Subhendu Debnath: It’s been almost two years that the Corona threat has tormented the world. The successive mutation of the virus has strengthened itself gradually. Amid the worldwide struggle against the epidemic a new variant of the virus, identified in South Africa, has surged the anxiety among the nations. This variant (OMICRON) is likely to be more contagious than the delta variant which caused the severe transmission and mortality of the second wave in India. The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) had identified the variant on 22nd November. It had detected a group of related SARS-CoV-2 viruses, which belong to a lineage named B.1.1.529.
South Africa has reported a sudden and rapid increase in new cases over the last few weeks, which is assumed to be the consequence of the emergence of B.1.1.529. Early indications are that this variant is possibly six times more transmissible than the highly infectious Delta variant and that current vaccines may be less effective against it. On the mutation profile of the new variant, the NGS-SA has said that B.1.1.529 has “very unusual constellations of mutations” — with 30 in the region that encodes the spike protein, which is responsible for the virus’s entry in human cells. From what is known currently, B.1.1.529 has multiple mutations and preliminary analysis suggests it is highly infectious.
After being recognized first in South Africa, the new variant has been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel among other countries. Later on Friday, it was designated a ‘Variant of Concern’ by the WHO, which named it Omicron. A ‘Variant of Concern’ is the WHO’s top category of worrying Covid-19 strain. As the countries tighten their surveillance among international passengers, new cases of the latest variant have been identified in other countries. Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, UK, Denmark, Austria, and Australia also announced that they had detected cases of the new coronavirus strain.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease. “Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection,” WHO said.