Omicron, Confirmed in 12 Countries, Puts World on Edge
The world is scrambling to decipher the Omicron Covid strain’s genome and see how far it has gone. Millions of lives are on the line, as is the world economy, which is still reeling from the Delta variant’s devastation.
Omicron was in circulation much before it was detected in South Africa last week, according to data at this time. The fact that cases were reported in Hong Kong, Israel, and Belgium within 72 hours of the variant’s discovery adds to the (unwelcome) news that there could be many more Omicron cases around the world.
The Omicron strain has been reported in a dozen nations since its discovery, including the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and Japan. Germany verified its first cases this week, involving South African travelers, while Italy confirmed its first case, involving a passenger from Mozambique. The strain may also be prevalent in the Netherlands, where COVID-19 has been detected in 61 passengers arriving on two planes from South Africa.
The three countries hardest hit by the pandemic, the United States, India, and China, have yet to disclose Omicron instances. Incoming travelers, particularly those from ‘at risk’ countries, have been subjected to severe screening and testing at international airports across India. However, a senior doctor at the government-run ICMR informed NDTV that Omicron is most likely already present in the country.
Researchers are still trying to figure out if Omicron, which appears to resist immunizations better than any other strain, is more fatal and, more importantly, if current vaccines give any protection. They’re also seeing if Omicron is more infectious than Delta, which is already very contagious. The World Health Organization has suggested that this is the case, stating that Omicron poses a “very high” global risk.
If Omicron is shown to be even more transmissible than Delta, it could result in a dramatic increase in infections, putting hospitals under strain. That’s bad news for India, where the existing medical system is inadequate and was barely able to contain the Delta variant’s harm.
Anecdotal data from doctors in South Africa suggests Omicron is more contagious but generates milder symptoms than Delta, so it’s not all doom and gloom. According to Reuters, it could take four weeks for experts to reach a more definitive understanding of vaccine evasion and symptoms. Adrian Puren, acting head of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said it could take four weeks for experts to reach a more definitive understanding of vaccine evasion and symptoms.
According to a Reuters investigation, most existing PCR tests can’t tell the difference between Omicron and the Delta variation, which is the virus’s dominant and most infectious strain so far. The test must detect an Omicron mutation, such as S-gene drop-out or S-gene target failure, to distinguish between them (SGTF). However, given the Alpha version also includes that mutation, this is not a conclusive criterion. However, because Alpha isn’t widely distributed, the presence of the SGTF is thought to signify Omicron.
As a result, existing Covid tests (PCR and fast) would still detect Covid infections, but they will not be able to reliably identify the variation, as the Indian government informed states and UTs this week. The WHO has suggested the TaqPath test kit, which is made in the United States, but it is unknown how many nations have purchased it.
In comparison to the response to Delta and other variants, virologists and other scientists are working at breakneck speed to track, sequence, and comprehend the Omicron strain. When Alpha first appeared in June of last year, the WHO took months to declare it a ‘variant of concern,’ but only days to declare Omicron a global hazard.
The discovery of the Omicron variant and the subsequent flurry of travel bans – the United Kingdom, the United States, and other major economies were among the first to halt flights to and from southern Africa – caused havoc in global financial and oil markets, as the strain’s capabilities and potential impact were unknown.
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