Everything you need to know about the Omicron COVID-19 Variant
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Everything you need to know about the Omicron COVID-19 Variant: Name, Major concerns, Symptoms, and Prevention and Control
What is Omicron COVID-19 Variant labelled as the B.1.1.529?
The World Health Organization (WHO)’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) named the COVID-19 variant strain, Omicron – the B.1.1.529 variant.
Omicron has spread to 38 countries and still counting
The COVID variant of concern, Omicron, which was first reported by South Africa though it was detected on November 9, is reportedly in 38 countries
across the continents, including US, UK, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, among others. Since then, it has continued to grow—as of last week, Omicron variant infections were increasing in nearly all provinces in South Africa.
We are likely to see more Omicron cases being reported by countries over the days and weeks to come, as countries begin to look for it more.
For months now, the Delta variant has been the driving force behind the vast majority of COVID-19 cases around the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data revealed that the Delta made up almost 100% of SARS-CoV-2 infections in US during the last week of November.
Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility.
Why is Omicron a variant of concern?
Why is Omicron variant a concern to us? Omicron is of concern because it has a large number of mutations, some of which have been associated with potential increased transmissibility and possible immune escape, meaning that there is a chance people may get infected by it even if they have developed some natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection, or following COVID-19 vaccination.
There are mutations that that have never been documented before, consequentially, the Omicron variant strain needs to be investigated for us to have a better understanding of its potential impacts.
Scientists have said that it is natural for all viruses to change over time – the COVID-19 virus not an exception.
According to Dr. Richard Pebody, Head, High-threat Pathogen team and the Surveillance and Laboratory pillar of the COVID-19 Incident Support Management Team (IMST) at WHO/Europe said that will designates a COVID-19 virus a variant of concern when it has been demonstrated to increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in epidemiology and/or increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation and/or decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics.
4 major concerns we should have about the Omicron COVID-19 Variant
It’s too early to know what level of threat B.1.1.529 constitutes as there is no sufficient information—particularly clinical information—about the cases that have been identified with respect to immunity—vaccine and infection-induced—as well as monoclonal antibodies
While ‘panic’ should be out of the question when first reported, we should learn about the new strain right away to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion. While we learn, there are four major concerns we should have about Omicron COVID-19 Variant?
- It’s more contagious when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple regions.
2. It can therefor therefore be particularly likely to spread from one person to another.
3. There is a belief it will surge again such as Delta.
4. The more COVID-19 circulates, the more opportunities the virus has to change or mutate, and the more new mutations we can expect to see just like Delta and Omicron.
Omicron more contagious than Delta variant?
Public health experts have warned that Omicron has the potential to spread more rapidly than Delta and the WHO warned that the risk of Omicron is very high. The WHO warned in a brief last week. “Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations … some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility.”
Even though much is still unknown about the strain, it is believed to be more contagious than the Delta variant, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) last week.
WHO wrote that preliminary research suggests that the new Omicron variant, which has many mutations in its spike protein, poses an increased risk of reinfection with the growth advantage. Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility
What do we know about Omicron COVID-19 Variant?
For now, a lot are unknown about Omicron, not until two weeks at least, including its transmissibility compared to other forms of SARS-CoV-2 like Delta
Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron
While it remains unclear momentarily whether Omicron causes more severe illness than other variants, including Delta, and its impact on vaccines and initial reported infections among younger people tend to have more mild disease symptoms. The symptoms of Omicron COVID-19 variant per the CDC as stated in a media report are:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
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Omicron COVID-19 Variant Preventive and Control Measures
All outlined preventive measures that work against the Delta variant continue to be effective against Omicron, based on data so far. Getting vaccinated with complete doses and taking all other preventive measures will minimize the risk of infection.
We highlight, though not entirely new to you, these Omicron COVID-19 Variant Prevention and Control Measures
People can stop the virus at its source by completing their vaccine series as soon as possible. Getting vaccinated to be protected from severe illness and death. Current vaccines offer protection against severe disease and death from all COVID-19 variants, including Delta and Omicron. Vaccines also reduce virus circulation, reducing the chances for a new life-threatening mutation
Continuing to protect ourselves from the virus and its strains with all other proven preventive measures. Combining vaccination with other protective measures as a matter of routine to further reduce our risk of exposure and prevent ourselves from passing the virus on to others – including:
- wearing a well-fitting mask
- maintaining physical distance of at least 1 meter
- improving ventilation of indoor spaces
- avoiding crowded, confined and closed settings
- regularly cleaning hands
- coughing or sneezing into the inner part of your elbow or tissue.
Physical and social distancing still remain a key to reduction of exposure risk in exercising preventive measures. There is need to exercise high caution. Indoor gatherings, even smaller ones, can give the virus a ground to thrive. Gatherings and celebrations should be held outside if possible, and participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing. If any activity that requires gatherings and celebrations is held, it should be indoors, with group size limited and good ventilation ensured to reduce exposure risk are key. This can be done by opening a door or window when safe to do so.
Cases and clusters of COVID-19 and its variants should be reported to the appropriate health authorities in the individual’s country of abode or to WHO, CDC or European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) necessarily in a timely manner, to ensure an up-to-date picture and responses can be effective.
Lockdown can be used to ensure movement restrictions in case the physical and social distancing enforcement measures break down in any community or city of a country or region. Lockdowns should only be used as a last resort because they are very costly measures, and implementing it as a stringent restrictive measure should be as targeted as possible with the time frame used to build up national and global public health capacities.
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