Omicron Coronavirus Variant: WHO Shares Details On Variant Of Concern Which Has Been Found In More Than 12 Countries

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Nov 29, 2021 02:40 PM +05:30 IST
Omicron Coronavirus Variant: WHO Shares Details On Variant Of Concern Which Has Been Found In More Than 12 CountriesA representative image for coronavirus
Snapshot
  • In its latest Coronavirus update, WHO says it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, including Delta.

    It also stated that the vaccines, notably those against the major circulating variant like Delta, are still effective in preventing serious illness and death.

The highly mutated Coronavirus variant B.1.1.529 or Omicron so far has been found in more than a dozen countries, triggering the global alarm, while several countries around the world have imposed travel curbs.

Even though around the world, there is growing concern that the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will last significantly longer than expected, the World Health Organization (WHO), in its latest update on the variant, stated that “it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta”.

“Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalisation in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron,” WHO noted in its latest update on the virus variant.

The global health agency also stated that there is currently no evidence that the symptoms associated with Omicron are distinct from those associated with other variants. Additionally, according to the WHO, preliminary research suggests that the newly detected variant of concern may have a higher risk of reinfection than other variants, but the evidence is limited.

“Initially reported infections were among university students—younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease—but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks,” the United Nations agency added.

Additionally, the agency noted that as the experts have observed with previous variants, commonly used PCR tests will continue to detect infection, even infection with Omicron. Other types of tests, such as quick antigen detection tests, are being studied to see if there is any impact.

Countries and Omicron

A number of nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Brazil, have imposed travel bans on African countries, but South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged countries to urgently lift "scientifically unjustified" travel restrictions related to the discovery of Omicron.

Apart from South Africa, the Omicron variant has been found in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Denmark, Australia, Italy, Canada, France, Israel and the UK.

In the United States, the authorities imposed travel ban on South Africa and seven other African countries. Meanwhile, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said that Omicron is likely already in the US, although it has not yet been detected. He recommended Americans to take measures while scientists investigate its possible impact.

However, in India, amid concerns over the new variant, a 32-year-old Dombivli resident who arrived from South Africa via Delhi on 24 November tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival, but health officials have yet to determine if he is infected with the Omicron. Officials from the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) stated that they had notified airport officials and were working to find the man's fellow passengers.

Indian authorities have announced amended instructions for overseas travellers arriving from "at-risk" nations such as the entire European Union, South Africa, and Brazil, mandating testing upon arrival, home quarantine for seven days if the test is negative, and a retest on the eighth day.

Meanwhile, several states have put their own regulations in place. Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, has asked the centre to impose a travel ban from high-risk countries. In Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has begun contacting over 450 people who arrived in the city over the last 15 days from nations of concern, including South Africa.

However, the Director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, Dr Randeep Guleria, cautioned on 28 November that the new variant Omicron has at least 30 mutations in the spike protein, giving it the capacity to overcome immunity afforded by immunisations.

But in terms of vaccines, WHO stated that the agency is collaborating with technical partners to determine the impact of Omicron on existing countermeasures. It said that vaccines, notably those against the major circulating variant like Delta, are still effective in preventing serious illness and death.

In the case of medication, WHO said: “Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe Covid-19. Other treatments will be assessed to see if they are still as effective given the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant.”

The WHO recommended in its latest update on the variant that countries need to adopt a number of steps, including increasing surveillance and sequencing of cases, as well as exchanging genome sequences on publically accessible databases.

“Countries should continue to implement the effective public health measures to reduce Covid-19 circulation overall, using risk analysis and science-based approach. They should increase some public health and medical capacities to manage an increase in cases. WHO is providing countries with support and guidance for both readiness and response,” it added.

The WHO also stated that inequities in Covid-19 vaccine access must be quickly addressed to guarantee that vulnerable groups worldwide, including health professionals and the elderly, receive their first and second doses, as well as equal access to treatment and diagnostics. The agency also urged people to take necessary measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

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