Vaccine coverage below 10% in seven eastern Mediterranean nations - WHO

CAIRO, Dec 1 (Reuters) - An official at the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said on Wednesday seven countries in the region have not yet reached a threshold of 10% vaccination coverage.

These countries represent a high-risk setting for the emergence of further variants, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said at a news briefing in Cairo.

Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6% of the world's vaccines, while G20 countries have received more than 80%, Al-Mandhari said.

"The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants," said Al-Mandhari. "Indeed, no one is safe until everyone is safe."

So far, 24 countries may have reported cases of the new Omicron variant, said Abdinasir Abubakr, infection hazards prevention manager for the region.

Early Omicron cases suggest mild symptoms, added Richard Brennen, WHO regional emergency director in the region.

In terms of the response to the variant, he warned of complacency and COVID-19 fatigue and encouraged social-distancing measures.

However, he said social and travel curbs require risk assessment before implementation.

"While we understand that some countries locked down international travel, this has to be done on evidence and strong analysis," said Brennen.

As of Nov. 29, over 16.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 309,500 deaths were reported across the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Reporting by Lilian Wagdy, writing by Nafisa Eltahir and Sarah El Safty, editing by Andrew Heavens and Bernadette Baum

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