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19-02-2022

By Dr. BB Mathur
Omicron SARS-CoV-2 Variant: COVID-19 Variant

After the emergence of the alpha, beta, and delta SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern a, new SARS-CoV-2 variant ‘Omicron’was reported from Botswana, South Africa on Nov 11, 2021.

Omicron has some deletions and more than 30 mutations in the spike protein. These deletions and mutations are known to lead to increased transmissibility, higher viral binding affinity, and higher antibody escape. Data from South Africa suggest that patients with Omicron are younger people with a clinical presentation similar to that of past variants.

In South Africa 40% of population is already infected with COVID-19 and 36% are vaccinated. Despite that Omicron is spreading at great speed.This is not a good sign for India as India’s serosurvey showing high rate of antibodies seemed to be a big weapon against corona infection and we thought that we were inching towards `HERD IMMUNITY’.

However, Dr Anthony Fauci, top expert says that `there’s every reason to believe that if you get vaccinated and boosted that you would have at least some degree of cross protection, very likely against severe disease, even against the Omicron variant,” However, the silver lining is that despite sharp increase in the number of cases and hospitalization in South Africa 4.1 percent of intensive care unit beds are occupied by patients with COVID-19.

Omicron has already arrived in India andthe spread seems inevitable given the contagiousness and its potential to evade/escape immunity by vaccination and previous infection. Reports of mild disease caused by this variant is a relief but we need to exercise caution aswe cannot predict future events,similarly in case of Delta variant which was first reported in October 2020 .

The most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus is to keep a physical distance of at least 1meter from others; wear a well-fitting mask; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; keep hands clean; cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue; and get vaccinated when it’s their turn.

Omicron is twice as contagious as Delta virus. WHO said that Omicron shares some characteristics with the Delta variant that could make it more easilytransmissible. Re-infection appears more common with Omicron. Till now Omicron has Spread to 50 countries and is able to dodge body’s immunity. A past infection may also offer little defense against Omicron. Additionally, chances of more mutants in South Africa are there due to high prevalence of HIV in the continent. Omicron has already arrived in India and has recorded over 300 cases till now  (23rd December’ 2021). Most of the people who have tested Omicron positive have either recently arrived from African countries or had come in contact with such people.

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