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"Omicron" new COVID-19 variant that has raised alerts

omicron variant covid-19

By Pamela Cruz. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P]
South Africa has confirmed the appearance of a new variant of COVID-19, identified as B.1.1.529, which has multiple mutations and has raised "concern" among specialists and several countries in the world.

 The World Health Organization WHO has named the new strain "Omicron". The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the last of which was predominantly the Delta variant. 

In recent weeks, infections have risen sharply, coinciding with the detection of variant B.1.1.529, WHO said in a statement.

The first known confirmed Omicron infection was from a sample collected on November 9, 2021.

The international agency noted that this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are "worrisome," as preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this strain compared to other coronaviruses.

The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa, he stressed, as current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this strain. 

Several laboratories have indicated that, for a widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected - called S gene dropout or S gene target failure - and therefore this test can be used as a marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. 

With this approach, "this variant has been detected at a faster rate than previous infection surges, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage," the paper notes.

In response, the organization has requested countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, submit complete genomic sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, and report initial cases and/or clusters associated with COVID infection to WHO.

He also called for field research and laboratory evaluations to improve understanding of the potential impacts of covid, as well as maintaining public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, and vaccination.

To society in general, he reminded people to take measures to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures, such as wearing tight-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving indoor ventilation, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.

The agency's concern put other countries on alert, and European Union nations agreed Friday to suspend flights to seven southern African countries because of the new South African variant of the coronavirus.

The countries concerned are South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini, sources told EFE news agency. 

For their part, the US and Canada have joined the countries that have decided not to allow entry to people coming from those nations, adding Malawi to their own list.

"As a precautionary measure, until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what science and my medical team advise," President Joseph Biden said in a statement issued by The White House. 

He said that for those Americans who are fully vaccinated against severe COVID, fortunately, for the vast majority of our adults, the best way to strengthen their protection is to receive a booster vaccine as soon as they are eligible. 

The boosters are approved for all adults over 18 years of age, six months after their vaccination and are available at 80,000 locations from coast to coast. These, he referred, are safe, free and convenient. "Get your booster shot now, so you can have this extra protection during the holiday season." 

On the other hand, he called on all those who are not yet fully vaccinated to take the missing doses as soon as possible, including both children and adults. 

The United States leads the world in vaccinating children ages 5 to 11, and has been vaccinating adolescents for several months, "but we need more Americans in all age groups to get this life-saving protection. If you haven't been vaccinated or haven't taken your children to get vaccinated, now is the time."

Finally, for the global community, he said, "the news about this new variant should make it clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccines."

In addition, he called on nations to come together next week at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to address the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines so that these vaccines can be manufactured globally.

You may be interested in: FDA Clears Third Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine for 18 Years and Older

Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.

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