The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) had identified the variant on 29th November 2021. It had detected a group of related SARS-CoV-2 viruses, which belong to a lineage named B.1.1.529.
What we do know so far about Omicron?
- New variants continue to emerge as SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the significance of each mutation becomes known after a period of time.
- Health authorities worldwide need to keep a constant watch to identify which ones are more important than others. It was as part of such an exercise that the NGS-SA detected B.1.1.529.
- From what is known currently, B.1.1.529 has multiple spike protein mutations, and preliminary analysis suggests it is highly infectious.
- South Africa has reported a four-fold increase in new cases over the last two weeks, coinciding with the emergence of B.1.1.529.
- Omicron is placed in the most-troubling category of Covid-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
- This variant has a large number of mutations. Some of them are cause for serious concern because they may allow the new variant to evade immunity obtained from a past infection or via a vaccine.
- However, there are no reliable estimates of just how much more transmissible the Omicron variant is compared to previous strains of the virus.
- The new Variants could kick off new wave(s) of epidemic transmission.
Are the symptoms any different?
- The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of South Africa has said that currently, “no unusual symptoms” have been reported following infection with the B.1.1.529 variant.
- It has highlighted the fact that, as with other infectious variants such as Delta, some individuals are asymptomatic.
Variants of Concern
The WHO currently lists 5 variants of concern:
- Omicron (B.1.1.529), identified in southern Africa in November 2021
- Delta (B.1.617.2), which emerged in India in late 2020 and spread around the world
- Gamma (P.1), which emerged in Brazil in late 2020
- Beta (B.1.351), which emerged in South Africa in early 2020
- Alpha (B.1.1.7), which merged in Britain in late 2020.
Situation In India:
Seroprevalence studies indicate that a large proportion of the population has already been exposed to the virus providing some level of protection to subsequent infections. Further, the immunisation campaign has gained momentum.
- Approximately 44% of Indian adults have been fully vaccinated and 82% have received at least one dose.
- Scientists believe that prior infection followed by one or two doses of vaccination may have a larger protective effect than two doses of the vaccination alone.
Travel Ban Reinstated
- United States’ ban on travel from southern Africa: Starting on November 29, foreign nationals who have been in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe within the previous 14 days will not be allowed to enter the United States. U.S. citizens and residents are exempt.
- Australia delays border reopening: Australia announced on November 29 that it will postpone its plans to begin reopening to foreign visa holders, including students and skilled migrants, for two weeks—until December 15—after detecting its first cases of the Omicron variant.
- European Union asks members to suspend air travel to southern Africa: On November 26, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, urged European Union member countries to “act very swiftly, decisively and united” in light of the new Omicron variant.
- Israel closes its borders after recently reopening to vaccinated travelers: After opening is borders to fully vaccinated travelers at the start of November following an 18-month closure, Israel is once again barring entry for all foreigners for a period of at least 14 days starting on November 29.
- Japan bars entry of all foreign travellers: On November 28, Japan announced that it will suspend entry for all foreign visitors.
- India: Amid rising concern over the new strain of coronavirus, designated as ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Government of India issued a fresh travel advisory for international passengers. The new guidelines require all travelers coming to India from countries identified as “at-risk” to mandatorily undergo Covid-19 testing on arrival at the airport. The 12 countries which have been listed as “at risk” include the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Israel.
What precautions should one take?
- All the expert bodies have stressed that vaccination remains critical, especially to protect groups at high risk of hospitalisation and death. Real-time data have shown that high vaccination rates also significantly reduce the strain on health systems.
- The emergence of the new variant shows once again that the pandemic is far from over — and Covid-appropriate behaviour is critical for breaking the chain of transmission: masking, social distancing, good ventilation in all shared spaces, and washing or sanitising hands and surfaces regularly.
- Source: Indian Express.