus far been detected in 39 countries. Although it makes up only 0.1% of global COVID-19 cases, its prevalence in South America has been rising, and it currently makes up 39% of cases in Colombia and 13% in Ecuador.

Be smart: The WHO defines Variants of Interest as having genetic changes that affect virus characteristics like transmissibility, disease severity and immune escape, while having significant community transmission.

  • They differ from Variants of Concern, which lower the effectiveness of public health and social measures or diagnostics and therapeutics.

Go deeper

17 hours ago - World

COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming

Recreated from Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we're facing.

Driving the news: South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country's top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant.

Updated 24 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California — America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron — CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers.
  2. Politics: Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come — Meta removes accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China.
  3. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  4. World: Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people — Omicron variant detected in more countriesWHO advises people 60 or older to postpone travel due to Omicron
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Dec 2, 2021 - World

Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people

Photo: John MacDougall - Pool/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who are unvaccinated will not be allowed in nonessential shops, cultural and recreational venues, AP reports.

State of play: Merkel, alongside incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said the measures were necessary to avoid overflowing hospitals with coronavirus patients. The country is seeing an increase in daily infections.