Here's what we know so far about the omicron variant as it spreads across the world.
- The World Health Organization stated on Monday that the variant posed a "very high" global risk with "severe consequences" given that some of its alterations may circumvent immune protection and suggest enhance transmissibility.
- Dr. Angelique Coetzee, the South African doctor who originally raised the alarm about the new strain, told the BBC on Sunday that the related symptoms have been "extremely mild" thus far.
As governments throughout the world consider new travel bans and restrictive measures, the significantly mutated omicron Covid-19 variant has been detected in more countries.
The World Health Organization stated on Monday that the variant posed a "very high" global risk with "severe consequences" given that some of its alterations may circumvent immune protection and suggest enhance transmissibility.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, the South African doctor who originally raised the alarm about the new strain, told the BBC on Sunday that the related symptoms have been "extremely mild" thus far.
As of late Monday morning, the United Kingdom has identified nine cases, six of which were in Scotland, while the Netherlands and Portugal have each discovered 13 cases.
Elsewhere in Europe including Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and Austria, have reported a small number of cases.
Australia has recorded five instances and has put the next stage of its border reopening plan on hold till further information on the new variant is gathered. In the meantime, cases have been found in Canada and Hong Kong.
Scientists from all around the world are racing to determine whether omicron may resist existing vaccines and natural immunity, with the WHO estimating that it will take weeks to completely comprehend how it will influence diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
Early evidence suggests that the variant is spreading faster in South Africa than earlier variants, and that the strain, formally designated as B.1.1.529, may be triggering a fresh wave of infections, according to a Financial Times analysis
The identification of the omicron variant "underlines just how serious and fragile our situation is," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a special session of the World Health Assembly on Monday to consider a new Pandemic Treaty.
He also stated that South Africa, which originally detected the strain, should be praised for its detection, sequencing, and reporting of the discoveries, rather than being "penalised" through travel prohibitions.
On Friday, the United Kingdom imposed a temporary travel ban on six southern African countries. In the United States, travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi is now prohibited. Japan will close its borders to all foreigners on Tuesday, becoming the second country after Israel to do so.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has encouraged affluent countries to share vaccine supplies, claiming that vaccine disparity will allow the virus to "spread and develop in ways we cannot predict or prevent."
Tedros pointed out that the G-20 wealthy economies received more than 80% of all vaccines, while low-income countries, many of which are in Africa, received only 0.6 percent of all vaccines.
Vaccine booster hopes
Even before the discovery of the new variant, Europe was facing an increase in cases caused by the globally dominant and highly virulent "delta" variant, which had pushed cases in several countries to new highs and forced the imposition of social restrictions.
The Brookings Institution's Dr. Kavita Patel told on Monday that it would take approximately one to two weeks for scientists to be able to replicate the virus, and demonstrate whether it can be neutralized by existing antibodies.
Travel restrictions, according to Patel, would be counterproductive, and governments should instead focus on testing and isolating patients, because the new variant can be detected using the existing PCR testing apparatus. She also stated that experts are confident in the potential of existing vaccinations to protect against omicron.
“At currently, vaccines don't just generate these variant-specific antibodies. They try to build a broad antibody response, and here’s where the kind of brilliance of the human body takes place: the B-cells, the cells that make antibodies, can actually tailor antibody responses to incoming threats to your body," Patel elaborated.
She went on to say that there is compelling data that vaccine boosters can strengthen existing immunity, emphasising the need of individuals getting vaccinated and taking boosters when they are available.