Where the world was already not over with the hideous repercussions of covid-19, a newfound variant may raise alarms for unusual mutations. 

The team of SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) Technical Advisory Group is a sustained individual group of specialists that systematically regulates and assesses the progression of SARS-CoV-2 and evaluates if peculiar mutations and combinations of variations amend the occurrence of the virus. The TAG-VE was registered on 26 November 2021 to monitor the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529.

It’s an uncalled-for reminder for the world that the pandemic is not over yet. Omicron was first acknowledged by healthcare professionals and scientists in South Africa, who raised the issue over its unusually high frequency of mutations last week. Since then, at least a dozen others have reported new cases of the strain, with several additional reporting suspected cases.

As more patients are identified, and governments worldwide are making arrangements to deal with Omicron, an urgent confidential meeting of G7 health ministers will be commenced soon. Last week, it also declared that the new domestic public health rules requiring face coverings in shops and on public transport should be applied in affected areas.

In addition to South Africa, the variant has been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Hong Kong. Therefore, the scenario should be seen with alert rather than alarm until more is known. 


Variant of Concern

It was conveyed by WHO that the Omicron variant, originally referred to as B.1.1.529, a "variant of concern."

WHO said on Friday that early evidence suggests the Omicron variant, first witnessed in South Africa, could direct increased chances of risk for reinfection and said that some of the mutations diagnosed on the variant were concerning.

But WHO focused on more research which is obliged to determine whether the variant is more contagious, whether it causes more severe illness, and whether it could evade vaccines’ effect.

The new variant has a large number of mutations and some of these mutations have some concerning characteristics. "Right now there are many findings that are underway, till now there are fewer details available but research is undergoing so we require professionals to have the time to structure the studies out, and WHO will convey the public and our partners and our member states as soon as we have more information, as WHO professionals say. 

Quarantine and Shutting down Travel

Many countries have already slammed their borders shut to travelers from southern Africa, with the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada, Rwanda, and many others banning travelers from countries including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

But South Africa and some of the other countries hit by the travel bans are pushing back. Speaking in Pretoria on Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described the bans as baseless discrimination.

"These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to demolish the economies of the affected countries further and diminish their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic," he said.

With regard to the same, countries are asked to do the following:

  • enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants better.
  • report complete genome sequences and related schemes to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.
  • submit initial cases/clusters numbers associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.
  • Perform active field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, the effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics, where capacity remains and in coordination with the international community.

Bottom Line 

Individuals are reminded to use proven public health and social practices to lower their risk of COVID-19, such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand cleanliness, physical distance, enhancing indoor ventilation, avoiding crowded locations, and being vaccinated.

It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) than other variants, including Delta. In areas of South Africa afflicted by this variation, the number of people testing positive has increased, but epidemiologic studies are planned to determine if this is due to Omicron or other factors.

WHO is collaborating with technical partners to determine the impact of this variation on existing countermeasures, such as vaccinations. Vaccines, notably those against the major circulating form, Delta, are crucial in lowering severe disease and death. Current immunizations are still effective in preventing serious illness and death.