What we know and don’t know about the new COVID variant

London — South African scientists have identified a new version of the coronavirus that they say is behind the recent surge in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous state.

The place where the new variant first appeared is unknown, but South African scientists have recently warned the World Health Organization and it is seen by travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel and the Netherlands.

On Friday, WHO designated it as a “variant of concern” and named it “Omicron” after the Greek alphabet.

What do we know about Omicron?

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was associated with an “exponential increase” in cases over the past few days.

From more than 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa has seen a surge in more than 3,200 new cases on Saturday, most of which occurred in Gauteng.

Struggling to explain the sudden increase in cases, scientists studied virus samples and discovered new variants. According to Trio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, 90% of new cases in Houten are now caused by it.

Why are scientists worried about this new variant?

After convening a group of experts to evaluate the data, WHO compared with other variants, “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant.” Said.

This means that people who have recovered from COVID-19 may catch it again.

This variant appears to have a large number of mutations (about 30) in the coronavirus peplomer, which can affect its ease of spread to people.

Sharon Peacock, who led the sequence of COVID-19 in the UK at the University of Cambridge, suggests that previous data have mutations that are “consistent with increased transmissibility” in the new mutants. “Many of the mutations are not yet known for their importance.”

Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described Omicron as “the most mutated version I’ve ever seen.”

What do you know about the variant and what do you not know?

Scientists know that Omicron is genetically different from previous mutants, including beta and delta mutants, but it is clear whether these genetic changes make it more contagious or dangerous. not. So far, there are no signs that the variants cause more serious illness.

Omicron is more infectious and it can take weeks to sort out if the vaccine is still effective against it.

Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the current vaccine was “very unlikely” to fail and was effective against many other variants.

Some of the genetic changes in Omicron look worrisome, but it is still unclear if they pose a public health threat. Some earlier variants, such as the beta version, surprised scientists at first, but eventually became less popular.

“I don’t know if this new variant can gain a foothold in some areas of the Delta,” said Peacock of the University of Cambridge. “The jury is considering how well this variant works when other variants are in circulation.”

To date, Delta is the predominant form of COVID-19, accounting for more than 99% of the sequences submitted to the world’s largest public database.

How did this new variant come about?

Coronaviruses mutate as they spread, and many new variants, including those worried about genetic alterations, often only die. Scientists monitor the COVID-19 sequence for mutations that can make the disease more contagious or fatal, but the virus alone cannot tell.

In a scenario similar to what experts think of the alpha mutant (first identified in the UK), Peacock said the mutant “is infected but couldn’t get rid of the virus, so the virus has an opportunity to evolve genetically. Gave. ” It also emerged by mutating people with weakened immunity.

Are travel bans imposed by some countries justified?


Israel has banned foreigners from entering the country, and Morocco has suspended all international air travel.

In many other countries, flights from southern Africa are restricted.

Given the recent rapid increase in COVID-19 in South Africa, restricting travel from this area is “wise” and will spend more time on authorities, Imperial College London infectious disease experts. Neil Ferguson said.

However, WHO pointed out that such restrictions often have limited effects and urged countries to keep their borders open.

Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s COVID-19 Genetics, believed that early detection of new variants could have greater impact on current restrictions than when delta variants first appeared. ..

“In Delta, it took weeks to see what was happening, and Delta had already sowed seeds in many parts of the world, and it was too late to do anything about it,” he said. I did. “We may be in the early stages of this new variant, so we may still have time to do something about it.”

The South African government said the country was being treated unfairly because of the ongoing genomic sequencing and the ability to detect mutants more quickly, and called on other countries to reconsider their travel bans.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Director of Africa, praised South Africa and Botswana for promptly informing the world of new variants.

“Currently, Omicron variants have been detected in several parts of the world, and a travel ban targeting Africa is attacking global solidarity,” Moetti said. “COVID-19 is always in our department. Only if we work together to find a solution can we make the virus better.”

Travelers wearing protective face masks will arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel on Sunday. Israel banned foreigners from entering the country on Sunday and approved the use of controversial technology for contact tracing as part of an effort to crack down on new coronavirus variants.

What we know and don’t know about the new COVID variant

Source link What we know and don’t know about the new COVID variant

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