Omicron: Everything about new coronavirus variant, 'most concerning' since delta

Omicron has now been seen in travellers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel as well as in southern Africa. Studies are being done to better understand the nature of the variant and the extent of threat it poses.
People wearing protective face masks walk on the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris.(Representative Photo/Reuters)
People wearing protective face masks walk on the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris.(Representative Photo/Reuters)
Updated on Nov 27, 2021 07:43 AM IST
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By | Written by Amit Chaturvedi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A new variant of the coronavirus that causes the deadly Covid-19 infection is now wreaking havoc across the world, concerning health experts. Some have already dubbed omicron as the "most concerning" since the delta variant, which fuelled relentless waves of infection on every continent some months ago.

The B.1.1.529 variant is considered dangerous due to its increased transmissibility.

Also Read | Will develop booster shot for new Covid variant: Moderna

Countries raced to halt air travel, markets fell sharply and scientists held emergency meetings to weigh the exact risks, which were largely unknown.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has already categorised omicron as variant of concern. The global health body suggested omicron could pose greater risks than delta.

Here is everything you need to know about the new omicron variant of coronavirus:

Where did omicron originate?

The variant is believed to have originated in southern part of Africa (officially declared by WHO on November 24) and brought on a fresh surge of infections. The WHO said that the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9.

Omicron has now been seen in travellers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel as well as in southern Africa.

What makes it dangerous?

Early evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants, according to the WHO. That means people who contracted Covid-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again.

Also Read | Omicron variant poses 'high to very high' risk to Europe: EU health agency

"We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment," British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers on Friday.

What is known about the variant?

The researchers spotted the B.1.1.529 in a sample taken from Botswana in Africa. They were surprised to find that it contained more than 30 changes (mutations) to the spike protein.

However, the scientists are still studying the variant and its effects further to identify if it causes more severe disease. As with other variants, some infected people display no symptoms, the doctors in South Africa said.

Medical experts, including the WHO, warned against any overreaction before the variant was better understood.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government's top infectious disease expert, said though the omicron variant is thought to be more transmissible and resistant to vaccines than other variants, "we don't know that for sure right now".

The global panic

The 27-nation European Union suspended air travel from southern Africa. The United States and Canada too have instituted travel ban on those coming from South Africa.

Also Read | Don’t panic, wait and watch: WHO on ‘Omicron’ variant

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday.

US Presient Joe Biden said the new variant “should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations".

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