At a moment when it seemed like the globe is ready to get over the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of the Omicron variant is now ready to take over the former disease scampering nations back under the safety of newly imposed restrictions.
The new potentially deadlier COVID-19 variant which is now termed as Omicron Virus was first identified in South Africa on November 24, 2021, and since then the virus is spreading rapidly in several other countries, leaving governments around the world scrambling to stop the transmission. Most of the countries now are restricting travelers from South Africa to visit.
The World Health Organization has declared the Omicron as a ‘Variant of Concern’. The researchers said that it would take multiple weeks to know if there are significant changes in transmissibility, severity, or implications for Covid vaccines, tests, and treatments in the new strain.
The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been set apart by three well-defined peaks in delineated cases, and the fresh of which was the Delta variant. In recent weeks, there was a drastic increase in the infections, coinciding with the detection of the B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.
The virus is said to be deadlier than the prevailing COVID-19 disease as the variant has a large number of mutations. Initially, there is some evidence that clearly suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. Eventually, the number of cases of the new disease can be seen growing in most of the parts of South Africa. However, the current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.
Different labs have advised that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as a marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. The variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage by using this approach.
Dr. Rahul Pandit, Director of Critical Care at Fortis Hospital, Mumbai, and member of the Maharashtra COVID-19 Task Force, had a talk with the India Today TV to discuss the new variant and the implications for India and Mumbai.
The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is constantly and closely keeping an eye on the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and appraising that if mutations are specific. Based on the TAG-VE’s advice, the WHO addressed the Omicron variant as a variant of concern (VOC) and will communicate new findings to member states and the public as needed.
As per the researchers, the new strain of virus is very heavily mutated and experts from the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa stated that there was an unusual constellation of mutations and it was very different from other variants that have circulated before.
Till now they have found as many as 50 mutations overall and more than 30 on the spike protein, which is the target of most vaccines and the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway into our body’s cells. Besides, zooming in gives a view of the receptor binding realm (the part of the virus that makes first contact with our body’s cells). It initially has ten mutations compared to just two for the Delta variant that swept the world.
Meanwhile, the biggest concern that the researchers have in regards to the virus is that the new virus is radically different fr the original one that first appeared in Wuhan, China.
The WHO has therefore asked the entire world to increase the scrutiny and classifying and submitting complete genome sequences and associate metadata and to report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection through the IHR mechanism.
Therefore, it is must now necessary and must for the populace to take necessary precautions like wearing a mask, going for routine checkups, and not roaming around unnecessarily.