Thursday, May 19, 2022

New Covid-19 Variant “Omicron”, Discovered In South Africa

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On Thursday, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced the discovery of the new variant, B.1.1.529 — with 22 positive cases of the strain detected in the country.

After a meeting of the technical advisory group on SARS-CoV-2 virus evolution (TAG-VE), an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates COVID-19 evolution, the World Health Organisation (WHO) named the new variant “Omicron” and designated it a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC) because of its “concerning” number of mutations.

Scientists are working to unravel more details about the variant. But here are a few things we do know about the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

According to the NICD, the variant was first identified on November 23 from Lancet samples collected from Gauteng that showed different results in the PCR. These samples were taken from November 14 to November 16. It is, however, not clear where the variant originated from.

Currently, the Omicron variant has been detected in six countries — 83 cases in South Africa, six in Botswana, two in Hong Kong, two in the United Kingdom, and one each in Israel and Belgium.

What worries scientists is that the Omicron variant has 32 mutations, some of which are novel, in the spike protein — the part that allows the virus to penetrate host cells and cause infection. These mutations are double that of the Delta variant, the dominant and most infectious COVID-19 variant so far.

The variant was only just recently detected, there is little data on how it behaves in the real world.

South Africa’s health minister said he expects the existing vaccines to still offer protection against severe illness and death from the new variant, even if they might be less effective at preventing infections and milder disease.

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