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Omicron B.1.1.529

Omicron

The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behavior of the virus. The TAG-VE was convened on 26 November 2021 to assess the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529.

The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of the B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.

This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as a marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.

There are several studies underway and the TAG-VE will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new findings with the Member States and to the public as needed.

Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron.

As such, countries are asked to do the following

  • enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.
  • submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.
  • report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.
  • where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, the effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.

Individuals are reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving the ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.

For reference, WHO has working definitions for SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Interest (VOI) and Variant of Concern (VOC).

A SARS-CoV-2 VOI is a SARS-CoV-2 variant:

  • with genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape; AND
  • that has been identified as causing significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside an increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health. 

A SARS-CoV-2 VOC is a SARS-CoV-2 variant that meets the definition of a VOI (see above) and, through a comparative assessment, has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance:

  • increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; OR
  • increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; OR
  • decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics

What we know about the Omicron variant that has sparked global alarm


The rise of a new Covid variation in southern Africa has started worldwide alert due to its extraordinary series of hereditary transformations. 

The 50 changes on the new B.1.1.529 variation, named Omicron by the World Health Organization, incorporate more than 30 on the spike protein, the uncovered piece of the infection that ties with human cells. 

These progressions could make it more contagious than the prevailing Delta variation and bound to dodge the resistance insurance given by immunizations or earlier diseases. 

For what reason is Omicron causing such an alert? 

Researchers are worried for two fundamental reasons. One is epidemiological and identifies with the speed with which the variation that arose for the current month is spreading in South Africa, especially in Gauteng territory that incorporates the urban communities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. 

Day-by-day cases have dramatically multiplied in South Africa since Tuesday, with 2,828 cases recorded on Friday. Early testing results demonstrated that 90% of the new cases on Wednesday in Gauteng were brought about by the new variation. 

Uncommonly, its transformation design implies it tends to be recognized from Delta and different variations with customary PCR tests, without the requirement for full genome sequencing. 

Sharon Peacock, the educator of general wellbeing and microbial science at Cambridge college, said the R esteem, which estimates a scourge's development rate, was assessed at 1.93 for Gauteng, where Omicron is concentrated. This contrasted and 1.47 for South Africa overall. 

The other reason for concern is its exceptionally strange hereditary profile. Jeffrey Barrett, head of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, portrayed Omicron as "a remarkable testing" of transformations from four prior variations of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. There are other hereditary changes that poor person been seen previously, whose importance is at this point obscure, he added. 

Worryingly, said Jacob Glanville, a computational immunologist and organizer of California therapeutics organization Centivax, 15 of the transformations are on the "receptor restricting area" — which behaves like a "catching snare" for the Sars-Cov-2 infection to enter human cells. 

These changes assist the infection with dodging the body's resistant protections since it is prepared by immunizations or earlier contamination to perceive and battle the first Wuhan strain. By examination, the Delta variation which represents practically totally sequenced cases overall gouged the viability of immunizations with only three transformations around here. 

How could it get such countless changes and is it riskier? 


As Sars-Cov-2 reproduces, mistakes in the duplicating system incidentally change a portion of the 30,000 biochemical letters in its hereditary code — ordinarily at a pace of two transformations each month. 

Researchers trust that the broad changes in Omicron and in the Alpha variation that began last harvest time in England are the consequence of long haul contamination in an unidentified person whose safe framework is compromised through illness or clinical treatment — a "developmental rec center" as Peacock put it. 

Slawomir Kubik, a genomics research master at Geneva-based biotech Sophia Genetics, said a considerable lot of Omicron's changes came "all the way out of nowhere" and had not been seen before in different strains. 

Hence, researchers "have almost zero ability to see on what these new transformations are doing to how the infection functions", he clarified, adding that once it starts to spread all the more broadly its "actual wellness" will turn out to be clear. 

A portion of the transformations shows expanded contagiousness, while changes in the hereditary code make it harder for the resistant framework, prepared by existing inoculations or earlier disease with another variation, to handle another strain. Yet, it will take scientists a little while or months to work out the collaborations among them and their total effect. 

Regardless of whether Omicron ends up being the most irresistible Sars-Cov-2 variation up until now, there is no proof yet from South Africa or elsewhere concerning whether it will end up causing more terrible side effects. "It could go in any case," said Glanville. "The changes could exacerbate it or the transformations could make it more harmless." 

What measures can counter it and how all-around set is the world to confront the danger? 

Numerous researchers have upheld the prompt reaction of prohibiting travel from nations where Omicron is spreading quick. "The goal of the line terminations and travel limitations that have been declared is to restrict the worldwide spread of the variation," said Francois Balloux, overseer of the UCL Genetics Institute in London. 

He proceeded: "In case B.1.1.529 were more contagious than Delta, this technique is generally far-fetched to prevail in the long haul yet may permit acquiring some an ideal opportunity to additional increment inoculation rates, including third portions, and send promising medications presently ready to go." 

Assuming that Omicron spreads all throughout the planet and prompts a checked expansion in hospitalizations and passings, then, at that point, legislatures might need to reimpose social removing measures or strengthen existing limitations — which in the most pessimistic scenario could mean a re-visitation of lockdowns. 

Be that as it may, researchers underscored the numerous vulnerabilities encompassing Omicron, and most are more certain than they were the point at which the prior Alpha and Delta waves showed up. 

The new variation is "generally improbable to completely get away from inoculation given by immunization and earlier disease", said Balloux. "With high inoculation rates and promising medications not too far off, a potential B.1.1.529 wave ought to be undeniably less agonizing to climate than the Alpha and Delta ones." 

Another positive is that, due to the endeavors of South African researchers, nations have been cautioned about the dangers presented by Omicron far sooner than they were about Delta, which had effectively spread generally from India before the world was alarmed.