The New Variant of COVID-19: Omicron

Just as the spread of COVID-19 began slowing down and people began to think this period of unrest was finally coming to an end, the virus revealed a new, more dangerous, variant that has left most of the population with an ocean of unanswered questions. Where did it come from? Are the vaccines still effective? Will this new development lead to another lockdown? While we have answers to some of these inquiries, much of the logistics behind omicron remain a mystery.

Just last week, a virus with new mutations was discovered by researchers in Botswana and South Africa. The mutations were found in the part of the virus that allows it to enter cells and infect them. Such variations were cause for alarm and to match this magnitude, the variant was given its own Greek letter: omicron. The discovery, despite upsetting many African leaders, led to travel bans in and out of South Africa, as well as many of its neighboring countries. General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the 2021 World Health Assembly, said, “Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us.”

Since the news of the new variant is still relatively new, there is little that we can put on paper. Yet, what we do know is that it caused a giant spike in case numbers for South Africa. The country went from having less than 300 cases a day at the beginning of November to more than 2,000 cases by the end of it. The first case entered America on December 1, in California. Traces of omicron have also been found in other countries, such as Israel, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Australia. Some of these cases are not related to travel to South Africa, causing speculation that the virus had been spreading in the area for a month.

However, the list of things unknown about the variant stretches much further. It is still indefinite whether omicron is more contagious than any other variant or how it interacts with antibodies. The severity of infection, symptoms, and vaccine efficacy are still up in the air in terms of the new mutation. Although it is clear that it was first detected in South Africa, the whereabouts of where it started also remain unknown. Additionally, its relation to the delta variant has yet to be discovered. It could replace delta as the number one spreader, or it could be less dangerous. The numbers and duration since its emergence are still too low to determine anything with certainty. For now, patience and calm are of the utmost importance. As we wait with anticipation for more revelations on omicron, it is vital that all individuals abide by necessary protocols regarding COVID-19 in their states.

Photo by Chokniti Khongchum on


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