The COVID omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries, up from 23 two days ago, says the World Health Organization. It said early data suggests that the new variant is more contagious than delta, which is still dominant across the world.
Omicron has about 30 mutations on its spike protein, which is the mechanism used to bind to human cells. Scientists believe some of these mutations are associated with higher transmission and the ability to escape immune protection.
Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, during a Q&A said there is an increasing growth rate. “We see increasing numbers of omicron being detected. But we have reports of omicron in 38 countries in all six WHO regions. There is a suggestion that there is increased transmissibility, what we need to understand is if it’s more or less transmissible compared to delta.”
Dr Mike Ryan, executive director, WHO’s health emergencies program, said the virus clearly does appear to be transmitting efficiently. “And we saw that before with delta. So again, there’s certain things we shouldn’t be surprised with.”
South African scientists have found evidence that the omicron variant can spread more twice as quickly as the delta variant. Juliet Pulliam, director DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis at Stellenbosch University, said the wave seems much faster than the delta wave. “And we thought the delta wave was really fast. It’s unbelievable.”
Pulliam and her colleagues, on Thursday, published a study online showing that reinfections are more likely with omicron than with the delta or the beta variants. The study couldn’t estimate the magnitude of this change, that is, how much more likely reinfections will be but it shows quite strongly that this new variant is more capable of bypassing antibodies generated by a prior infection than previous variants.
Since November 24, when the variant was reported to the World Health Organization, health officials have detected omicron in more than a dozen countries across at least five continents. The variant poses a “very high” risk, the WHO said on Monday.