What scientists know about new COVID variant Omicron - GulfToday

What scientists know about new COVID variant Omicron

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Gulf Today Report

South African researchers have discovered a new mutant of the Coronavirus, called "Omicron", which is multi-mutated, and it can be highly contagious, causing panic in the world, and led to the cancellation of many international flights. 

The World Health Organization described the mutated, on Friday, as a "report of concern.

Scientists are working around the clock to analyse this mutant, and seek to understand its behaviour.


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Below is a brief explanation of what is known, based on information presented by South African researchers:


The origin of the new mutation is still unknown, but South African researchers were the first to report its detection on 25 November. By that time, cases were recorded in Hong Kong and Botswana.

A day later, Israel and Belgium reported cases.


On November 23, researchers discovered a new "abnormally multiple mutations. Some of the mutations are already known and affect transmissibility and immune evasion, but many more are new.

Picture used for illustrative purposes only.

It has "the largest number of mutations we have seen so far," said Musa Mushabella, a professor and in charge of research and innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  He added: "We have already seen some  in the delta and the mutant beta, while others are unknown to us, and we do not know how this group of mutations will interact.

The researchers observed more than 30 mutations, which is a marked difference from other worrisome ones.

Speed of transmission

The speed with which new daily COVID-19 cases are increasing in South Africa, most of them linked to omicron, indicates that the new mutant is highly contagious. 

The number of daily positive cases of COVID-19 rose rapidly this week from 3.6% on Wednesday to 6.5% on Thursday and then 9.1% on Friday, according to official figures. Professor Mushabella said, “Some of the previously reported mutations have been shown to allow the virus to spread easily and quickly. That is why we expect the new mutant to spread rapidly.”

Immunity and severity

This is the question that has yet to be answered. The new mutant was discovered just a week ago, which is not enough time to determine the clinical severity of omicron's cases.

However, the impact  on vaccines is unclear.


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