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Omicron: Why Is The New COVID-19 Variant Considered Dangerous? Experts Explain

A variant B.1.1.529, dubbed Omicron by WHO, was classified as a variant of concern by the Technical Advisory Group for Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) on 26 November 2021. Omicron has prompted countries around the world to tighten travel restrictions in light of uncertainty over the new B.1.1.529 variant.

What Makes The Omicron Variant Dangerous?

This variant was first identified in Southern Africa due to Botswana's advanced medical research system and the world's largest gene sequencing facility. It is believed to be spreading faster than the Delta variant, the world's predominant strain.

According to experts, omicron has more than 30 mutations - more than any variant and twice as many as Delta [1]. Health experts in the UK claim that two of these mutations - R203K and G204R - help the virus replicate more rapidly. And three of these mutations - H655Y, N679K, and P681H - contribute to the virus's ability to enter the cells of the body more easily. The presence of these last two mutations together, a rare event, suggests that Omicron is more resistant to vaccines [2].

Transmissibility: It is not clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, including Delta. There has been an increase in the number of people testing positive in South Africa that are affected by this variant. Still, epidemiologic studies are underway to understand whether the increase is related to Omicron or other factors [3].

Symptoms: There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.

Severity of disease: It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease than infections with other variants, such as Delta. Based on preliminary data, there appears to be an increase in hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to an increase in the number of people becoming infected rather than a result of a specific Omicron infection [4].

Vaccine effectiveness: Experts are working to understand the potential impact of this variant on existing countermeasures, including vaccines. Vaccines remain an important tool in combating severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines are highly effective against severe disease and death [5].

Effectiveness of current tests: The widely used PCR tests continue to detect infections, including Omicron-related infections. Studies are underway to determine whether other types of tests will be affected, including rapid antigen detection tests [6].

Treatment effectiveness: Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19. As a result of the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant, the effectiveness of alternative treatments will be evaluated [7].

What Are The Precautionary Steps Against The Omicron Variant?

The best way for individuals to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus (all variants) is to maintain a physical distance of at least one metre between themselves and others. Wearing a mask and opening windows to improve ventilation are also recommended. Avoid crowded and poorly ventilated spaces, washing hands frequently, coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue, and getting vaccinated when it is necessary are also recommended [8].

On A Final Note...

Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to understand many aspects of Omicron better and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available.

Is Omicron variant found in India?

There have been no cases of the newly discovered, highly transmissible variant of Covid-19, Omicron, in India. However, India has already introduced stricter guidelines for travellers from or transiting through at-risk countries.

When did Omicron variant start?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the variant was found in a specimen collected on 9 November.

What is the new strain of COVID-19 called?

The World Health Organization has identified a new strain of COVID-19, B.1.1.529, as a "variant of concern" and classified it as an "Omicron variant."

Does the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spread faster?

Based on an analysis of the global transmission of the two variants, Omicron is spreading faster than Delta in the first few days of its circulation.

Is the Omicron variant of COVID-19 more transmissible?

It is possible that Omicron could become the most infectious Coronavirus variant yet. Based on preliminary data, it appears that omicron became widespread across southern Africa within a very short period of time. Researchers believe its many mutations may contribute to its transmissibility.