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ColumnsAll you need to know about the 'Omicron' Covid variant

All you need to know about the ‘Omicron’ Covid variant

Published: 26th Nov 2021 11:31 pm | Updated: 27th Nov 2021 9:43 am

The new variant B 1.1. 529, which was designated as a ‘Variant of Concern’ by World Health Organisation on Friday night, has been assigned the name Omicron. Reported by public health officials of South Africa, the new variant has triggered a lot of concern worldwide over a probable resurgence of Covid infections. While many new variants of SARS-CoV-2 were reported in the last few months, the B1.1.529 or Omicron unfortunately has attracted lot of interest.

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Here are the most important questions related to the new variant that one must pay attention to: –

How many countries have reported this virus and how many cases have been reported so far?

So far, Covid infections due to Omicron variant have been reported in South Africa (77 cases), Botswana (4 cases), Hong Kong (2 cases) and 1 each in Belgium and Israel.

Track the latest numbers here:


How fast it can spread?

The new variant B 1.1.529 appears to be faster than the existing dominant Delta variant. For instance, in less than 2 weeks, it has become a dominant variant of all infections in South Africa, out-competing the Delta variant. The Delta variant was already devastating in South Africa.

How protected are those who have taken the vaccines?

A child winces as he receives his Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg

Reports have indicated that many persons who tested positive for B 1.1.529 in South Africa and other countries were fully vaccinated and some even had received booster doses. Scientists are worried that the new variant might bypass the current vaccines against Covid-19. The B.1.1.529 variant has 50 mutations overall, including more than 30 on the spike protein alone which is the target of most current Covid vaccines. However, a clearer picture will emerge in the coming days, as researchers don’t yet know the clear implications of the new variant on vaccines and boosters.

Why you should be worried about the new variant of coronavirus?

According to MOHFW, the new variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus has serious public health implications.

How different it is from the original virus?

The B1.1.529 has more than 2 times the number of bad spike mutations than the Delta variant. The new variant has an extremely high 32 worrisome mutations in the spike protein, which is a real concern than the Delta variant.

How rapidly it spreads?

Based on reports from South Africa, the B1.1.529 has become the dominant strain. It appears to be faster than the existing dominant Delta variant. For instance, in less than 2 weeks, it has become a dominant variant of all infections in South Africa

What impact will it have on travel? How many countries have imposed restrictions on air travel?

Countries like United Kingdom has imposed travel restrictions on African countries over concerns that vaccines may be less effective against the variant. Germany, Italy, Israel, Japan, Kenya and Singapore have also restricted travel. The European Union has called its member states to halt travel to and from nations where the new variant has been reported.

What is India doing about the new virus?

Concerned with the development of new variants, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) has directed Indian States to strengthen surveillance activities across all airports. States have started tracking travellers flying-in from countries where the infections due to the new variant have been reported.

What is the stand of WHO on the B1.1.529?

Following the detection of the new variant, the WHO technical advisory group on SARS-CoV-2 virus evolution is expected to meet to review what’s known and plan further studies. Meanwhile, we need to focus on strengthening vaccination coverage and public health measures. Let’s be cautious, listen to scientists & not panic, WHO, Chief Scientist, Soumya Swaminathan said.

Infectious Disease Epidemiologist; COVID-19 Technical Lead at WHO, Maria Van Kerkhove urged everyone out there not to discriminate against countries that share their findings on new variants openly. I thank researchers from South Africa and Botswana for sharing information with WHO and world about B.1.1.529 variant that has been recently detected. We will convene our TAG-VE again today to discuss the issue.

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