What to know about the Omicron variant, a new COVID-19 mutation

A new COVID-19 variant, now named the Omicron version, was revealed in South Africa on Wednesday, prompting fresh concerns about the pandemic, a major stock market collapse and the imposition of new international travel restrictions to stem the spread. Worried about

Although the existence of the variant was first reported by South Africa, it has also been found Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and the United Kingdom, meaning the variant has already spread – although it is unclear, as new cases continue to emerge around the world.

Although it will take a few weeks for scientists to understand the Omicron type, including how quickly it can spread and what the disease caused by this type of infection looks like, the World Health Organization has already called Omicron a “type of concern”. , which means it may be more virulent, more virulent, or more capable of evading the protection provided by vaccines than the original strain of COVID-19.

More details about the new version are sure to emerge in the coming days and weeks, but here’s what the experts are saying so far.

What do we know about the new version?

Preliminary evidence suggests that the Omicron variant is highly contagious, possibly more so than the delta variant. With more than 30 mutations on the spike protein – the part of the virus that binds to the human cell it infects – omicrons can be both more permeable and have more mechanisms to evade immunity already conferred by vaccines or prior infection. can be.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said: “The mutation would strongly suggest that it would be more contagious and that it could evade some protection from monoclonal antibodies and healthy plasma, and perhaps even antibodies induced by antibodies.” Is.” , told George Stephanopoulos of abc This week on Sunday,

As Fauci emphasized, though, vaccines still work, and they’re still the best way to protect yourself from the virus.

“I don’t think there is any possibility [the omicron variant] can completely evade any protection by the vaccine,” Fauci said, “It may dampen it a little, but that’s why you promote it.”

According to Dr. Angelique Coetzee, head of the South African Medical Association, so far, these types of cases have mainly been reported in young people, making them tired and accompanied by body aches and pains. “We are not talking about patients who can go straight to hospital and be admitted,” she told the BBC.

Compared to the peak of its epidemic, cases in South Africa are relatively low now. However, the country still saw a substantial increase in new infections: on Friday, South Africa reported 2,828 new Covid-19 cases, 90 percent of which were likely caused by the Omicron variant, according to the Associated Press.

According to the Journal, re-infection with the new version is also a concern. Nature, but at this early stage, it is difficult to tell how likely re-infection or breakthrough infection really is.

“The mutation profile gives us concern, but we now need to work to understand the importance of this type and what it means for the pandemic response,” said Dr Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In Durban, South Africa, said at a press conference of the South African Ministry of Health on Thursday.

Whether the efficacy of treatments like monoclonal antibodies — and the new pill treatments from Pfizer and Merck — against the Omicron version will be the same is also unclear, as is the new version’s virus, or how sick it will make infected people, Dr. Lena Wayne, professor of health policy at George Washington University, told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Friday,

According to the WHO, the earliest known case of the Omicron variant was on 9 November, and the mutation was first detected on 24 November in South Africa, which has an advanced detection system. While the Delta variant is still the dominant strain worldwide and currently accounts for 99.9 percent of cases in the U.S., the discovery of the Omicron variant coincided with a spike in South African cases—a more than 1,400 percent increase in the past two weeks, according to New York City. According to the Times.

However, according to Fauci, the variant has spread far more widely than in South Africa. NBC reporter Caitlan Collins said, “When you have a virus showing this degree of transmission and you have travel-related cases… tweeted on saturday, quoting Fauci.

What are governments doing to incorporate the new version?

On Friday, President Joe Biden announced new travel restrictions on eight southern African countries, which will take effect from Monday. Travel from Lesotho, South Africa, Eswatini, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Botswana will be restricted, although those restrictions will not apply to US citizens or green card holders, among other groups.

As Wayne said on FridayTravel restrictions don’t necessarily do much to stop the spread of the virus, but they can take time for governments to learn more about diseases and types and better protect their populations.

“I have decided that we are going to be cautious,” Biden told reporters on Friday. “But we don’t know much about the variant except that it is of great concern; it seems to be spreading rapidly.”

Other nations – including the UK, Australia, Israel, France and Germany – are restricting travel from southern African countries in an effort to include the new version, despite criticism from the South African government.

“This latest round of travel restrictions is punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and ability to detect new variants,” South Africa’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday. “Excellent science should be appreciated and not punished.”

until Saturday The US has not imposed any new travel restrictions on European or Asian countries where the Omicron variant has appeared.

In addition to imminent travel restrictions on several southern African countries, Biden urged vaccinations and boosters for US citizens as a response to the new version.

To that end, Biden on Friday called on wealthy countries to waive intellectual property rights on current vaccines and treatments, along with the ability to donate vaccines to low- and middle-income countries to do so so that poorer countries use generic generic drugs. be able to produce. Edition.

However, access is not the only issue when it comes to global vaccination campaigns. Vaccine hesitancy has proven to be a global problem, including in South Africa, where last week the government asked pharmaceutical companies to delay the delivery of new doses of the vaccine in response to a slump in demand, while 30 percent of its Fewer adult populations were vaccinated. Europe is currently battling a new outbreak, at least partly due to its uneven vaccine intake and vaccine resistance.

How worried should I be?

Experts say Omicron is likely already in the US since restrictions on international travel were eased earlier this month and that version is until at least November 9. And even though it isn’t there yet, it will soon.

“It’s not possible to keep this infection out of the country,” Fauci told the New York Times. “The question is: can you take it slow?”

While there are still many unknowns about the Omicron variant, experts agree that it is a disturbing development in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen variants come and go, and every month or two we hear about one,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. told PBS on Friday, “This one is related. This one is different. There are a lot of features here that worry me and many of us worry about it.”

Vox’s Umair Irfan reported in June, Delta, the current major strain of the virus, shows increased communicability and the ability to evade antibodies. But as with Delta, the key to limiting the spread of omicrons depends on human behavior and people’s willingness to engage with proven public health responses.

Stopping the spread also means preventing the possibility of harmful mutations for the virus. Mutations – changes in the makeup of the virus – are bound to happen, and many of them are harmless to people. However, the more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more likely it is to turn into a rapidly spreading virus, be more resistant to antibodies and treatments, or cause worse health outcomes – or even cause severe health problems. That all these negative traits too.

However, existing tools should still be effective in stopping omicrons. – According to WHO, PCR tests detect the variant, and Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins told NPR on Friday that “at the current time there is no data that indicates existing vaccines will not work. [against omicron],

Additionally, both masking and social distancing are proven strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as are vaccinations and getting a booster shot.

Those steps are especially important because the holiday season and cold weather bring people closer together indoors, where transmission occurs. Cases in the US rose 10 percent over the past two weeks, with more than 85,000 new cases, more than 52,000 hospitalizations and nearly 1,000 deaths every day, according to the New York Times’ Covid-19 tracker. As of November 24, about 75 percent of vaccine-eligible Americans have received at least one vaccine dose.

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