Omicron variant: Relevance
- GS 3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.
Omicron variant: Context
- Recently, World Health Organization (WHO) has said Omicron, that a heavily mutated coronavirus variant, is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have “severe consequences” in some places.
What is Omicron variant?
- A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, which is currently circulating in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, has been classified as a ‘variant of concern’ by WHO. It has been named Omicron.
About Omicron variant
- Early impressions are that this variant is possibly even more transmissible than the highly infectious Delta variant.
- Omicron variant has a large number of mutations compared to other prevalent variants circulating across the world.
- It includes 32 mutations in the spike protein. Many of these mutations lie in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein and thus may play an important role in recognition by antibodies generated due to a previous infection or by vaccines.
- Spike protein forms a key part of the protein required for binding to the human receptor proteins for entry into the cell.
- The variant was reported in South Africa and has been identified among travellers from South Africa apart from other countries in the region.
Omicron variant symptoms
- The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of South Africa has said that currently, “no unusual symptoms” have been reported following infection with the 1.1.529 or the Omicron variant.
Does the variant result in vaccine breakthrough infections?
- Some of the individuals identified to be infected with omicron variant have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and therefore the variant can indeed cause vaccine breakthrough infections.
- However, this should not be of concern, as the prevalent variants of concern including Delta have been shown to cause breakthrough infections.
- Nevertheless, whether the variant causes more breakthrough infections than Delta is not currently known.
Omicron variant countries
- As of date, nine countries have confirmed the presence of Omicron. This includes South Africa, Botswana, England, Hong Kong, Australia, Italy, Israel, Czech Republic, and Belgium.
Omicron variant in India
- India has a national programme on genomic surveillance (INSACOG) as well as focussed surveillance programmes in Kerala, Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka, apart from independent research programmes.
- In INSACOG’s latest Bulletin, none of the sequenced samples in India have the Omicron variant until date.
How can we prepare for Omicron variant?
- For detection and tracking: Enhanced surveillance and genome sequencing efforts are essential.
- For better understanding: Rapid sharing of genome sequences of the virus will help in developing a better understanding of the variant.
- For control and prevention: Apart from the above, existing public health and social measures need to be strengthened.
- Combating new variant: Enhancing vaccination coverage across different regions along with access to testing, therapeutics and support will be essential for combating the new variant.
- Equitable access to vaccines would be key to controlling the Omicron variant, and slowing down the emergence of any future variants.