The ending of the year 2021 brought with it a new variant of COVID-19, which has posed a threat to the resumption of normalcy in the entire world. This new variant, Omicron is supposed to have originated from South Africa and then by gradually engulfing the entire Europe and the USA it had paved its way to India. Projections are that the numbers are going to rise over the next one month to a disproportionate amount with a rapid rise in daily cases. As of today, India has reported more than 3.47 lack new Covid cases, with a total active case count of more than 20 lack.
About the Omicron strain:
Scientists in South Africa reported the emergence of a new strain of the COVID-19 virus, called the B.1.1.529 on November 24th, 2021. Soon after the identification of this new variant by a team in Botswana headed by Dr Sikhulile Moyo, the World Health Organisation (WHO) did not hesitate to classify it as a Variant Of Concern (VOC). WHO has classified this variant of COVID-19 as a VOC because of the high number of mutations and its rate of transmission. Soon after this many other countries also identified this new variant affecting their population.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) named it Omicron, following the tradition of using Greek nomenclature to denote the strains of the virus. The strains before the Omicron were named alpha, beta, gamma, Delta variant and so on. The new variant (Omicron) has been named while skipping the two letters in the Greek alphabet ‘Nu’ and ‘Xi’.
What does the study say?
According to the statistical data from South Africa, it has been assumed that the Omicron variant is 3 times more capable of infecting other people as compared to the delta variant. Moreover, the rate of increasing cases has exceeded that of the previous 3 waves of COVID-19 as well.
In a few other studies, it has been found that the Omicron variant of Covid is more likely to infect the throat than the lungs, which scientists believe may explain why it appears to be more infectious but less deadly than other versions of the virus. There are five studies from across the world that confirm this observation that Omicron does not damage people’s lungs as much as the Delta and other previous variants of Covid.
Deenan Pillay, professor of virology at University College London said, “The result of all the mutations that make Omicron different from previous variants is that it may have altered its ability to infect different sorts of cells.”
“In essence, it looks to be more able to infect the upper respiratory tract – cells in the throat. So, it would multiply in cells there more readily than in cells deep in the lung. This is really preliminary but the studies point in the same direction.”
It implies the fact that if the virus replicates more in the throat, that makes it more transmissible, which would help to explain the rapid spread of Omicron. On the other hand, a virus that is good at infecting lung tissue will be potentially more dangerous but less transmissible.
What are the Precautions for Omicron?
To stay safe, you must follow all the WHO and Government-mandated safety measures for Omicron:
- Get vaccinated if you haven’t
- Maintain physical distancing
- Limit your travel outside and avoid crowding at all costs.
- Always wear a mask when stepping out or meeting any outsider
- Follow hand hygiene and respiratory etiquettes
- Do not ignore any signs of illness and consult your doctor immediately
How can Omicron turn out to be a blessing in disguise?
Scientists and researchers are increasingly convinced that the Omicron variant is acting like a natural vaccine for the people around the world. This is because most infected people have no or very mild symptoms, yet their bodies do produce full antibodies. Various countries are currently seeing record numbers of infections, including the USA, UK, Europe and most part of Asia, but hospital admissions only show a modest or even no serious increase. The high level of contagiousness, paired with very mild symptoms, may make Omicron a blessing in disguise, some Covid scientists argue.
Professor Tony Blakely from the University of Melbourne in an Australia’s program said that Omicron may actually be a “blessing”, as initial reports suggest it is less severe than Delta despite being more infectious.
Its apparent high transmissibility could lead it to displace Delta, he says. “This one should be more mild, but we don’t know exactly how much more mild it is, so that means that the hospitalisation rate should, but we are still learning, be less severe,” he explained.
“It might be our ‘get out of this pandemic’ card,” he adds. However, Dr Blakely warned, that even if Omicron didn’t cause severe symptoms, that doesn’t stop another variant from doing so one day.
“There will be more variants, and it is not guaranteed that the variant after Omicron and the next one will each be milder, it could become more severe. So, it’s a really interesting time to be an epidemiologist,” he said.
Dr Namita Jaggi of Artemis Hospitals in India told various media channels that “pandemics have traditionally speaking petered out by having variants that are milder and less severe till they finally die out.”
“So no, Omicron is not a cause of concern, rather we must optimistically hope that we are moving towards the end of the pandemic,” Jaggi said.
Dr Vishal Sehgal, President of medical services at Portea Medical in India, told the Times of India that “Omicron acts as a natural vaccine and proves beneficial as it is less life-threatening.”
Nicanor Austriaco, a Filipino-American molecular biologist, also believes Covid may slowly be killing itself off with the milder Omicron variant. During a Town Hall meeting, last week, he said that those infected with Omicron will have antibodies that “will protect them against Delta, Gamma, Beta, Alpha, and D614G” variants.
So, to conclude we can only wait and watch what actually happens and take adequate precautions. Till we get a clear picture, we have to live with the virus like we have been living for the past 2 years. Getting vaccinated is the only proven way to avoid deadly complications even if you are infected. Wearing the mask, maintaining physical distancing, avoiding the crowded places are the only ways to avoid infection from Covid-19 virus till it totally disappears from this world.