Omicron- Why are scientists worried?

Good Morning Kashmir Editorial
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WHO has designated a new variant ‘Omicron’ a cause of concern on the advice of WHOs Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution on 26th November 2021. It is a variant of SARS-Cov-2 which causes COVID-19. The virus was first reported to the World Health Organisation from South Africa on 24 November 2021. Since it was being reported from scientists in South Africa and Botswana, researchers all over the world are bent on understanding the threat that could be caused. The cases due to it have now been confirmed in more than 20 countries. But of course, scientists may take time to completely understand the severity and transmissibility of the disease. There is currently no information if it is more infectious than other variants although the initial reported cases of the virus in younger individuals were milder. Also, preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron in comparison to other variants. In India too, two omicron cases have been detected . This variant has shown a large number of mutations, more than 30 on the viral spike protein which is the key target of the immune response. We can diagnose SARS-CoV2 by RT-PCR method but, incase of Omicron the S gene is heavily mutated which can result in S gene drop out.So for the final confirmation of this variant genomic sequencing is required.

 

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However, vaccines are still expected to offer protection. As for the precautions they are the same as have been taking for two years now I.e, masking properly, taking both doses of vaccines, maintaining social distancing and good ventilation. And talking about the variants, they are a part of evolution and can continue as long as virus is able to replicate and transmit. But what is in our hands to avoid its replication is by reducing the number of infections. As Omicron has been designated a variant of concern, there are several actions WHO recommends countries to undertake, including enhancing surveillance and sequencing of cases; sharing genome sequences on publicly available databases, such as GISAID; reporting initial cases or clusters to WHO; performing field investigations and laboratory assessments. WHO is providing countries with support and guidance for both readiness and response. In addition, it is also important that access to COVID-19 vaccines are urgently addressed to ensure that vulnerable groups including health workers receive the vaccines.

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