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7 things we already know about the new Covid-19 variant

Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs (Volatile organic compounds). This variant has a large number of mutations, according to scientists. Picture: Ian Landsberg/AfricanNews Agency (ANA).

Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs (Volatile organic compounds). This variant has a large number of mutations, according to scientists. Picture: Ian Landsberg/AfricanNews Agency (ANA).

Published Nov 28, 2021

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With the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant by South African scientists, which has caused mass panic around the globe leading to several countries imposing travel bans on South Africa and several southern African countries, the spread of misinformation and fake news from Western media continue to hamper efforts to understand and contain the new variant, which according to the World Health Organization is highly transmissible.

So here are 7 things that you need to know about Omicron today.

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The variant was discovered by South African scientists and is not a South African variant.

The B.1.1.529 variant or Omicron was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24. WHO designated the new coronavirus strain as a “variant of concern”, naming it “omicron” after a letter in the Greek alphabet.

According to reports, South African scientists have detected more than 30 mutations to the spike protein, the part of the virus that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells.

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Increased risk of reinfection

Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs (Volatile organic compounds). This variant has a large number of mutations, according to scientists.

Do early indications point to this variant causing different symptoms or more severe disease?

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There is no evidence for any clinical differences yet. What is known is that cases of B.1.1.529 infection have increased rapidly in Gauteng, where the country’s fourth pandemic wave seems to be commencing, according to research by Prof Wolfgang Preiser, Cathrine Scheepers, Jinal Bhiman, Marietjie Venter and Tulio de Oliveira.

WHO warns against hastily imposing travel restrictions

The WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should look to a "risk-based and scientific approach".

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Do PCR tests detect Omicron?

Existing tools, however, should still be effective in stopping Omicron, PCR tests appear to detect the variant, according to the WHO.

Are current Covid-19 vaccines effective against the new variant?

According to the preliminary research, scientists know that Omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants, including the Beta and Delta variants, but do not know if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease.

When was the first case of the new variant discovered?

According to the WHO, the earliest known case of the Omicron variant was on November 9, and the mutation was first detected on November 24 in South Africa, which has an advanced detection system.

African News Agency (ANA)

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