Health experts are concerned over a new strain of coronavirus, which has now sparked panic across the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron as ‘a variant of concern’, while some health experts are calling it as the “most concerning” since the Delta variant, which a few months ago fueled relentless waves of infections on every continent.
Variant B.1.1.529 is considered dangerous because of its increased transmissibility. WHO has said that the new variant may pose greater risks than the Delta variant.
So, here’s all you need to know about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Where did Omicron originate?
Omicron is believed to have originated in the southern part of Africa and WHO officially declared this on November 24. The new variant has caused a new surge in infections. The first known confirmed infection was from a sample collected on November 9, said WHO.
The new variant is now seen in travelers to Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel, as well as southern Africa.
What makes Omicron dangerous?
According to the WHO, the first evidence indicates an increased risk of reinfection compared to other highly transmissible variants. This means that people who have contracted Covid-19 and have recovered could be infected again.
Preliminary studies conducted on the new variant suggest that it makes vaccines 40 per cent less effective because of 32 mutations in the spike protein.
UK health experts said two of these mutations – R203K and G204R – help the virus replicate faster. H655Y, N679K and P681H, these three mutations help it to enter into the cells of the body more easily. The presence of last two mutations together is a rare occurrence and indicates that omicron is more resistant to vaccines.
According to the health experts, Omicron is missing a membrane protein NSP6, which was present in earlier iterations and this could make it more infectious.
However, scientists say more studies are required on the new strain and its behavior.
The researchers found Omicron in a sample taken from Botswana in Africa. Surprisingly, it contained over 30 changes or mutations to the spike protein.
However, the variant and its effects are still under study and scientists are trying to find out if it causes more severe disease. As with other variants, some infected persons show no symptoms, South African doctors have said.
WHO and other medical experts have warned against any overreaction before they understand the variant better.
Omicron triggers global panic
Omicron has triggered a global panic with the 27-nation European Union, the US and Canada and some other countries suspending air travel from southern Africa.