This Friday, South African scientists alerted the world against the spread of a new variant of the Coronavirus.
The WHO was quick to respond to the news and the variant was, therefore, officially recognized as ‘Omicron’ by Saturday. Omicron is the next in Greek numerology to the Delta. It is also referred to by its technical name ‘B.1.1.529’.
Omicron- What’s the Difference?
The virus is different from its predecessors in numerous ways. Firstly, it can mutate rapidly. The spike proteins, or ‘hooks’ of the virus used to latch onto a human cell, have undergone more than 30 mutations along its length.
This occurred as South African scientists studied it for over two weeks since the first detected case.
Moreover, it spreads real fast. To date, the Rubeola virus, known to cause measles, has the greatest ability to spread. This is shown by the basic reproduction number, R0, a measure of how contagious a disease is.
It represents the number of secondary cases (or patients) generated from the initial primary case (or patient). Rubeola virus has the highest R0 known, lying within the range of 12-18.
Comparing that to Omicron, we can surely say that it has an R0 greater than 8 since it spreads more quickly than the previous strain of coronavirus ‘Delta’.
Of course, scientists are still testing the virus’s aptitude. There is a lot to understand as scientists dive deep into the mystery of the virus that caused a global shutdown.
How the World Reacts
All around the globe, terror swept through as the news of this variant spread. People panicked, so did the governments. WHO announced that the variant had become a “variant” of concern, following which many countries imposed travel bans.
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The countries that were blacklisted by the EU include South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia, Eswatini. However, it may be too late as cases of the Omicron variant have spread to Canada, the USA, the UK, Australia, Italy, Germany, Britain, and more.
Malawi President, Mr. Lazarus Chakwera, reacted by saying that the travel ban was “Afrophobic”. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa implied that the travel bans are against WHO’s principles and also are unjustified.
It is important to note that many of the African states have small economies and thus limited funds to cope with the COVID situation. Vaccinations on a nationwide level are hard to achieve. Many Africans look up to the wealthier nations to help them during the pandemic.
On the contrary, travel bans impose restrictions on the tourism industry within the countries, making the people more economically vulnerable.
South African scientists, who worked day and night after the detection of the Omicron variant, feel demoralized and even ‘punished’ after watching the global reaction.
They were disappointed when instead of applauding their scientific efforts, only the fact that the virus spread from Southern Africa was brought into focus.
Currently, South Africa is equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories in which the virus is being studied. Within 2 weeks, the scientists will be able to gather information regarding the physiological aspect of the virus.
Australian scientists claim they can do the same within a week. Whichever country gains an insight into the new variant, the entire world will benefit from the information.
Should You Worry?
The fact that the Omicron coronavirus spreads faster than the other variants, it is yet to discover how damaging the variant is. Dr. Angelique Coetzee, one of the doctors behind the discovery of the Omicron virus says that the patients suffering from infection are facing “mild symptoms” and “none are hospitalized”.
Dr. Graham Snyder, MD at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says that it is too early to say whether the Omicron variant will replace the previous Delta variant. Right now, about 99.9% of the COVID cases worldwide are of the Delta type.
According to what researchers have understood to date is that the virus’s spike protein can mutate multiple times. Therefore, earlier effective antibody treatments may not work as readily with this variant.
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This is because the virus will not be attacked by antibodies that were produced in reaction to the previous form of the virus. However, the good news is that vaccines are said to be effective against the virus because the T-cells produced after vaccination act as a whole to counter the virus including the spike protein.
People must follow all the guidelines provided by their governments. Social distancing, wearing masks, and cleansing hands are necessary to slow down the spread of the virus. Everything boils down to how responsibly we act in these trying times.