Omicron Variant Raises International Concern

Source: Freepik

Multiple countries enforce travel restrictions for travellers from South Africa as the Omicron Variant spreads to Europe.

On Friday, 26th November the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement on the B.1.1.529 variant. Named the Omicron variant, the regulatory body has now classified the new strain under its list of Variant of Concern (VOC). This brings the total number of VOCs to five.

Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron.

World Health Organization

The B.1.1.529 variant was first identified in Botswana. Since then, cases have sprung up in South Africa, Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom. This has led to multiple countries enforcing strict travel bans, citing a huge international concern.

Australia and South Korea have both banned the entry of foreigners from several South African countries. Meanwhile, UK’s health secretary Sajid Javid recently banned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Why the Concern?

Although the delta variant remains the dominant strain across the world, multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged in the past. Some like the Mu variant have been added to WHO’s variant of interest list, while others remain under investigation as potential risks. However, what makes the Omicron variant different is the high number of mutations.

Overall, the virus has a total of 50 mutations with more than 30 on the spike protein. According to WHO’s statement, some of these mutations are quite concerning. The sharp rise in cases of the variant across the South African provinces has further raised concerns about the virus’s transmissibility. According to preliminary evidence, the variant poses a higher risk of reinfection. Multiple studies are currently underway to evaluate the variant.

Although the number of cases remains low, experts are urging precaution to people to reduce their exposure. The WHO is advising countries to step up their surveillance and sequencing efforts.

Source: World Health Organization


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