The World Health Organisation (WHO) had designated the B.1.1.529 variant as one of concern on the advice of the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).

Based on the evidence so far, Omicron itself has had several mutations that may impact how the virus behaves and how easily it spreads or the severity of illness that it has the potential to cause.

What do we know so far?

According to WHO, researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available.  

It is still not clear whether the variant is more transmissible as compared to Delta and Beta but the number of positive cases in South Africa has risen due to this.

Severity of disease

It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. However, the WHO reveals that preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.  

Symptoms of Omicron

There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants, says WHO. “Initial reported infections were among university students—younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease—but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks.  All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key,” says a WHO report.

Effectiveness of vaccines

WHO is still working with partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on our existing countermeasures, including vaccines. Current vaccines, however, do remain effective against severe disease and death.   

Also read: India’s Omicron tally at 213

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