The World Health Organisation classified a new variant of COVID-19 circulating in South Africa on Friday as a Variant of Concern (VOC).
This variant, B.1.1.529, designated Omicron, is possibly more transmissible than the Delta Variant. This has raised concerns around the world and has caused a fresh round of restrictions on travel.
This variant has also been discovered in Hong Kong, Botswana and Belgium.
The variant was identified by The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA). Viruses belonging to this lineage are highly mutable. The NGS-SA has found multiple spike protein mutations which suggests this variant is highly infectious.
These mutations may also influence the virus’s ability to evade the immune system.
There are concerns about how these impacts vaccine effectiveness and if it causes a more severe disease. Investigations are still underway as stated by Africa’s Centre for Disease Control.
Currently, no unusual symptoms have been found according to the National Institute for Communicable Disease as many individuals are asymptomatic. This is on par with the other variants.
The WHO cautions that in light of these new variants, countries should
- Improve surveillance and sequencing efforts and submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.
- Report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO and coordinate with the international community
The WHO also reminds individuals to continue taking measures that reduces their chances of contracting COVID-19. Such as social distancing, wearing well-fitting masks and getting vaccinated.
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