The Omicron variant was identified on 23rd November and highlighted as a concern due to its high number of mutations which eventually could lead it to evade immunity. The WHO has said that it poses a “very high” global risk. While, the variant itself is a concern, there are equally harmful repercussions on the emotional health of the overall population. With not much information available and the world just about recovering from the extended period of lockdowns and uncertainty, we need to keep ourselves informed.
Why are scientists worried about it?
To keep it short, the variant has double the capability of unlocking our body’s cells. It means that it has 30 spike proteins that are more than double the number carried by the Delta variant. This gives rise to questions such as if the previous vaccine will work on this variant or not. Purely based on knowing this, scientists anticipate that the virus will be more likely to infect or reinfect people who have immunity to earlier variants.
Where do they come from?
Initially, it was linked to the Gauteng province of South Africa. This doesn’t mean it was originated there. The earliest sample was collected on 11 November in Botswana. Is it more transmissible?
We don’t know that yet. But the picture is worrying because there has been a surge of cases in South Africa from 273 cases on 16th November to more than 1200 a week later. More than 80% of these cases were from the Gauteng region and this suggests that the variant has become the dominant strain.
Do existing vaccines work against it?
Theoretical predictions and studies are being conducted rapidly to check if the vaccines are effective against them. Some scientists are concerned about the number of mutations and the fact that some of them have already been linked to an ability to evade existing immune protection.
Will it cause worse symptoms?
According to Dr Angelique Coetzee, who runs a private practice in SA, the Omicron patients she has seen have relatively mild symptoms. Instead, they have had unusual symptoms such as intense fatigue and a high pulse rate.
Has it spread around the world?
Since the announcement, there have been cases in around a dozen countries including Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Mozambique, the Netherlands and Portugal.
What can we do?
All we need to do is take all precautionary measures and keep ourselves safe. We must keep ourselves hydrated and maintain social distance wherever possible. Wash your hands as much as possible.
Previous experiences show that travel bans tend to buy time but short of taking a zero-Covid approach with hard lockdowns, these measures are unlikely to stop the spread of the new variant.
So, sit tight and make sure you are as careful as before.