What is the Omicron Virus?
On November 26, 2021, WHO identified variant B.1.1.529, also known as the Omicron variant, as a variant of concern. As other countries, including the United States, register their first cases, the Omicron virus has fueled a “worrying” spike in coronavirus cases in South Africa, local health experts have stated. A new lineage of SARS-CoV-2, designated B.1.1.529, was discovered in samples sequenced and released in the public domain from Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong.
The variation has been named Omicron virus and has been identified as a Variant of Concern (VoC) by the World Health Organization (WHO). Scientists know that the omicron variant differs genetically from prior variations such as beta and delta, but they don’t know if these differences make it more transmissible or harmful. There is currently no evidence that the variation causes more severe illness.
It will most likely take weeks to determine whether the omicron variant is more infectious and whether vaccinations are still effective. Even though some of the genetic changes in the omicron variant appear to be concerning, it is yet unknown if they will constitute a public health risk. Previous varieties, such as the beta version, concerned scientists at first but did not spread very far.
From where did the Omicron Virus first detected?
According to the World Health Organization, the variation was originally discovered in a specimen obtained on November 9th (WHO). The enigmatic omicron variant of the coronavirus that is circulating the world is shrouded in mystery.
Scientists in South Africa have discovered a new strain of the coronavirus that they believe is responsible for a recent increase in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.
The origin of the new variation [omicron virus] is unknown, but experts in South Africa recently alerted the World Health Organization, and it has already been seen in tourists arriving in several nations, including Australia, Israel, and the Netherlands.
How many Countries have reported Omicron?
The omicron virus has already been discovered in more than a dozen countries, and the World Health Organization notes that while there is still a lot to learn about the new strain, existing COVID-19 vaccinations are still saving lives.
The new strain of coronavirus i.e omicron variant had been found in 23 countries, according to the WHO, but the United States reported its first case of the omicron virus type later Wednesday[1st of December].
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa recorded an increase of 8,561 coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours. The number of deaths and hospitalizations, however, had not altered considerably, according to the report.
As the omicron virus spreads, studies show that travel limitations alone are ineffective. The below-mentioned points will let you know about the current scenario of the omicron variant in different regions of the world. Here is a list of countries where the Omicron variant has been documented so far.
1. SOUTH AFRICA:- In the most recent daily numbers, about 8,500 new Covid infections were recorded. The highly altered new type was initially discovered in South Africa. The novel variant was found in more than 70% of the virus genomes sequenced by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) last month.
In what is currently the beginning of the fourth wave in South Africa, the incidence of a new infection is likely to rise, and the national health department reports a minor increase in hospital admissions. Early in November, South Africa experienced a period of low transmission, with an average of roughly 200 new cases per day over seven days, but by the middle of November, new cases were rapidly increasing. The latest instances revealed on Wednesday reflect a 16.5% positive rate of patients tested, up from 1% in early November.
2. ITALY:- An Italian who traveled to Mozambique tested positive for the omicron variant, according to the Italian news source LaPresse. Five members of the household have tested positive, with this deadly omicron virus including two school-aged children.
3. GERMANY:- Two travelers who arrived on a flight from South Africa on November 24 were found to have the omicron variant. The genome sequencing has not yet been completed, but it has been “confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is this mutation,” according to German news agency DPA[Deutsche Presse-Agentur].
4. THE NETHERLANDS:- According to the Dutch health authorities, 61 Covid-19 cases have been discovered among passengers who flew from South Africa on Friday, with at least some illnesses being of the novel omicron variant form. The Netherlands has confirmed 61 instances of the omicron virus.
5. INDIA:- India has two COVID-19 instances of the Omicron variant, according to the Health Ministry, making it the 30th country to report the coronavirus strain that has sparked worldwide concern. Both incidents were recorded in Karnataka, with two males aged 66 and 46 as the victims. There have been no reports of severe symptoms.
6. BELGIUM:- Belgium was the first European country to report a case of the new strain. The first instance of the Omicron variant in Belgium was reported on November 26. Even as numerous European countries battle the fourth wave, Belgium’s health minister Frank Vandenbroucke announced a new case.
