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What We Know So Far About The New Variant, Omicron

What We Know So Far About The New Variant, Omicron

Just when we thought we’re starting to see the end of COVID-19, a new variant emerges, and some people believe this one’s even worse than Delta. Here’s what we know so far about the new variant, Omicron.

1. It was first discovered in South Africa, but it has already spread across many countries

Some people think that the new variant originated in South Africa, but that’s not the case. It was first detected there on November 24, 2021, but as of this writing, authorities have already identified cases in various countries, including Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy, Israel, United Kingdom, Botswana, and Hong Kong.

The South African authorities also issued a statement regarding travel bans on their country, saying it’s akin to “punishing” them for their advanced genomic sequencing and ability to detect new variants quicker1.

2. The World Health Organization names Omicron as a “variant of concern”

Naming it a variant of concern means the new variant is associated with increased transmissibility (ability to spread), increased virulence (ability to cause harm), or a decrease in the effectiveness of public health measures.

In a statement issued by WHO, they mentioned that the Omicron variant shows2:

  • A “large number of mutations,” some of which are concerning.
  • An increased risk of reinfection compared to other variants of concern.
  • Increased transmissibility based on the data that cases appear to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.

3. Whether it’s worse than Delta is still debatable

Some experts say Omicron variant might be worse than Delta because of the “large number of mutations on its spike protein,” the part of the virus that attaches to the cell.

These mutations might suggest that the new variant has increased ability to evade some of the protection offered by monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma. It might also mean the new variant spreads faster.

But, whether or not it’s worse than the Delta is still up for debate. The number of cases in South Africa is indeed on the rise. But experts are still investigating if it’s due to Omicron or other factors. There’s also an increase in the hospitalization rates, but that could be because of the overall increase in positive cases and not because of Omicron alone3.

4. Yes, there’s a possibility for the new variant to evade any protection given by vaccines

Despite the lack of data, a renowned infectious disease expert said it’s possible for the Omicron to evade any protection offered by the vaccines4.

But until we know more, doctors and government officials underscore that vaccines, along with following the health and safety protocols, are still the best protection against COVID-19.

5. We need more data to compare symptoms

At this point, you must be wondering: Does the new variant cause more severe symptoms?

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data to answer that.

A South African official, however, stated that Omicron appeared primarily in younger people, leaving them extremely tired, with an aching body and general soreness3. The official also highlighted that they are not talking about patients that might need hospitalization1.

6. Closing borders might help, but stopping the new variant from spreading altogether might be impossible

As of now, the Philippine government has issued travel bans on countries with confirmed Omicron cases, including 7 European nations.

But given the loosened travel restrictions before, it’s possible that Omicron is already present in many other countries, including the Philippines.

7. We aren’t helpless against it

Despite the renewed concern over the new variant, doctors remind the public that we’re not helpless against it.

They recommend continued adherence to the health and safety protocols, including frequent handwashing, physical distancing, and proper masking.

Of course, vaccinate. If you still have fears about the COVID vaccine, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your doctor.

Key Takeaways

The new variant of concern, Omicron, is suspected to be worse than Delta because of the large number of mutations of its spike protein. However, we don’t know for certain until we have more information. In the meantime, experts urge the public to continue following health and safety protocols and to get vaccinated.

More on Health News here.

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Sources

1. Covid: South Africa ‘punished’ for detecting new Omicron variant, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-59442129, Accessed November 29, 2021

2. Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern, https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(b.1.1.529)-sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern, Accessed November 29, 2021

3. Update on Omicron, https://www.who.int/news/item/28-11-2021-update-on-omicron, Accessed November 29, 2021

4. What you need to know about the omicron variant, https://www.vox.com/2021/11/27/22804556/omicron-variant-covid-19-south-africa-explained, Accessed November 29, 2021

5. Philippines includes 7 European countries in COVID-19 travel ban, https://www.rappler.com/nation/philippines-includes-european-countries-travel-ban-covid-19-omicron, Accessed November 29, 2021

6. What do we know about the new ‘worst ever’ Covid variant?, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/25/what-do-we-know-about-the-new-worst-ever-covid-variant?CMP=fb_gu&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0RUYwvT8haVAraLh4DMntVbA0Uheacu9mVJ_U5hXAm3WDCF80wbg3xmc4#Echobox=1637874967, Accessed November 29, 2021

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Nov 29, 2021
Fact Checked by Kristel Lagorza