Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned rich nations that not sharing vaccines is 'coming back to haunt us'.
Mr Brown also blasted the European Union for 'neocolonialism' over the bloc's move to buy up jabs made in South Africa.
The former Labour leader claimed the emergence of new strains such as Omicron, a super-mutant variant first reported in South Africa on November 24, could have been avoided if the West had properly shared vaccine supplies.
He said the West had been 'forewarned' of the failure to do share vaccine doses but that still only three per cent of people in low income countries had been jabbed compared to around 60 per cent in rich nations.
'In the absence of mass vaccination, Covid is not only spreading uninhibited among unprotected people but is mutating, with new variants emerging out of the poorest countries and now threatening to unleash themselves on even fully vaccinated people in the richest countries of the world,' Mr Brown wrote.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned rich nations that not sharing vaccines is 'coming back to haunt us'
The former prime minister said the West had been 'forewarned' of the failure to do share vaccine doses but that still only three per cent of people in low income countries had been jabbed compared to around 60 per cent in rich nations
'The good news is that our medical genius has ensured that the new Omicron variant has been identified quickly; is being sequenced at speed; and, if it proves not only more transmissible but immune to current vaccines, a new vaccine could potentially soon emerge,' he wrote in the Guardian.
'But given the contrast between the success of our scientists and the failure of our global leaders, only a herculean effort starting this week can allay fears that new mutations among unvaccinated people in the least-protected places will take Covid into a third year – with even fifth, sixth and seventh waves.'
He went on to accuse the EU of 'neocolonialism' over the bloc's attempt to purchase South African-made vaccines and said the move 'impeded' the nation's efforts to vaccinate its population'
Gordon Brown went on to accuse the EU of 'neocolonialism' over the bloc's attempt to purchase South African-made vaccines and said the move 'impeded' the nation's efforts to vaccinate its population'
Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology... the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, named Omicron,' the UN health agency said in a statement.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said alarmist warnings were simply 'speculation' because the variant had spread only in 'very small numbers'.
He also questioned whether the public would accept the return of coronavirus restrictions.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that, while there was 'huge international concern', vaccines had put Britain in a strong position. While scientists said existing jabs could be tweaked to tackle the variant.
In a rush to limit the spread, the EU suspended all flights to southern Africa after the first case was confirmed in Europe, in Belgium, on Friday.
Britain had already put six nations - South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia - on the travel 'red list', and was poised to add two more last night.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had earlier called for an EU-wide travel ban to southern Africa warning that the Omicron strain could be world-dominant in months.
Passengers flying to the Netherlands from South Africa were banned from getting off the plane as the continent tightened its borders in an attempt to shut out the strain which scientists have described as the 'worst variant ever'.
They were eventually let off the runway after being forced to take a test and leave their details with contact tracers.
By contrast, British arrivals from the variant's epicentre Johannesburg were left to mingle with hundreds of others as they flew into Heathrow on the last flights out of Africa before the red list was re-imposed at noon.
Passengers flying into Heathrow revealed they were not tested or questioned about their travel history.