The World Health Organization (WHO) has assigned the Greek letter Omicron to the newly identified Covid-19 variant and has classified it has a variant of concern.
The B.1.1.529 variant, with at least 10 mutations, was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021, with the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.
According to the WHO, preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern.
“Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage,” said the WHO in a statement on Friday.
The WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, named Omicron.
The WHO has asked countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants; submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID and report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.
“Where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics,” it said.
Individuals are reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.
Compiled by Vhahangwele Nemakonde