WHO labels new COVDID-19 strain Omicron, says it’s ‘variant of concern’

WHO labels new COVDID-19 strain Omicron, says it's 'variant of concern'

Amarachi Okeh<

The World Health Organisation has designated the new COVID-19 variant as a variant of concern and also named it Omicron.

According to a press release by the WHO, this variant, initially known as B.1.1.529 has a high mutation rate, noting that infections from the variant are steeply increasing in some countries.

The agency also noted that Omicron has 32 potential mutations in the spike protein. 

The WHO says so far fewer than 100 sample sequences have been reported, noting that cases have mainly been confirmed in South Africa, but have also been detected in Hong Kong, Israel, Botswana and Belgium.

The variant which was first detected in South Africa can still be detected by a PCR test, WHO noted

The press release by the WHO partly reads, “The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant.

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“In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, 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.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.

“The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.

“Several labs have indicated 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.

“Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.”

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Responding to the outbreak of the new variant, some countries have already imposed flight bans from Southern Africa.

According to reports, the US will also on Monday join the EU in implementing a flight ban for non-citizens from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Canada, as well as Israel, have also closed its borders to travellers who have been to the Southern African countries.

The WHO has, however, warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should look to a “risk-based and scientific approach”.

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