As fears of another global surge of Covid-19 shatter the global markets and evoke a new round of travel bans, Indians started rethinking their holiday plans. 

COVID-19 Omicron Variant: What You Need To Know?

December 9, 2021 by Dr. Sandeep Bhasin

As fears of another global surge of Covid-19 shatter the global markets and evoke a new round of travel bans, Indians started rethinking their holiday plans. 

Lockdowns are already implemented in the UK, France, and the Netherlands. Even international flights to the UK, Hong Kong, Japan, Botswana, South Africa, and Australia are getting restricted. 

Currently, Omicron is spreading like wildfire across India. As of December 5, 2021, India recorded 17 more cases – 9 from Jaipur, 7 from Pune, and 1 landed in Delhi from Tanzania, which becomes 21 total. Hence, Omicron has become a matter of concern for the state and central governments.

Wondering why? This article sheds light on the emergence of Omicron and its up-to-date insights.

Omicron Virus Found in India – Experts Say Don’t Panic 

What is the Omicron variant?

On 26 November 2021, the WHO (World Health Organization) chose variant B.1.1.529 as Omicron, a variant of concern, according to the recommendation of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). Even the global risks appear to be ‘very high’. 

Omicron variation was first identified in South Africa and Botswana.

What is so unique about Omicron?

What’s so significant about this Omicron is that this variant’s genome has 50 mutations, where more than 30 occur in the spike protein. It is supposed to be a huge leap in the evolution of viruses. This spike interacts with human cells before entry. Hence, it is the major target of the available vaccines.

According to the 2021 BMJ research article, Omicron may transmit more than other variants, especially Delta, due to the unusual increase in mutations. Furthermore, scientists fear that it may be partially resistant to the existing vaccines. 

However, there is no substantial evidence to prove that Omicron is more dangerous than other variants like a delta. Lawrence Young, a professor of molecular oncology from Warwick Medical School, stated, “This new variant of the covid-19 virus is very worrying. This variant carries some changes we’ve seen previously in other variants but never all together in one virus. It also has novel mutations that we’ve not seen before.”

Ongoing Studies

The CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) uses genomic surveillance throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic to track the variants of SARS-CoV-2, the causative virus of COVID-19 that evolve through antigenic drift and shift.

Currently, WHO is coordinating with scientists across the world to better understand the effect of Omicron. Research works currently ongoing or shortly ongoing include evaluation of its transmission, severity including symptoms, diagnosis, vaccination performance, and efficacy of treatment.

Still, the scientists are clueless about how quickly it can transmit, its severity, and the vaccines or medications that will work against Omicron. Anyone having an Omicron infection can transmit the virus to others, even if they don’t have symptoms or remain vaccinated. Sharon Peacock, the professor of public health and microbiology at Cambridge University and director of the COG-UK Genomics UK Consortium said, “Studies are being rapidly conducted in South Africa to look at antibody neutralization of this variant, as well as interactions with T cells, but these studies are going to take several weeks to complete,” she said.

Will Omicron cause severe illness or death?

Still, more data is required to understand if Omicron infection, especially breakthrough infection, and reinfection, causes severe illness or death when compared with other variants.

More information in this regard will become available in the coming days and weeks. To date, there is no data that Omicron causes death. 

Dr. Angelique Cotzee, the chairperson of the South African Medical Association, reported that most of the patients with Omicron infection had only a slight cough with intense fatigue. Moreover, these patients did not lose their sense of smell and taste. She said, “The virus has been around for some time and its symptoms are easy to miss.”

Still, politicians across the world remain calm in this regard. The reason is the ability to identify Omicron’s distinct mutations quickly with a nasal swab as well as a lab test. Furthermore, vaccine makers are confident that they can tweak available vaccine formulations to make them more effective against upcoming novel variants.

Currently, international airports in India screen all passengers arriving from at-risk countries and make them undergo RT-PCR tests. They can leave the airport only when their test results come negative.

The countries listed as at-risk include the UK, Europe, Brazil, South Africa, China, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Israel, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Will the available vaccines work against Omicron?

On 29 November 2021, the CDC recommended all adults get a booster dose if they are more than 6 months from their primary vaccine shots.

Once you get vaccinated, other important parts of your immune system such as T-cells and memory cells in your body come into play. They will reduce the possibility of Omicron infection causing severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

Hence, the CDC believes that repetitive exposure to the spike protein via booster dose may help expand the antibody response.

Wendy Barclay, the research chair in virology at Imperial College London and leader of the G2P-UK National Virology Consortium, urged people to get vaccinated. Even if the available vaccines are less effective, they can still offer some protection against Omicron.

The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization will be meeting soon to discuss the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine’s additional dose to kids, elders, and immunocompromised people.

Prevention is always better than cure

No matter what the variant is, stay safe from COVID-19 by following the below listed COVID-19 precautions, which include:

  • Get vaccinated and complete the course
  • Vaccinate the unvaccinated
  • Wear a mask while going out in public places
  • Keep washing your hands regularly and use sanitizers
  • Follow physical distancing of at least one meter from others
  • Avoid indoor crowds
  • Avoid remaining in crowded places or poorly ventilated areas
  • Make sure to sneeze or cough into a bent elbow or a tissue paper

Dr. Wesley Long, director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist, said “Even if you’ve had COVID-19, get vaccinated. We know that the immunity offered by vaccination is stronger and lasts longer than natural immunity.”

Ultimately, prevention is better than cure. So, do not panic. Just get vaccinated!

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Dr. Sandeep Bhasin

Dr. Sandeep Bhasin is a highly skilled cosmetic surgeon and the owner of Care Well Medical Centre in Delhi. With extensive expertise in cosmetic and plastic surgery, he is dedicated to providing exceptional care and transformative results to his patients. Dr. Sandeep Bhasin obtained his MBBS and MS in General Surgery from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and served as a consultant at Bhaktshreshtha Kamalakarpant Laxman Walawalkar Hospital, Diagnostic & Research Centre. Specializing in various procedures such as face-lifts, rhinoplasty, liposuction, breast augmentation, hair transplant and many others, Dr. Sandeep Bhasin is committed to enhancing his patients' natural beauty and self-confidence.

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