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What is so concerning about the Omicron variant of Covid-19?
The recently identified Covid-19 variant Omicron has sparked a new wave of concern about how infectious it is, and the pandemic as a whole.
While there’s still much not yet known about Omicron, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has described it as a “variant of concern.”
That concern was based primarily on data indicating that Omicron appears to be spreading quickly and potentially even more rapidly than the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is the predominant strain of Covid-19 around the world.
The WHO said, in a technical brief to member states, that Omicron poses a “very high” risk to the world.
Though it’s not clear where the variant first emerged, it was first identified in SA and has now been seen in several other countries.
According to the WHO, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high.
What is concerning about the variant?
The WHO said there was substantial uncertainty regarding the variant’s transmissibility, immune escape potential (from either infection- or vaccine-induced immunity), clinical presentation, severity of disease, and response to other available countermeasures including diagnostics and therapeutics.
“A number of researchers in SA and other countries are carrying out studies to assess these characteristics of Omicron,” said the organisation. “Depending on these characteristics, if another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe.”
The WHO said increasing cases, regardless of a change in severity, may pose overwhelming demands on healthcare systems and may lead to increased morbidity and mortality.
To date, no deaths linked to the Omicron variant have been reported.
Local transmission has been reported in SA and there is evidence of it having spread to several countries in African, Eastern Mediterranean, European and Western Pacific regions.
“While most of the cases identified in these countries are travel-related, we expect this to change as more information becomes available.
“Overall risk related to Omicron is thus considered very high. The evidence for this assessment contains considerable uncertainty and will be updated as more information becomes available,” said the WHO.
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