The Health Ministry of India has done a great job to sound an alert after South African authorities announced that they had detected a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The new variant has "an unusual constellation of variants". Further, the pathogens have also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong, and Israel. The variant has been named by the WHO. Earlier it be named Nu-v. It was first detected in Botswana. Omicron SARS-CoV-2 is actually a variant of concern, the scientists observing the progress of this variant have said. According to experts, the variant has 30 mutations in its spike protein.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, in a letter t all states and UTs, wrote," This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travels.
What does World Health Organisation say about the Omicron?
The World Health Organisation identifies a mutant virus as a variant of concern if it shows:
- Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology.
- Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation.
- Decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics.
Every detected SARS-CoV-2 variant is monitored to see whether it meets the definition of a VOI through a comparative assessment so that preventive measures could be taken in advance lest it presents global public health afresh.
What do scientists have specified about the B.1.1.529?
Tulio de Oliveria, the director of South Africa's center for Epidemic Response and innovation, is one of those keeping a close watch on the development of the Nu variant. He has been sharing details about the Nu or B.1.1529 variant of SARS-CoV-2. He said that this new variant, B.1.1.529 seems to spread very quickly. in less than 2 weeks. It can dominate all infections following a devastating Delta wave in South Africa. He also informed that of all the genomes sequenced in South Africa from the samples taken from these suffering from Covid-19 over two weeks, the Omicron variant's share stood at 75 percent.
Thus, this is a clear sign that the Omicron variant is outcompeting the Delta variant that has been behind surges in Covid-19 cases in South Africa.
About the behavior of the new variant
The answer is a mutation that is, permanent changes in its body. The Omicron variant has been found to be carrying 32 mutations in its spike protein the club-like protrusion that the SARS-CoV-2 uses to get into a human cell. This is an unusual number of mutations in one part of a virus's body, those following the variant have said. Overall, the Omicron variant has 50 mutations. The receptor part of the infection launcher on its spike protein has 10 mutations. To understand the degree of mutations, the delta variant has just two in this part of the spike protein of Covid-causing coronavirus.
Can we detect the variant?
This could be still a zone of comfort in the middle of feverish concern. Tulio said that because this variant can be detected by a normal qPCR due to deletions at spike position 69-70, it will make it easy for the world to track it. This means that detecting and thus checking the spread of this virus is not a much costlier scheme in the fight against the Covid-019 pandemic.
Is the vaccine of Covid-19 is effective on the Omicron?
This is still being studied by scientists. South Africa that has reported maximum cases of Omicron variant has a low, 24 percent, vaccination rate. According to Tulio de Oliveria, South African scientists are working to find out three aspects of infection by Omicron variant: transmissibility, the effectiveness of vaccines, and reinfection. When sufficient data are available, it would be known how much more, or less, transmissible the Omicron variant is. Whether existing vaccines would be effective against it or not, and whether there is any difference in its infectivity among people with cured Covid-19.
Will it affect India?
Yes, because it is an interconnected world, and international travel is heading to what it was in pre-Covod times. Experts in India have rightly pointed out that the country should complete its vaccination targets for the current year before contemplating the third dose. Because less than 50 percent of the Indian adult population is totally inoculated. Europe's recent experience shows that pathogens remain a serious threat, even to countries with inoculation levels much higher than India. So, the new variant is another warning that we need to stay ahead of the virus, and not let our guard down.
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