7. HONG KONG:- In Hong Kong, two cases of the novel Covid-19 strain have been discovered in travelers undergoing mandatory quarantine. One of the passengers was from South Africa, while the other was from Canada. According to a representative for the health authority, the South African traveler wore a mask with a valve that barely filters exhaled air. When the room door was open, the infection could have spread to his neighbor.
How did the Omicron Virus get it’s Name?
To prevent public confusion and stigma, the World Health Organization began identifying the mutations after Greek letters. On Friday, the stock market plummeted, hopes of containing the coronavirus faded, and a new name entered the pandemic lexicon: Omicron.
The Covid-19 variation, which first appeared in South Africa, was called after the Greek alphabet’s 15th letter. According to the World Health Organization and experts, the nomenclature scheme, which was unveiled in May, makes public communication about variants easier and less confusing. The variety that evolved in India, for example, is not often known as B.1.617.2. Delta, the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, is the name given to it.
The Mystery of Omicron Variant
Many parts of the Omicron variant are being studied by researchers in South Africa and around the world, and the findings will be shared as they become available. Researchers are concerned about the new variation since it has an “extremely” high number of coronavirus mutations, according to the researchers.
The spike protein has 32 mutations, according to the researchers. The delta form, which is thought to be extremely infectious, has eight mutations. While the amount of mutations in the spike protein does not necessarily indicate how hazardous a new variant is, it may indicate that the human immune system may have a tougher time fighting it. There is evidence that the omicron virus can evade the immune system, putting patients in increased danger.
The term mutation used above means a change in DNA sequencing. Mutations can occur as a result of DNA copying errors during cell division, exposure to ionizing radiation, exposure to chemicals known as mutagens, or virus infection. Because of its large number of mutations, the Omicron virus, which was initially discovered in South Africa, is a cause for concern.
Let us Discuss What “Spike Protein” Is?
The S protein is a big type I trans-membrane fusion protein that is heavily glycosylated and contains 1,160 to 1,400 amino acids, depending on the virus. The spike-shaped protrusions on the surface of coronaviruses are caused by the presence of S proteins on their surface. The N-terminal S1 subunit, which forms the globular head of the S protein, and the C-terminal S2 portion, which forms the stalk of the protein and is positioned adjacent into the viral envelope, are the two major functional components of coronavirus S proteins and also in the new variant i.e. omicron virus.
How is India Resorting?
“This variant is reported to contain a very high number of mutations,” the Health Ministry said in a statement, “and so has serious public health consequences for the country, in light of recently loosened visa rules and the opening up of international travel.”
It has ordered that travelers leaving South Africa and passing through countries where cases have been found be checked and that those who test positive have their samples given to the India Sars Cov2 genome collaboration (Insacog). The INSACOG is a network of labs around the country that sequence a percentage of positive coronavirus samples to ascertain the virus’s variation.
More than 12 nations have reported cases, leading governments to close their borders and re-impose travel restrictions. “The new Omicron variant has over 30 mutations in the spike protein area, according to reports.”
The Government has announced five actions in response to the Omicron variant :
1. Before traveling to India, all international passengers must submit 14-day travel details and a negative RT-PCR test report to the Air Suvidha portal.
2. Passengers from ‘at-risk nations’ will be required to undergo a post-arrival Covid test and wait for results at the airport. If they test negative for the virus, they must stay at home for seven days and then retest on the eighth day. They must continue to self-monitor for the next seven days if the test is negative.
3. Travelers from nations not classified as ‘at- risk‘ will be allowed to leave the airport but will be required to self-monitor their health for 14 days after their arrival. At the airport, 5% of all passengers will be subjected to random post-arrival testing.
4. The genomic screening for variations will be strengthened and expanded.
5. Airport and port health officials (APHOs) will be educated on the importance of thorough testing protocol oversight at airports and ports, correspondingly.
Is the Omicron Virus a Risk Factor for Re-Infection?
According to the WHO, preliminary research indicates that the novel variety may increase the risk of re-infection in those who have already had COVID-19.
However, data is currently restricted, and in the next few days, more information should become available. Existing PCR assays are successful at detecting the Omicron variant in terms of infection testing.
