Friday, January 28, 2022

EXPLANATOR: What we know and what we don’t know about the new COVID variant

LONDON – South African scientists have identified a new version of the coronavirus that they say is responsible for the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

It’s unclear where the new variant first appeared, but scientists from South Africa have notified the World Health Organization in recent days and it has now been seen in travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel and the Netherlands.

On Friday, the WHO labeled it an “option of concern,” naming it “omicron,” after a letter of the Greek alphabet.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT OMICRON?

Health Minister Joe Fahla said the option was associated with “exponential growth” in cases over the past few days.

With just over 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa’s daily new cases skyrocketed to over 3,200 on Saturday, most of them in Gauteng.

In an attempt to explain the sudden rise in the incidence, scientists examined samples of the virus and discovered a new variant. Now 90% of new cases in Gauteng are caused by this disease, in accordance with Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform.

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WHY ARE SCIENTISTS PROVIDING THIS NEW OPTION?

After convening a group of experts to evaluate the data, WHO stated that “preliminary data indicate an increased risk of re-infection with this option” compared to other options.

This means that people who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered may become infected with it again.

This variant appears to have a large number of mutations – about 30 – in the coronavirus spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads in humans.

Sharon Peacock, who oversaw COVID-19 genetic sequencing in the UK at the University of Cambridge, said the current evidence suggests the new variant has mutations “consistent with increased transmissibility,” but said “many of the mutations are not significant. still not known. “

Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described the omicron as “the most severely mutated version of a virus we’ve seen,” including potentially disturbing changes never seen before in the same virus.

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WHAT IS KNOWN AND UNKNOWN ABOUT THE OPTION?

Scientists know that omicron is genetically different from previous variants, including beta and delta variants, but they don’t know if these genetic changes make it even more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication that this variant causes more severe illness.

It will likely take weeks to figure out if omicron is more infectious and if vaccines are effective against it.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said it was “highly unlikely” that existing vaccines would not work, noting that they were effective against many other options.

While some of the genetic changes in the omicron are troubling, it is still unclear if they pose a public health threat. Some of the previous options, such as the beta, alarmed scientists at first, but ultimately did not gain widespread acceptance.

“We don’t know if this new option will be able to gain ground in delta regions,” said Peacock of the University of Cambridge. “There is no opinion yet on how well this option will work where there are other options.”

Delta is by far the most common form of COVID-19, accounting for over 99% of the sequences submitted to the world’s largest publicly available database.

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HOW DOES THE NEW OPTION COME UP?

The coronavirus mutates as it spreads, and many new variants, including those with alarming genetic changes, often simply die. Scientists are tracking the COVID-19 sequences for mutations that could make the disease more transmissible or fatal, but they cannot determine this simply by looking at the virus.

Peacock said the variant “could have developed in someone who was infected but then failed to clear the virus, giving the virus a chance to genetically evolve,” in a scenario similar to how experts think the alpha variant, which was first found in England, also resulted from a mutation in an immunocompromised person.

ARE THERE JUSTIFICATION OF TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS IN CERTAIN COUNTRIES?

May be.

Israel bans foreigners from entering the country, and Morocco has cut off all incoming international air travel.

Several other countries restrict flights from southern Africa.

Given the recent rapid rise in COVID-19 in South Africa, restricting travel from the region is “prudent” and will win the authorities more time, according to Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London.

But the WHO noted that such restrictions often have limited effects and urged countries to keep their borders open.

Jeffrey Barrett, director of COVID-19 genetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, believes that early detection of a new variant could mean that current restrictions will have a greater impact than when the delta variant first appeared.

“It took many, many weeks with the delta during the terrible wave in India before it became clear what was happening, and the delta had already settled in many places in the world, and it was already too late to do anything about it,” he said. “We may be at an earlier stage with this new option, so there may still be time to do something about it.”

The South African government said the country was being treated unfairly because it had advanced genomic sequencing and could detect the option faster, and asked other countries to reconsider travel bans.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, thanked South Africa and Botswana for quickly informing the world about the new option.

“With a variant of the omicron now found in several regions of the world, imposing travel bans targeting Africa violates global solidarity,” Moeti said. “COVID-19 is constantly exploiting our units. We can only defeat the virus if we work together to find solutions. ”

Nation World News Deskhttps://nationworldnews.com
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