The World Health Organization has called it a “worrying variant”. And the European Union considers that it has a “high or very high” risk. It is the omicron, the variant of the coronavirus detected in southern Africa and that this Friday has put the world on alert, to the point that the European Union has decided to suspend flights with seven African countries, as well as the United Kingdom. , Israel and Singapore, among others.
What do we know about omicron, the new variant of COVID detected in South Africa
B.1.1.529, the new variant of coronavirus notified by South Africa, has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) this Friday after the meeting of the independent group of experts (TAG-VE) that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of the virus that causes COVID and assesses whether certain mutations alter its behavior.
A “variant of concern” is, as defined by the WHO, one that has been shown to be associated with one or more of the following changes to a degree that is significant for global public health: increased transmissibility or harmful change in the epidemiology of COVID-19; increased virulence or change in the clinical presentation of the disease or decreased effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostic tools, vaccines and treatments.
According to the WHO in a statement, this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are worrisome. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, compared” with others. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost every province in South Africa, says the WHO, noting that current PCR tests continue to detect it. There are several ongoing studies and the expert group will continue to evaluate it.
“The most divergent variant”
The EU Center for Disease Prevention (ECDC) released a risk and threat analysis of the new variant on Friday night.
In his report, he argues that “the omicron variant is the most divergent variant that has been detected in significant numbers during the pandemic thus far, raising concerns that it may be associated with increased transmissibility, a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine and an increased risk of reinfections. ”
The ECDC, like the WHO, has classified this variant as a variant of concern (VOC), due to “concerns about immune escape and potentially increased transmissibility compared to the delta variant.”
According to the ECDC risk assessment, “there is considerable uncertainty related to the transmissibility, the efficacy of the vaccine, the risk of reinfections and other properties of the omicron variant.”
“However,” says the ECDC, “given its potential for immunological escape and potentially increased transmissibility compared to delta, we assess the likelihood of further community introduction and spread in the EU as high. In a situation where the Delta variant is re-emerging in the EU, the impact of the introduction and possible further spread of omicron could be very high. ”
“In conclusion”, states the report: “The overall level of risk to the EU associated with the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is assessed as high or very high. Due to uncertainties about the immune escape properties of omicron, A precautionary approach is important, and timely and urgently strengthened implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions is strongly recommended. ”
In this phase, the EU body recommends “strongly avoiding traveling to and from affected areas, as well as increasing testing and contact tracing of COVID-19 cases with epidemiological link to the affected areas.”
In addition, the ECDC “urges EU countries to give the highest priority to vaccination that remain unvaccinated or do not yet have the full vaccination schedule. Countries should consider the booster dose for those over 40 years old, first targeting the most vulnerable and the elderly, and then they might consider a booster dose for all adults 18 years and older at least six months after completing the primary series. ”
The EU has activated the ’emergency brake’ this Friday afternoon and suspends flights from southern Africa for the new variant. The 27 have reached this conclusion, meeting urgently in the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR), after the advance of the new variant of the coronavirus, detected in southern Africa. The seven countries affected are: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The decision comes after the proposal of the Community Executive. “The European Commission will propose, in close coordination with the Member States, to activate the emergency brake to suspend flights from the southern African region due to variant B.1.1.529”, said the president, Ursula von der Leyen, to first hour of this Friday.
Despite the decisions, the Spanish Government has called for “tranquility”. Health specifies that “there is no intense passenger traffic” between these two countries and Spain, and recalls that “no case of this variant has been detected” in our country, although Belgium has already reported the first contagion. And the spokesman minister, Isabel Rodríguez, has guaranteed that they will work with “absolute rigor.”
Variant B.1.1.529 presents an atypical and worrying combination of mutations that, according to scientists, could make the virus more contagious and help it evade the body’s immune response. Any new variant capable of eluding the protection of vaccines or spreading more rapidly than the delta variant, which is currently predominant, could threaten a global exit from the pandemic. There are about 50 confirmed cases of this variant in South Africa, Hong Kong, and Botswana.