- December 28, 2021
- Posted by: Aanchal Iyer
- Category: Uncategorized
The Omicron Variant: A Mystery that Will Be Solved Soon
The world again is at the brim of facing uncertainty as countries enforce restrictions on travel and take other steps amidst concerns over the new Omicron variant. Due to the sheer number of this variant’s mutations, there has been an alarm worldwide.
Trying to Unravel the Mystery around the Variant
What the world is currently trying to understand is “will the Omicron variant spread faster than the extra-contagious delta variant? Does this variant make people even sicker? Does it escape the protection offered by vaccines’ or reinfect previous survivors? Not all answers are available as scientists work hard to find the right answers.
Trevor Bedford, who is studying
the evolution of the coronavirus at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, characterized health experts’ reactions as “Pretty much the right level of freaking out”.
The Omicron variant may not turn out as bad as we may think of it as; however, being complacent about the same is not appropriate.
Till now, the entire world has been too slow to react or respond to each coronavirus curveball. This time we have been lucky enough to receive an early warning from South Africa and Botswana may have provided a critical head start.
Why are we Worried?
The Omicron variant has caused an alarm due to the sheer number of mutations it has. None of the previous variants had these many mutations. Possibly as of now, there are at least 30 mutations in the spike protein. The spike protein is used by the virus to attach itself to the human cells.
Scientists have identified a few mutations in earlier variants that were more infectious or resilient to vaccination. However, scientists have never seen this specific constellation of changes before.
Scrambling for Answers
As of now, scientists have very little information on whether the Omicron variant causes a more severe disease than other variants. And while it has already been diagnosed in many countries, just days into its discovery, it is also very soon to know how contagious the variant is. The alpha variant that appeared about a year ago was more virulent than the virus that started the whole pandemic; the delta variant was then far more contagious than the alpha variant.
Getting all the answers will be a complicated process as a vital information is still missing. This missing piece is how long the Omicron variant has been spreading globally?
New Dutch data suggests that the variant has spread longer than health planners first hoped. We do not know if this is the starting of a wave, the middle of one, or the end of one. However, it does appear that the variant has been caught in the initial stages of an upswing, at a time when the focus has been on the Delta variant.
Scientists knew very little about the Delta variant. Now they know about it inside and out. They need time to understand about the Omicron variant. As a first step, more information of the variant’s genetic structure, initially created by scientists in South Africa, may help with early ideas about the variant’s behavior as it spreads. For this to happen, the world needs to reverse all travel bans.
It is absolutely clear is that it is a mistake to blame South Africa for the emergence of the variant. Researchers in South Africa are extremely good at identifying variants and have been transparent enough to warn the world. Omicron should not distract us from the fact that we are already in the middle of a raging pandemic. Finding the correct answers to this variant is the only key.