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New Covid-19 strain named “Omicron” and a variant of concern

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Omicron is the new Covid-19 to watch out for, having just received its Greek name and the highest category of classification, “variant of concern”. The B.1.1.529 strain, recently uncovered in southern Africa and already seeing some spread, was given the Omicron name and classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation yesterday.

From least worrisome to most urgent, the order of classifications goes: “Variant Being Monitored”, “Variant of Interest”, “Variant of Concern” and finally the extreme “Variant of High Consequence”. But there has yet to be a strain of Covid-19 that has earned the High Consequence title, making Omicron’s classification the top tier, along with the Delta, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma variants.

The Omicron variant is so new the WHO doesn’t yet have data to predict its threat and it could take several weeks to have a clearer picture of if the virus is more transmissible, more severe, or more resistant to any or all vaccine brands. But the speed in which the variant went from being formally reported to the WHO on Wednesday from the first known cases in South Africa to being upgraded to a variant of concern is alarming.

People around the world panicked and scrambled on fears of what the new Omicron variant might bring. The global economy suffered a hit, with stock markets around the world plunging as well as oil prices dropping. Countries scrambled to implement bans on flights coming from South Africa over the protest of the country.

The first known case of what is now identified as the Omicron variant was collected on November 9, but overall infections have soared in South Africa, suggesting a possible correlation. Early studies show Omicron has a lot of mutations, and reinfection may be more likely with this strain than others. So far though, standard testing seems just as accurate at picking up the new variant.

The Omicron variant has been found in nearly every province of South Africa, as well as Botswana, Belgium, Israel, and Hong Kong. Many European countries have already moved to restrict flights from South Africa, but the WHO is advising against enacting travel restrictions around the world just yet.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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