What is the new “Omicron” strain of the Corona virus?

Why do scientists fear it?

And what did the World Health Organization say about it?

And what are the characteristics of Omicron compared to other "variants" breeds?

Omicron dynasty

The World Health Organization named the new Corona strain "Omicron", following the pattern of Greek symbol names, such as the "Alpha" and "Delta" variants.

The Omicron strain code is B 1.1.529 (B.1.1.529) and was first reported to the World Health Organization from South Africa on 24 November.

 What distinguishes the Omicron breed?

  • This "variant" strain contains a large number of mutations, "some of which are of concern," according to the World Health Organization.

  • Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of 'reinfection' with this variant, compared to other strains.

  • The number of Omicron cases appears to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa.

  • The Omicron strain contains an unusual set of mutations that can:


    - help the coronavirus evade the body's immunity.


    Make it more portable.

  • The Omicron strain contains 32 mutations in the spike protein, which is part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against COVID-19.

    This number of mutations is nearly double the number associated with the Delta lineage, according to a report in the British newspaper, The Guardian.

  • What did the World Health Organization say?

    The World Health Organization has classified the Omicron strain as a Variant of Concern VOC.

    What is the "variable of concern"?

    According to the World Health Organization, mutants or variants of concern are strains of coronavirus characterized by a single trait that is associated with a change in one or more of the following traits:

    • Increased transmissibility of the virus or detrimental change in the epidemiology of COVID-19.

    • An increase in the virulence of the virus or a change in the clinical manifestations of the disease.

    • Decreased effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments.


    Why are scientists afraid of Omicron?

    Any new variant capable of evading vaccines, or spreading faster than the delta variant now prevalent, could pose a significant threat as the world emerges from the pandemic.

    What is the reproduction number of the Corona Omicron strain?

    The basic reproductive number (R0), pronounced "RNAT" or "RZERO", indicates the average number of people to whom an infected person is expected to transmit the disease.

    The UK's Health Security Agency's chief medical advisor, Dr Susan Hopkins, said the "reproduction number" (R) value for the omicron variable in South Africa's Gauteng province - where it was first found - is now 2, a transmission level not recorded since the start pandemic before the restrictions begin.

    As for the reproduction number, anything higher than 1 will make the epidemic grow exponentially.

    What do Omicron's specifications compare to other "variants" breeds?

    On Thursday, top scientists described Omicron as the worst variable they have seen since the start of the epidemic, according to the Guardian newspaper.

    It contains 32 mutations in the spike protein, a part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against COVID-19, about twice the number associated with the delta variant.

    Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus's ability to infect and spread cells, but they also make it more difficult for immune cells to attack the pathogen.

    The director of the South African Epidemiological Response and Innovation Center, Professor Tulio de Oliveira, said there was an "extraordinary set of mutations" and it was "completely different" from the other variants that had been circulating.


    In a media briefing, Professor de Oliveira said that there are 50 mutations in total and more than 30 on the Spike protein, which is the target of most vaccines and the key that the virus uses to open the entrance to the body's cells, according to the BBC website.

    It is possible that this level of mutation was caused by a single patient who was not able to overcome the virus.

    The concern is that this virus is now radically different from the original that emerged in Wuhan, China.

    This means that vaccines, which are designed using the original strain, may not be effective.

    What are the latest field developments?

    Amid fears of a wide spread of Omicron, several countries announced the suspension of flights coming from southern African countries, where this new mutant of the Corona virus was detected.

    After North American, European and Arab countries, Australia - and before that Brazil - closed its borders to those coming from southern Africa.

    On Saturday, Australia banned flights from 9 countries in South Africa.

    Health Minister Greg Hunt said non-Australians who had visited South Africa, Zimbabwe and other countries in the past two weeks would also be barred from entering Australia.

    Citizens and residents traveling from these countries will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

    For its part, the Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency recommended - in a statement yesterday, Friday - the suspension of flights from 6 southern African countries, "due to the epidemiological impact that the new mutation can have on the global situation."

    Canada and the United States announced that they would prevent travelers from southern African countries from entering their lands, while Japan will tighten restrictions with a 10-day quarantine imposed on those coming from this region.

    US President Joe Biden said - in a statement - that "the information about this new mutant makes it more clear that this epidemic will not end without vaccination globally," calling for more vaccines to be provided to poor countries.

    In Europe, the Dutch health authorities announced today, Saturday, 61 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among travelers who came on two flights from South Africa, but they need more tests to find out if they are infected with the new mutant Umicron.

    And one infection was detected in Europe with this mutation in Belgium.

    Scapegoat

    Several European countries - including Britain, France, Italy and Switzerland - banned flights from South Africa and its neighboring countries.

    Russia will implement a similar decision, starting from Sunday, and Spain, starting next Tuesday.

    And one Omicron case was recorded in Hong Kong.

    The European Union recommended the suspension of all flights from South Africa and 6 other countries in the region, while several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, announced that they would close their borders to travelers from this region.

    These decisions and recommendations aroused the indignation of South Africa, which considered them "unjustified".

    And Health Minister Joe Vahla said - in a press conference yesterday evening - Friday - that "some reactions are not justified."

    "Some leaders are looking for a scapegoat to solve a global problem," he added.

    South African President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday, as they "discussed the challenges posed by the new mutant of Covid-19 globally, and ways to work together to deal with and reopen international travel," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

    And no new mutant has caused so much concern around the world, since the emergence of the Delta mutant.

    The travel ban has tragic consequences for South Africa;

    It comes just before the southern summer, when the wildlife parks and hotels are usually full;

    Where the tourism sector is just beginning to hope for a normal season.

    "Our immediate concern is the damage this decision will do to the tourism and business sectors," South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.


    Moderna wants to develop a vaccine

    Fears of a new spread of the Covid-19 epidemic have led to the postponement of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, its first in 4 years.

    4,000 people were supposed to participate in the conference from November 30 to December 3.

    After an emergency meeting on Friday, the 164 members of the World Trade Organization agreed to postpone the twelfth ministerial conference "indefinitely", in the wake of the spread of the Omicron mutator, "which prompted many governments to impose severe travel restrictions, which will prevent many Ministers from going to Geneva,” the organization said.

    "This does not mean that negotiations should stop. On the contrary," said WHO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

    Scientists are already trying to understand these new mutations, and Moderna Laboratories have announced that they plan to "develop a vaccine" against Omicron.

    On Friday, a WHO spokesman said it would take "several weeks" to understand the virus's ability to spread and its severity.

    For its part, the European Medicines Agency said it was "too early" to plan to adapt vaccines to the Omicron mutant.

    About 54% of the world's population has received at least one dose of a vaccine against Covid-19, but only 5.6% have received the vaccination in low-income countries, according to the "Our World in Data" website.

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