Omicron, a new variant of the coronavirus, signals a danger among scientists — but there are more mysteries than the answer to its public threat.


Johannesburg Healthcare Professionals in South Africa Offers Covid Tests to Travelers As Omicron Subspecies Spreads

Healthcare workers will conduct a COVID-19 test at an airport in Johannesburg, South Africa on November 26th.Reuters / Sumaya Hisham

  • Who Label new coronavirus variants, Omicron, Friday’s “Variety of Concerns”.

  • Subspecies of B.1.1.529 contain signs of being more contagious or at greater risk than other strains.

  • But scientists are just beginning to investigate the threat of Omicron, including unfamiliar mutations.

The first coronavirus variants detected in South Africa have spread to several other countries, including Israel and Belgium. A series of travel bans Europe, Asia, and North America..

According to public health experts, a new mutant called Omicron has a worrying number of mutations that are more contagious than the delta mutant and are more likely to cause serious illness.

who Indicate Omicron as a “variant of concern” Friday — Designation given to variants such as Delta that require scrutiny by public health authorities. Preliminary evidence suggests that Omicron may increase the risk of reinfection compared to other variant of concern, WHO said.

But scientists are just beginning to investigate the threat of Omicron. Compared to Delta’s more than 2.8 million sequences, the genomic sequences of variants reported worldwide are less than 100.

“We’re still not sure about this variant,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, at a briefing on Thursday. “What we know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. The concern is that if there are too many mutations, it can affect the behavior of the virus. . “

Variant Lab

Researchers sequenced coronavirus samples at the Institute of Microbiology at the Badajoz University Hospital in Spain on April 15.Javier Purpo / Europa Press / Getty Images

“It will take a few weeks to understand how this variant affects,” she added.

Many scientists want an answer much sooner, Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist at the UT Health School of Public Health, told Insider. She said the subspecies may lie undetected in some parts of the globe.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it had already landed in the United States,” Jeterina said. “We have already seen this being communicated in communities such as Turkey, Egypt, Belgium and Israel.”

Omicron contains some new, unfamiliar mutations

South African researchers identified the first case of Omicron on 9 November and reported the variant to WHO on Wednesday. Scientists expect them to detect the mutant early, as most of the known cases are still concentrated in southern Africa.

“We know that South Africa has one of the best genome monitoring systems in the world, so they are really constantly evaluating this virus,” Jetelina said. “The fact that only 100 cases have been detected so far in South Africa really gives us hope that this is an early stage of dissemination.”

Nevertheless, many markers suggest that Omicron is highly contagious compared to other coronavirus variants. For one thing, cases of South African coronavirus have increased exponentially in the past few weeks. Average daily cases According to data from Johns Hopkins University, this variant has increased from about 275 to 3,700 per day since it was first discovered on November 9.

covid test south africa

Doctors Without Borders nurses will conduct a COVID-19 test on healthcare workers in Johannesburg on May 13, 2020.Micheles Patari / AFP / Getty Images

To Omicron Some anxious mutations It is found in other variant of concern variants, including Delta and Alpha, which can help it spread, reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine, and lead to more serious illness.

There are also some unfamiliar mutations in the new variants.

“There are some mutations that we don’t have information about,” Jetelina said. “They haven’t seen them in a variant of their previous concerns. So one of the first questions is what are these? Do we need to worry about them?”

So far, scientists have identified 32 mutations in the mutant spike protein. This is a coronary ridge protruding from the surface of the virus that helps it invade cells. Other mutant strains of concern have fewer spike mutations.

“Peplomer is basically the key to cells to infect us, so if that protein changes, for better or for worse, we really need to pay attention to it,” Jetelina said. .. “It probably produces this increase in the cases currently seen in South Africa.”

Public health experts say you don’t need to panic yet

The large number of mutations does not necessarily mean that the mutant strain is fatal or contagious. Nor does it suggest that Omicron poses a greater challenge to vaccines than other concerned mutants.

“I’m still not sure if this new variant outperforms Delta,” Jeterina said. “I’m still not sure if that avoids our vaccine.”

Mike Ryan WHO can't hug each other right now

Mike Ryan, WHO Director of Health Emergency, at a press conference at WHO Headquarters in Geneva on March 11, 2020.Agence Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images

Scientists are still waiting for laboratory studies to determine how well coronavirus antibodies from either natural infections or vaccines can tolerate Omicron. They are also closely watching how rapidly the variants spread around the world, especially in countries with high vaccination rates. (South Africa has been completely vaccinated twenty four% Compared to that population 59% In the United States. )

“We really need to hold it tight to see how this works and what the next move is,” Jeterina said.

Modana, BioNTech-Pfizer, When Johnson & Johnson Everyone said on Friday that they were testing how well the vaccine was protected against Omicron.

Jeterina added that people who are fully vaccinated and wear masks in public indoor environments should not feel forced to change their behavior right now.

Mike Ryan, Managing Director of the WHO Emergency Program, shared a similar message on Thursday.

“The virus has evolved and we pick up variations. It’s not the end of the world. The sky isn’t falling,” he said. “I have the idea of ​​waiting for the next variant, and I don’t want people to spend their lives worrying about it every day,” he said.

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