Omicron: Why the new coronavirus variant is so scary? Experts explain
The omicron variant of the coronavirus has an already stressed world more worried. The variant, first discovered in Botswana in southern Africa, is believed to be spreading faster than the delta variant - the world-dominant strain.
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However, the scientists are saying that more studies are needed to understand if the omicron (or B.1.1.529) - categorised as 'variant of concern' by the World Health Organization (WHO) - is indeed leading to more hospitalisations and fatalities.
Dubbed as 'super strain' by healthcare experts, omicron has more than 30 mutations - more than any other variants and twice as many as delta.
What are the concerns around the omicron variant?
According to preliminary studies conducted on the new variant, it makes vaccines 40 per cent less effective. This is due to 32 mutations in the spike protein.
According to health experts based in the UK, cited by Daily Mail, two of these mutations - R203K and G204R - help the virus replicate faster. Three of these mutations - H655Y, N679K and P681H - help it to sneak into the into the body's cells more easily, they said. The presence of last two mutations together, a rare occurrence, also indicate omicron is more resistant to vaccines.
The experts also said that omicron is missing a membrane protein (NSP6) - seen in earlier iterations of the virus - which could make it more infectious.
However, scientists has said that more studies are needed before concrete results are established about the omicron variant and its behaviour.
Where did omicron originate?
The variant originated in southern part of Africa earlier this month, according to WHO, and brought on a fresh surge of infections.
Omicron has now been seen in travellers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel as well as in southern Africa.
The global response
A number of countries, including the United States, have imposed a travel ban on African countries due to emergence of omicron, which has led to 320% surge in infection in the continent.
These countries are: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.
Where has the omicron variant spread?
Two confirmed cases have been reported in Hong Kong, and one each in Israel and Belgium. Three others are suspected be carrying the strain in Israel.
In case of Hong Kong, a man contracted the strain in South Africa and another one who was staying in another room also got it from him. Israel's confirmed case is a man, who recently travelled to Malawi.