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Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Health measures taken to combat COVID-19 before the emergence of Omicron would also help against the new variant of concern, World Health Organization officials said Friday.

What they're saying: Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said during a virtual briefing broadcast from Manila, Philippines, that border controls imposed by the U.S. and other nations can "buy time" to deal with the variant, but warned "every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases."

  • "The positive news in all this is that none of the information we have currently about Omicron suggests we need to change the direction of our response," Kasai added.
  • "Our experience of the last two years, especially in dealing with variants like Delta, provides a guide about what to do now, as well as how to cope with future surges in a more sustainable way."

The big picture: Since Omicron was first detected in South Africa last month, the new variant has been reported in at least five U.S. states and two dozen countries — including the Netherlands, where scientists found a case of the variant that predates the South African discovery.

  • WHO regional emergency director Babatunde Olowokure noted that established measures including COVID-19 vaccinations, mask wearing and social distancing all help.
  • "Our experience of the last two years, especially in dealing with variants like Delta, provides a guide about what to do now, as well as how to cope with future surges in a more sustainable way," Olowokure said.

The bottom line: Kasai said it's "clear that this pandemic is far from over."

  • "I know that people are worried about Omicron," he added. "But my message today is that we can adapt the way we manage this virus to better cope with the future surges and reduce their health, social and economic impacts."
"What is most important is to prepare for these variants with potential high transmissibility. So far, the information available suggests we don't have to change our approach."
— Takeshi Kasai

Go deeper: Parsing what we do and don’t know about Omicron

Editor's note: This article has been updated with more of Takeshi Kasai's comments from the briefing.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: America struggles to keep schools open — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker
Updated 42 mins ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

55 mins ago - World

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.