Ghana's midfielder Mubarak Wakaso (R) challenges Cameroon's forward Jacques Zoua during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final football match between Cameroon and Ghana in Franceville on February 2, 2017. / AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

The African Cup of Nations is just over a month away and after the threat of COVID seemed to have finally waned, the emergence of a new and potentially more contagious variant has sent the world into a frenzy.

The 'Omicron' variant or B.1.1.529 has seen countries worldwide slam their borders shut to southern Africa, with cases in the region housing the variant mounting rapidly.

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring Omicron a variant of concern, what does this mean for a tournament that has had to already postpone proceedings twice already?

The state of play

The Omicron variant was initially detected in Botswana, however, cases have been uncovered in all corners of the globe.

What has set this new variant apart from previous editions of COVID-19 is the amount of mutations it has, being 30.

This is quite worrying for authorities, with the WHO under the impression that there is a higher degree of transmissibility with Omicron than other variants of the virus.

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The risk of re-infection also has the WHO worried, with the virulence of this variant supposedly meaning that those who have already had COVID-19 may be able to get it again shortly after beating the virus.

However, the largely unvaccinated nature of South Africa has meant that the main reason this virus may be spreading is as a result of low coverage.

Despite this, there is still so much unknown about Omicron with scientists scrambling to find out as much information as possible.

How have governments reacted?

In Africa itself, national governments have quickly moved to reintroduce stricter measures to keep people apart as a result of their lack of vaccines.

Meanwhile, countries worldwide have sprung into action to impose travel restrictions on those coming from southern Africa, however, it seems as it is too little, too late with Omicron already having spread far and wide already.

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Yesterday the British government moved to ban travel from Nigeria for all non-UK residents after 27 cases of Omicron were linked to the African nation.

In total, the UK has 336 confirmed cases of Omicron as of 7 December.

Many countries in southern Africa have been angered over the inequitable travel bans imposed on them with travel bans, according to the WHO, only slowing spread by a small amount and having a larger negative economic impact than a positive medical one.

So what does it mean for AFCON?

Right now, there isn't an abundance of talk regarding the tournament being in jeopardy of cancellation.

However, the UK's travel ban may throw a big spanner in the works considering that many players that will be attending the tournament reside in the Premier League.

Stars such as Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy and Riyad Mahrez amongst many others are already missing a chunk of important fixtures to play in Cameroon, and a setback in the form of extra quarantining may threaten to derail their seasons.

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The European Club Association has, according to The Guardian, flagged their concerns with the tournament going ahead despite the situation in Cameroon not particularly dire compared to what South Africa is dealing with in their battle with Omicron.

“The board agreed to engage urgently with Fifa to ensure all necessary precautions are in place to protect players and club interests as the health situation continues to deteriorate in an alarming manner," the ECA said in their statement on Friday.

September's international break was a controversial one for many reasons, with the UK's red-listing of many countries hosting international fixtures meaning that returning players were required to quarantine despite most not venturing outside their living quarters in their destination countries.

Players who went to South America over that break were required to complete 10 days of mandatory quarantine on their return to England, with many missing important matches.

This would prove extremely costly in January and February especially when fixtures are coming thick and fast at European clubs.

Liverpool missing two of their best wingers and Chelsea missing their number one in between the sticks could be pivotal with those two clubs sure to be in the midst of a title scrap come that time.

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Should the situation in Africa deteriorate even further then there is a definite chance that Premier League clubs will not grant their player's permission to fly to Africa considering the huge risk they could become stuck in quarantine during the most important period of the season.

The tournament is the biggest occasion on the African footballing calendar, and there is a chance that the withdrawal of superstars from the occasion could trigger a flow-on effect that very well may see the competition postponed for an unprecedented third time or cancelled completely.

'Time will tell' is a very cliche turn of phrase however with time being what authorities around the world need to work out Omicron, time very much will tell whether COVID-19 will get the better of AFCON - again.