Identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 26th, the new COVID-19 omicron variant is a variant of concern. South Africa was the first country to report this new variant to the WHO, but a Dutch health agency confirmed its presence in the Netherlands one week prior. Omicron contains more unusual mutations than previous strains and it may be more transmissible and potentially resistant to vaccines.
Why Is Omicron The Name Of The New Variant?
Omicron seems like a terrifying name. Is it intended to cause widespread panic and fear just before the holidays? The WHO said that it skipped “nu” and “xi” because they already have meanings in the real world. Nu is too similar to “new” and xi is a common surname in many countries. The WHO wants to remind everyone that omicron’s emergence indicates that COVID-19 is not a thing of the past.
The emergence of the omicron variant sparked several travel bans from South Africa to surrounding countries. That being said, the omicron variant is already present in at least 20 countries, with the first U.S. case of it detected in California on December 1st, 2021. Blanket travel bans won’t prevent international spread, and they are not beneficial for lives and livelihoods.
Why Do Viruses Mutate?
Mutations occur naturally in viruses. Just as the body develops antibodies to fight against a virus, a virus forms mutations to get around those antibodies to keep existing in the body. In regards to COVID-19 mutations, the primary concern is that variants will eventually bypass vaccine protection. This hasn’t happened yet, and there are many studies in progress attempting to determine vaccine efficacies against the omicron variant.
What Do Experts Know About Omicron?
Currently, some places in United Kingdom, Europe, southern Africa, and the United States have reported cases of the omicron variant. These cases aren’t linked to travel to southern Africa, suggesting that the variant is spreading person-to-person. Preliminary data suggests that omicron may pose a higher risk of reinfection than other variants in circulation. The WHO said, however, that there isn’t enough evidence to prove that at this time.
Symptoms associated with the omicron variant do not appear to differ from other variants. It will take several weeks to understand the range and severity of omicron’s symptoms, the rate at which it transmits, and who is most at risk. The WHO claimed that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increased in areas where omicron has been detected. For example, South Africa saw a surge of 18,000 cases on the day it reported the variant. Since November 26th, 2021, the county has recorded more than 2,000 cases per day.
Is Omicron More Dangerous Than The Delta Variant?
The delta variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India, is currently the world’s most dominant variant. It proved to be more contagious than previous variations of the virus. The delta spreads easily because the spike protein is more adept at entering human cells. It did take about two months for the WHO to deem it “of concern,” though.
Because of the high number of mutations, experts worry if the omicron variant will avoid the body’s defenses. The main thing to remember is that there is not enough data to determine how dangerous omicron is. It will take time and cases may rise because of this variant, but we can’t know for sure. Just be sure that you don’t buy up all of the toilet paper again!