The variant of Coronavirus that caused the most damage in India was identified as Delta, but now B.1.1.529 or OMICRON is the new COVID-19 variant that has been causing concern for the authorities.
WHO has a group of top experts/scientists that has been keeping a close eye on the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
They assess all the possible mutations of the virus. These experts were convened on 26 November 2021 to assess the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529 aka OMICRON variant.
The B.1.1.529 / Omicron variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021.
South Africa has till now faced 3 distinct peaks in reported cases of COVID-19, the latest of which was predominantly due to the DELTA variant.
However, in recent weeks, infections coinciding with the detection of the OMICRON variant have increased. The first known confirmed Omicron variant infection in South Africa was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.
According to WHO, this variant has a large number of mutations, and early pieces of evidence are suggesting that there is increased reinfection with this variant as compared to other variants.
South Africa is seeing an increase in the number of OMICRON variant cases in almost all its provinces in just 2 weeks.
WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC (Variant of Concern), and has named it the “OMICRON” variant.
How many countries have so far reported COVID infections due to Omicron variant
(as on the date of publication of this blog)?
- South Africa (77 cases),
- Botswana (4 cases),
- Hong Kong (2 cases),
- Belgium (1 case), and
- Israel (1 case).
- UK (3 cases)
- Australia (2 cases)
- Spain (1 case)
- Austria (1 case)
- Denmark (4 cases)
- Germany (2 cases)
- Japan (1 case)
- Netherland (1 case, 14 suspected)
- Portugal (13 cases)
- Sweden (1 case)
- India (2 cases)
How fast it can spread?
It appears that the new OMICRON variant is faster than the existing dominant Delta variant of South Africa.
The first known confirmed Omicron variant infection in South Africa was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.
This can be concluded from the fact that in just 2 weeks, it caused so much stir that WHO had to be reported about this variant on 24 November 2021.
OMICRON has become a dominant variant of all infections in South Africa, out-competing the Delta variant.
How to diagnose it?
Current SARS-CoV-2 RT PCR continues to detect this variant.
What India is doing to control this variant?
Following are the countries from where travelers would need to follow additional measures, as well as the contacts of these international travelers must also be closely tracked and tested as per MoHFW (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) guidelines-
- South Africa,
- New Zealand,
- Hong Kong,
- Countries in Europe including the UK.
Are you protected from OMICRON variant if you are fully or partially vaccinated?
There are reports that have indicated that many persons who tested positive for the Omicron variant in South Africa and other countries were fully vaccinated.
Hence, this is a matter of concern that the new variant might have the ability to bypass the immunity provided by the current vaccines against COVID-19.
Currently, Scientists have reported 50 mutations in the Omicron variant. Out of these 50, more than 30 mutations are on the spike protein of the SARS-Cov-2 virus alone. This spike protein of the coronavirus is the target of most current COVID vaccines.
However, more concrete facts will emerge in the coming days, as WHO also has limited information on its site.
Symptoms of Omicron variant?
The first South African doctor to alert the authorities about patients with the Omicron variant is Dr. Angelique Coetze.
Dr. Coetze mentions that:
- Omicron infected YOUNG PEOPLE and caused “INTENSE FATIGUE” or A FEELING of EXTREME TIREDNESS.
- She mentions about a 6-year-old child with FEVER and A VERY HIGH PULSE RATE.
- NONE suffered from a loss of taste or smell.
However, The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of South Africa has till now RULED OUT any “UNUSUAL SYMPTOMS” reported the following infection with the Omicron variant.
What Precautions to follow to be safe from this variant?
Indian citizens are again reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including already proven health and social measures such as –
- Wearing well-fitting N-95 masks,
- Hand hygiene,
- Physical distancing,
- Improving ventilation of indoor spaces,
- Avoiding crowded spaces and social gatherings,
- Getting vaccinated.
Current status of Omicron variant in India?
2 South African nationals have tested positive for the coronavirus in Karnataka, and their samples have been sent for further tests to ascertain the variant. Both of them have been quarantined.
From 1st November to 26th November, a total of 94 people have come from South Africa to India. Out of these, 2 have tested positive for COVID-19.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting with top officials to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Till 9 am on 27.11.2021, India has reported 8,318 new COVID-19 cases and 465 deaths.
What are the most important thing to understand to keep yourself safe?
1st: DO NOT PANIC
2nd: Follow all the COVID-19 APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR that you have been following during the 2nd wave.
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- WHO: https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(b.1.1.529)-sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern
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