Preliminary research suggests that the Omicron virus may have a higher probability of re-infection than other variations of concern (i.e., those who have previously had COVID-19 may be more easily re-infected with Omicron), although data is limited.
In the next few days and weeks, more information about this will become accessible. The WHO says it’s working with partners to figure out how the Omicron variation might affect the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations and other countermeasures.
The WHO says it’s unclear if the Omicron variant is more easily transmitted from person to person than other variants, such as Delta. In the South African region where the Omicron virus was first discovered, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has increased.
More research is being conducted to discover if this is due to the Omicron variant or other variables. According to preliminary statistics from South Africa, the rate of hospitalization among COVID-19 patients is increasing. However, there is no evidence that infection with the Omicron virus is associated with a higher requirement for hospital treatment.
According to the WHO, the increase in hospitalizations could be attributed to a general increase in infection rates. Students were involved in many of the early Omicron variant cases documented in South Africa. Younger persons have often had lesser symptoms with other COVID-19 variations.
Views of Vaccine Maker on Omicron Variant
The pharmaceutical firm stated that it was looking into the effects of omicron on their vaccination. One of the two extensively used vaccinations in India is AstraZeneca’s Covishield. “As with any novel emerging variant, we’re investigating B.1.1.529 to learn more about it and its implications for the vaccine,” AstraZeneca said in a statement. In addition, the Anglo-Swedish firm is exploring a long-acting antibody combination against the new strain.
1. Russia’s Gamaleya Institute: According to a statement from the Gamaleya Institute, the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccination should be effective against the novel Omicron strain. Gamaleya, on the other hand, said it has already started working on a new Omicron-adapted version of the Sputnik vaccine. “The Gamaleya Institute believes Sputnik V and Sputnik Light will neutralize the Omicron virus because they have the maximum potency against other mutations,” stated RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev. “A new version of Sputnik V might be available for mass production in 45 days if a revision is required,” it stated.
2. Moderna:- Moderna, a US corporation, estimated that developing and shipping an Omicron variant-specific Covid-19 vaccine would take months. Moderna’s senior medical officer, Paul Burton, told the BBC that such vaccination would only be ready in early 2022. Paul Burton stated that “In the coming weeks, we should have more information on the current vaccine’s ability to provide protection. If we have to develop a whole new vaccine, I believe it will be early 2022 before it is ready in big quantities, “Burton stated to the BBC.
3. Pfizer-BioNTech: According to AFP[Agence France-Presse], Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company has already begun work on a version of its Covid-19 vaccine that would particularly target the Omicron form. Pfizer is also putting its existing vaccine to the test against the Omicron strain. “I don’t believe that the immunizations will fail to protect. However, testing may reveal that existing vaccines are ineffective; necessitating the development of a new vaccine, “Bourla was quoted by AFP as saying.
What can Individuals & Countries do to Safeguard themselves?
1. The WHO advises that the best way to prevent the dispersion of COVID-19 is to socially distance yourself from others by staying at least 1 meter; wear a well-fitting mask; open windows to enhance ventilation; avoid unventilated or congested spaces; keep hands clean; sore throat or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue, and get immunized when your turn comes.
2. Countries should continue to use a risk assessment and science-based approach to undertake appropriate public health interventions to limit COVID-19 circulation generally. To deal with an increase in instances, they need to expand some public health and medical capacities. WHO provides help and advice to nations in terms of both preparedness and reaction.
WHO is currently working with a vast number of researchers from all over the world to better understand the Omicron virus. Assessments of transmissibility, the severity of infection (including symptoms), the performance of vaccinations and diagnostic tests, and the efficiency of therapies are all currently underway or will be soon.
WHO urges countries to contribute to the gathering and exchange of hospitalized patient data via the WHO COVID-19 Clinical Data Platform so that clinical features and patient outcomes can be described quickly.
According to the report, the delta version accounted for the majority of genomes sequenced in the country until November, when the omicron variant form overtook it. It is advised to follow the covid-19 safety protocol as a preventive measure till the exact vaccine and precautionary measure arrives for the omicron virus.