On November 24, 2021, news media reported a new variant of the coronavirus that caused COVID-19. This new variant has been named OMICRON. The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated this new variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern.
What Is the Omicron Variant of COVID-19?
First detected in Botswana and South Africa, this new reiteration of the COVID-19 has stimulated concern among public health officials and scientists because of an abruptly high number of mutations. Omicron has the potential of being more transmissible and less susceptible to existing vaccines. WHO has warned that the global risks posed by it were “very high,” despite what officials described as a multitude of uncertainties.
So far, the Omicron cases have been identified in more than two dozen countries on every continent except Antarctica. In India, two men from Karnataka have tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant. This new variant has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves. For instance, the severity of illness it causes or how easily it spreads.
The point is whether people are more at risk of getting sick.
Will the COVID-19 vaccines still work?
Are there new or different things we should do now to stay safe?
Here is a brief description of what is known by the time this article was written.
What do we know about Omicron?
It’s too early to say how widespread the variant will become. Researchers across the globe are conducting studies to better understand multiple aspects of the newly-discovered coronavirus variant. However, as per the Indian Government, no severe symptoms of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 reported so far in India and around the world. Every case is found to have mild symptoms so far.
According to WHO, no evidence is available that claims whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) than other variants, including Delta. No doubt, the number of people who tested positive has increased in South Africa, but epidemiologic studies are being conducted to understand whether it is because of Omicron or other factors.
The Severity of Disease:
- The severity of the disease is unclear.
- No study has clarified that Omicron infection causes more severe disease in comparison to infections with other variants, such as Delta.
- So far, no information is available to suggest that Omicron symptoms are different from other variants.
- Understanding the level of severity may take days to weeks.
Note that all variants of coronavirus (including the Delta variant that is aggressive worldwide) have the potential to cause severe disease or death, particularly to the most vulnerable people. So, prevention is the most effective remedy.
There is some data that suggest that Omicron can cause more severe illness to those who are unvaccinated. However, WHO is yet to understand the potential impact of this variant on vaccines. Nevertheless, vaccines play a vital role in reducing severe disease and death against the dominant circulating variant, Delta.
Should We Worry?
Health experts have urged caution, noting that there is yet to be firm evidence that Omicron is more dangerous than Delta, which quickly overtook its predecessors in India and other countries.
When it comes to the most effective ways to reduce the COVID-19 spread is –
- Maintaining a social distance of at least 1 meter from others
- Wearing a well-fitting mask
- Opening windows to improve ventilation
- Avoiding poorly ventilated or crowded spaces
- Keeping hands clean
- Coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue
- Getting vaccinated when it’s your turn
Effectiveness of Current Tests:
The extensively used PCR tests continue to detect Omicron infection. Studies are being conducted to make sure if there is any impact on other types of tests, such as rapid antigen detection tests.
Keep reading our blog as we will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.