GUATENG: The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases emerging in South Africa, leading to further examination and the subsequent emergence of a variant being called a ‘major threat’ of ‘serious concern’.
B.1.1.529, or Omicron as dubbed by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a heavily mutated version of the novel virus currently leaps and bounds ahead in evolutions over others like it. It has 50 mutations, with ten mutations on a critical position compared to Delta, which only had two mutations on the same part.
“There is an unusual constellation of mutations. It is unlike any other variants that have circulated. Omicron startled us as it has a big jump on evolution and mutations.” States Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation.
“Observing past variants has us concerned that this virus might have enhanced transmissibility alongside the ability to bypass certain parts of the immune system,” said Prof Richard Lessells from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. This highlights some of the main concerns with Omicron, which is vaccine efficacy and transmissibility.
There are already 77 confirmed cases in Gauteng, South Africa. But the variant has gone international, with cases documented in Botswana, Israel and even Hong Kong. However, the variant has likely spread even more than reported as it gives peculiar results (known as an S-gene dropout) when tested, and that can be used to track the virus without a full genetic breakdown.
This is why experts believe that 90% of these new cases in South Africa may be linked explicitly to the variant. And soon, that number could quickly multiply exponentially, both locally and beyond borders.