New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared the new coronavirus strain, first found in South Africa, as a ‘variant of concern’ and named it Omicron. It has a large number of mutations, and early evidence suggests an increased reinfection risk, the WHO said. The Omicron or B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the WHO by South Africa on November 24, and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. After WHO designated the new strain as one of concern, several countries around the world decided to ban or restrict travel to and from southern Africa.
The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of Covid-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma. The change in classification came after a quickly-assembled virtual meeting of the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution.
However, the scientists are saying that more studies are needed to understand if Omicron is indeed leading to more hospitalisations and fatalities.
Origin Of The New Covid Variant — Omicron
The variant is believed to have originated in southern part of Africa, officially declared by WHO on November 24, and brought on a fresh surge of infections. However, the first known confirmed Omicron infection was from a specimen collected on November 9.
Omicron has now been seen in travellers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel as well as in southern Africa.
The variant has been named Omicron by the World Health Organization, following the pattern of Greek code-names like the Alpha and Delta variants.
Large Number of Mutations: Study
The researchers spotted the B.1.1.529 in a sample taken from Botswana in Africa. They were surprised to find that it contained more than 32 changes (mutations) to the spike protein.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said, pointing to worrying characteristics. The global health body suggested omicron could pose greater risks than delta.
According to preliminary studies by health experts in UK, and cited by Daily Mail, the new variant could make vaccines 40 per cent less effective due to high spike protein. However, the WHO is still studying the potential impact of the variant on the existing countermeasures, including vaccines.
The WHO on Sunday (November 28) said it is “not yet clear” whether the newly-detected coronavirus variant Omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe disease compared to other variants, including the highly-transmissible and globally prevalent Delta variant.
Why Is Omicron Scary?
Early evidence of the variant can propose threat and increased risk of infection compared with other highly transmissible variants, according to WHO. So, this means that people who contracted Covid-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again.
However, there are no cases of Omicron detected in India so far.
Global Response To Omicron
The WHO has warned countries against the new variant and suggested that should not hastily impose travel restrictions and said that countries should look for risk-based and scientific approach.
However, in addition to the UK, and the US and the EU, a host of other countries have also announced restrictions. Several other countries have put on restrictions and vigorous screening on Airports like Australia, Brazil, Japan, Iran, Africa, and Australia.
The WHO said about 100 genome sequences of the variant have been reported so far. Many of the infected people were fully vaccinated, with at least one person in Israel having also received a third, booster, dose of vaccine.