The World Health Organization has warned that the coronavirus variant Omicron was spreading at a rate not seen with previous strains and was likely present in most countries.

The discovery of Omicron was first announced in November by scientists in South Africa, which was the first to experience a surge in COVID-19 driven by the new variant.“Seventy-seven countries have now reported cases of Omicron, and the reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters during a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.

Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant.”

The WHO chief also lamented that some people were dismissing Omicron as a mild variant.

“Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril. Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.”

The discovery of Omicron triggered worries that it could cause another surge in global infections, leading many countries to impose travel restrictions on several southern African nations.