Home Covid News and Updates New variant named as Omicron, WHO classifies strain as VOC

New variant named as Omicron, WHO classifies strain as VOC

by Vaishali Sharma

SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 was recognised as a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday. Omicron is the name given to a novel coronavirus variant that has been found in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel, and Botswana.

The WHO classed the variation as a “highly transmissible virus of concern,” the same classification as the coronavirus’s most common delta form. Countries all over the world have raced to impose travel bans in an attempt to contain the new Covid-19 danger, a move South Africa has slammed as “unjustified.”

“Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology… the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern (VOC), named Omicron,” the UN health agency said in a statement.

The WHO said it could take several weeks to complete studies of Omicron to see if there are any changes in transmissibility, severity or implications for Covid vaccines, tests and treatments.

The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution changed its classification during a hastily convened virtual conference.

On Wednesday, the WHO received the first report of the variation from South Africa.

A specimen taken on November 9 was the first known verified Omicron infection. Infections in South Africa have risen sharply in recent weeks, coinciding with the discovery.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said, pointing to worrying characteristics.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.”

It said the number of Omicron cases appeared to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa.

As for testing for the strain, the WHO added: “Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.”

Omicron’s actual risks are not understood yet. But early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of re-infection compared with other highly transmissible variants, the WHO said. That means people who contracted Covid-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against this variant.

However, medical experts, including the WHO, have warned against any overreaction before the variant is thoroughly studied. Even though some of its genetic changes appear worrisome, it is unclear how much of a public health threat it poses as of now.

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