New COVID Variant Named Omicron: Is It More Transmissible?
The variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, the health ministry said.
A new COVID-19 variant Omicron (B.1.1.529), first detected in South Africa, has put India on alert with the Centre asking states to conduct "rigorous screening and testing" of all international travellers from these countries. It was declared a 'variant of concern' by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday, 26 November – after the fifteenth Greek alphabet.
The variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and could have public health implications, the health ministry said.
What do we know about the variant? What makes it more transmissible? Here's all you need to know.
Where was the new variant found?
The B.1.1.529 variant was first found in South Africa – confirmed via genomic sequencing.
How many cases of it have been found?
South Africa has detected 22 cases of the variant, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement. Botswana has recorded three cases, and Hong Kong one.
The person infected in Hong Kong flew to South Africa and stayed there from 22 October to 11 November. He got tested on 13 November for this particular variant while in quarantine – and it was positive.
Why has it been named 'Variant of Concern?'
This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning, the WHO said, in a statement.
"Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant," it added.
How transmissible is it?
The variant carries an unusually large number of mutations, Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said in a statement published by the Science Media Centre.
"It is difficult to predict how transmissible it may be at this stage. For the time being, it should be closely monitored and analysed, but there is no reason to get overly concerned, unless it starts going up in frequency in the near future."
In a Twitter thread, Dr Tom Peacock, Virologist at Imperial College London, said that "incredibly high amount of spike mutation suggest this could be a real concern" – predicting that it could escape antibodies.
Is it vaccine resistant?
We do not have enough information about this yet. Watch out this space for more information.
US pharmaceutical company Moderna on Saturday, 27 November, said that it will be developing a vaccine for the new variant.
"The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant," Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told news agency AFP.
Have there been any deaths?
There is no recorded death yet.
What are the other variants of concern?
As per the World Health Organization, only four variants of the coronavirus are designated as variants of concern – namely Alpha (lineage B.1.1.7), Beta (lineage B.1.351), Gamma (lineage P.1) and Delta (lineage B.1.617.2).
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