The Omicron variant (B.1.1.529), a new variant of the coronavirus, was first reported in Botswana on November 11, 2021, and appeared on November 14 in South Africa. Omicron has spread to various countries in Europe, including Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the UK, in Australia and Canada, among others.
Following the emergence of the new Covid-19 variant 'Omicron', which has led to travel bans and new restrictions in many countries across the world, countries have sprung into action to ensure early detection and precaution. Besides stringent scrutiny at all major airports, several measures are being put in place.
The countries designated as 'at-risk' (as of November 26, 2021) include European countries, the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.
What WHO says
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the new Covid variant as the 'Variant of Concern' (VOC). It is said that this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection with this variant, compared to other VOCs.
Symptoms of Omicron
The WHO confirmed that there is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants, as understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks.
According to WHO, a VOC, with a degree of global public health significance demonstrates one or more mutational changes such as an increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology, increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation, and decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics.
WHO has urged countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing on circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, submit complete genome sequences and metadata to a publicly available database, and report initial VOC cases or clusters to the organisation.
It has also recommended field investigations and laboratory assessments to better understand the potential impacts of the VOC on Covid-19 epidemiology, the effectiveness of public health and social measures and antibody neutralisation.