In a quick turn of events, the World Health Organization announced the discovery of the new variant of Covid-19 in South Africa. This new coronavirus Omicron variant was discovered in the Southern part of Africa.
The World Health Organization said the omicron strain is a “variant of concern” due to its numerous mutations.
The new omicron variant was first discovered by researchers in Botswana Harvard H.IV Reference Laboratory, Gaborone. Later on, it was reported that South African researchers have also discovered the omicron variant of the coronavirus in some patient samples collected in Gauteng.
Not much is known about this new strain, as scientists and researchers are still trying to determine the level of mutation, possible virulence, and severity of the omicron variant. They are also studying its rate of transmission.
Between the Omicron variant and Delta variant
Researches have suggested the variant might spread more than the Delta variant, which before now was the major strain ravaging different countries and accounting for most of the infections and deaths.
The omicron variant is spreading very fast in South Africa, and it is already accounting for about 75% of new coronavirus infections, with a high likelihood of re-infections.
It is believed that taking vaccines and booster shots can still help in protection against the new omicron variant. This is because of the increased immunity and antibodies it gives the body.
The omicron variant is not only restricted to South Africa. Other African countries like Botswana and countries in other regions such as Israel, Belgium, Hong Kong have reported cases.
Pharmaceutical companies – Pfizer and BioNTech are currently studying the new variant and observing the spread. They plan to collaborate in a joint effort to develop a vaccine if it becomes a pandemic.
Another pharmaceutical industry, Moderna, aims to develop a booster medication against the new variant as an addition to the normal double shots of the Covid-19 vaccine.
How Omicron variant is detected?
The virus was detected using a standard nasal swab test – PCR. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is fast and identifies two out of the 29 coronavirus genes. They are the spike gene and the nucleocapsid gene.
Though the omicron variant does not test positive for the spike gene due to mutation, it tests positive for nucleocapsid. So, the nucleocapsid is used to confirm the virus.
The implication of Omicron Variant on South Africa
Due to the increasing number of cases, many European countries have issued travel bans to South Africa and other African countries.
The United States has banned travel from South Africa and other seven South African countries – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
In Europe, the Euro officials had a meeting and agreed to impose travel restrictions on South Africa. Many countries such as France, Italy, Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic have already imposed the restrictions.
Other countries in both South and North America such as Canada, Brazil, Guatemala have done the same.
In Asia, countries such as Japan, Philippines, Singapore, and Middle East states – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey, Jordan, and Israel have implemented the ban.
Even some African countries such as Seychelles, and Morocco has followed suit in restricting movement to South Africa.