What do we know about new COVID variant Omicron?

What do we know about new COVID variant Omicron?

Covid new variant: The World Health Organization named the new COVID-19 variant- Omicron on November 26, 2021. The WHO Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus advised that the new COVID-19 variant should be designated a Variant of Concern’ due to its concerning mutations.

Omicron is the first new variant of concern since delta variant and is said to be more contagious. Preliminary evidence suggests that there is an increased risk of reinfection with the new COVID variant.  As per experts, Omicron is anticipated to cause the third wave. The variant, first reported in South Africa, has reportedly undergone more mutations to the ‘spike protein’ than the existing variants and it also raises questions on the efficacy of the vaccine.

The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution met today to review what is known about the #COVID19 variant B.1.1.529.
They advised WHO that it should be designated a Variant of Concern.
WHO has named it Omicron, in line with naming protocols https://t.co/bSbVas9yds pic.twitter.com/Gev1zIt1Ek

— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO)
November 26, 2021

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting with top government officials on November 27 to discuss the current COVID-19 situation and vaccination. 

PM Narendra Modi chairs meeting with top govt officials on COVID-19 situation & vaccination; Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Principal Secretary to PM, PK Mishra, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan & NITI Aayog member (health) Dr VK Paul are among the attendees

(Photo: PMO) pic.twitter.com/u4keTTDlwx

— ANI (@ANI)
November 27, 2021

The BMC in Maharashtra has also called a meeting of senior officials at 5:30 pm today on the new COVID variant. Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar said, “every person returning from South Africa will be quarantined on arrival in Mumbai and their samples will be sent for genome sequencing.”

Every person returning from South Africa will be quarantined on arrival in Mumbai and their samples will be sent for genome sequencing: Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar pic.twitter.com/bQwGlajO4Z

— ANI (@ANI)
November 27, 2021

What do we know about new COVID variant?

What is it called?

WHO has named the new COVID variant, initially referred to as B.1.1.529, as Omicron. As per the WHO system of naming, such variants are assigned a Greek letter that does not associate them with the location from where they were first detected. 

When was Omicron variant first detected?

The new COVID variant was first detected on November 23, 2021 and it was highlighted as a concern due to its large number of mutations that could possibly lead it to evade immunity. The variant has been linked to a spike in the number of cases in the Gauteng province of South Africa in the past two weeks. 

However, it is not necessarily that the variant originated there. The earliest sample that shows the variant was reportedly collected from Botswana on November 11. 

Why is the new COVID variant concerning?

The new COVID variant Omicron reportedly has over 30 mutations on its spike protein, which is used by the virus to unlock our body’s cells. This is almost double than the number of mutations carried by the Delta variant, which caused havoc across the world earlier this year. 

The variant’s high mutation capability has raised concerns that the antibodies from previous infections may not be enough to fight off this new variant. This means that the virus is more likely to cause reinfections.

The chief medical adviser to the UK Health and Security Agency described the variant as the “most worrying we’ve seen”.

The new #COVID19 virus variant – Omicron – has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. This is why we need to speed up our efforts to deliver on #VaccinEquity ASAP and protect the most vulnerable everywhere. https://t.co/b9QBMJXtJl

— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros)
November 26, 2021

Will the new variant cause severe Covid?

There is no data yet to suggest whether the variant leads to severity in Covid symptoms. The new variant is so far being considered as worse than Delta variant due to its high mutation property and high transmissibility that can infect even the vaccinated and those infected before.  

Will the vaccines work against the new COVID variant?

Though researchers don’t have enough data to confirm whether vaccines will be effective against this variant or not, there are hints that the vaccines could be less effective against the new COVID variant. 

Some of the omicron’s mutations are already known to help the virus evade the immune system, to resist antibodies and avoid detection by some of the body’s frontline defenders.

How to protect ourselves from COVID infection?

We can prevent getting ourselves infected by avoiding large gatherings, getting ourselves vaccinated and wearing masks and maintaining hand hygiene.

Which countries have reported cases of new COVID variant?

So far, most of the confirmed cases of the new COVID variant have been in South Africa and few in Botswana and Hong Kong. As per reports, one individual returning from Malawi to Israel was also detected to have the new variant and two other cases are suspected in the nation. Belgium has also confirmed one case.

Global Travel curbs

The detection of the new COVID variant has triggered global alarm countries rushing to suspend travel from southern Africa.

The United States has already announced that it will restrict travel from South Africa and neighbouring countries effective from November 29th. Canada is also closing its borders to those countries. The European countries have also announced a ban on flights to countries where the new COVID variant has been detected.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal also urged the Indian PM to stop flights from those countries which are affected by new variant (of COVID-19). He said, “with great difficulty, our country has recovered from Corona. We should do everything possible to prevent this new variant from entering India.”

I urge the PM to stop flights from those countries which are affected by new variant (of COVID-19). With great difficulty, our country has recovered from Corona. We should do everything possible to prevent this new variant from entering India: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal

pic.twitter.com/uaIy5lYXIC

— ANI (@ANI)
November 27, 2021

Is it late for imposing travel curbs?

As per several experts, it may be too late to impose travel curbs as most likely the virus is already in other places. Several top officials have said that instead of imposing travel bans, the focus should be on getting more people vaccinated.

South Africa-based infectious disease expert, Richard Lessels said that the focus should be on getting more people vaccinated in places that have struggled to access sufficient shots. He said that the virus can evolve in the absence of adequate levels of vaccination.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva also tweeted, “Failure to help vaccinate sub-Saharan Africa – still barely 4% of the population – left us all exposed to the risk of a new, more virulent #COVID variant.” She added saying “News of #Omicron is an urgent reminder of why we need to do even more to vaccinate the world.”

Failure to help vaccinate sub-Saharan Africa—still barely 4% of the population—left us all exposed to risk of a new, more virulent #COVIDvariant.

News of #Omicron is an urgent reminder of why we need to do even more to vaccinate the world.https://t.co/3qJwgZHdfA pic.twitter.com/vEtwg6Wq3y

— Kristalina Georgieva (@KGeorgieva)
November 26, 2021

In low-income countries, less than 7 percent of the people have received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot.

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