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The Omicron Variant

Omicron is the latest variant of Coronavirus Disease 19 (Covid-19).

The World Health Organization has classified it as a Variant of Concern (VOC) on 26/11/2021 after being advised by the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).

The Omicron variant has several myths and false information surrounding it which is fueling widespread panic all across the world.

The Omicron variant (officially numbered as B.1.1.529) was first discovered in South Africa, the first specimen of which was collected on 9/11/2021. Since then it has spread to its neighboring countries like Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Due to lack of early action, the variant has now spread over to several other countries like Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, Germany, Israel, and the Netherlands.

This variant is a cause of concern since it has dominated all Covid-19 infections in South Africa. Experts feel the mutations of this variant are “concerning” as Omicron has a large number of mutations.

The preliminary tests of the new variant suggest there is a higher chance of re-infection from this variant. Although a large number of people have been infected by this variant in South Africa, studies are being conducted to check whether the transmission rate of the variant is relatively higher as opposed to the other variants, or a large number of infections have a different cause.

There are no noticeable new symptoms from the new variant. The effectiveness of vaccines on this new strain is currently being tested. The good news is the fact that RT-PCR tests are able to detect this variant successfully.

The greatest concern, however, is the fact that most mutations in this variant are on the spike proteins of the virus. For the unversed, Spike proteins [S] (actually glycoproteins) are the large bumps on the outer envelope of the virus. Under a microscope, these spikes appear like a crown (corona in Latin, which led to this virus being named the Coronavirus).

These spike proteins are utilized by the viruses to attach themselves to human cells which they infect. The issue is that several vaccines target spike proteins, so experts fear for the efficacy of these vaccines.

omicron variant

[source:https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Spike-Proteins.aspx]

Following the discovery of the new variant, several countries have taken steps to curb its advance. Australia has postponed its plan to open its borders for international students and workers, which was intended on 1/12/2021, by at least 2 weeks. The UK has banned flights into the country from 9 southern African countries. Israel has decided to shut its borders to all international passengers, after having reopened 4 weeks ago, and reauthorized the use of a cell phone tracking program to monitor the infected people.

For citizens, WHO is recommending several practices, such as wearing well-fitting masks, maintaining a social distance of 1 meter, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and good hygiene. The threat of Covid-19 has not passed. Several people are still being infected worldwide. Therefore, we must ensure our own safety by practicing safety procedures and thereby prevent the transmission of said disease.

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