SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant (B.1.1.529)
Earlier on Wednesday 24th of November, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new COVID-19 variant to be ‘of concern’ and named it ‘Omicron’. Let’s find out more about Omicron.
How omicron started ?
The B.1.1.529 variant or omicron variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. In recent weeks, infections have extremely increased, with the detection of the new variant (B.1.1.529). Egypt among other countries has banned direct flights to South Africa to reduce the spread of the virus.
Directs flights from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini would be restricted and a range of measures would be introduced for any travelers arriving in Egypt from such countries via indirect flights, whether for transit or otherwise.
Egypt’s decision follows the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant that has primarily appeared in those seven countries, in addition to Israel, Belgium and Hong Kong.
All you need to know about SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant (B.1.1.529)
This variant has a huge number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other coronavirus variants. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.
Transmissibility of Omicron
It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but it’s not yet known whether it’s because of omicron or other factors.
Severity of disease
It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron. There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants. It was reported that younger individuals have more mild symptoms than the others. However to be fully aware of the level of severity of the Omicron variant will several weeks.
All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, specifically for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key.
How is omicron variant detected ?
Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.
What can we do to reduce the spread of Omicron Variant ?
People around the world must take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, keeping social distancing, wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated. You can easily get vaccinated by registering for vaccine in Ministry of health website through this link.
Can people get re-infected after being previously infected by COVID-19?
some studies suggest that people who were previously infected with COVID-19 could be re-infected more easily with Omicron comparing with other variants of coronavirus disease, when compared to other variants of concern, but information is limited. More information on this will become available in the coming days and weeks.
WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on vaccines. Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death.
What is the treatment protocol suggested ?
Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19. Other treatments will be assessed to see if they are still as effective given the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant.
What is the recommended actions for countries to reduce further spread ?
There are several actions WHO recommends countries to undertake, including enhancing surveillance and sequencing of cases; sharing genome sequences on publicly available databases, such as GISAID; reporting initial cases or clusters to WHO; performing field investigations and laboratory assessments to better understand if Omicron has different transmission or disease characteristics, or impacts effectiveness of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics or public health and social measures.
Countries should increase some public health and medical capacities to manage an increase in cases. WHO is providing countries with support and guidance for both readiness and response.
In addition, it is vitally important that inequities in access to COVID-19 vaccines are urgently addressed to ensure that vulnerable groups everywhere, including health workers and older persons, receive their first and second doses, alongside equitable access to treatment and diagnostics.