The Omicron Covid-19 Variant, What, Where, How and the When.

What is the Omicron Covid-19 variant? On 26 November 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, named Omicron, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).  This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes. Here is a summary of what is currently known. 

WHERE WAS IT FOUND?. The new variant B.1.1.529, which the World Health Organization officially named omicron, was first discovered on November 11, 2021, in Botswana.  That’s just north of South Africa. Since then, B.1.1.529 has also been found in South Africa. It’s mainly been diagnosed in the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

HOW DID IT DEVELOP? Professor Francois Balloux, Chair in Computational Biology Systems at University College London. Has been quoted as suggesting it Is possible that the virus mutated during a chronic infection of a person whose immune system was already weakened by an untreated HIV/Aids infection.

WHERE CAN IT BE FOUND? On Friday (26.11.2021), Belgium recorded the first confirmed case of the omicron variant in Europe. This came after samples were tested for the B.1.1.529 variant.

The Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst wrote on Twitter that the sample was from a traveler who had returned to Belgium from Egypt on November 11. That traveler started to show symptoms on November 22.

As on Monday the 29th of November, 2021, there were 13 confirmed omicron cases in the Netherlands, and other cases outside of southern Africa, including in Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, France, Canada and Australia.

Current knowledge about Omicron Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available.  

Transmissibility: It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors. 

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