Omicron has taken the world by storm and scientists are working around the clock to determine vaccine efficacy against the newly discovered and fast-spreading variant.
Lab tests are underway and results are expected within the next two to three weeks.
In the meantime, the question remains: Is Delta still the dominant variant, or has Omicron taken over the reins?
Variant showdown: Omicron vs Delta
Delta evades vaccine defences
No one can say for certain at this stage whether vaccines will be effective in stopping people from contracting Omicron, or how well they will be protected against severe illness.
While vaccines are effective against earlier variants – Alpha, Beta and Gamma Covid variants – Delta has proved able to evade vaccine defences against transmission.
That said, being vaccinated still prevents severe illness, and reduces the risk of hospitalisation or death, even when infected with the Delta variant.
Lab tests to measure Omicron’s vulnerability to the vaccines in use today are underway, a process that should yield results in two to three weeks.
Omicron’s higher transmissibililty
When South African researchers identified the Omicron variant, preliminary data suggest the new strain was three times more likely to cause reinfections compared to the Delta or Beta strains.
The national health department also on Friday confirmed a spike in children under the age of five being admitted to hospital since Omicron emerged.
Public health specialist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), Dr Waasila Jassat said unvaccinated children appear to be at higher risk.
The data showed children who had been admitted to hospital were not vaccinated, and most of their parents weren’t vaccinated either.
Economic impact from both variants
The variants have one thing in common: Both could slow economic recovery just as the Delta strain did when it became the dominant strain in July 2021.
According to International Monetary Fund chief, Kristalina Georgieva, experts were concerned about economic recovery losing momentum, even before Omicron was identified.
Chief economist Laurence Boone said at a press conference Omicron is adding to “the already high levels of uncertainty and risks, and that could be a threat to the recovery”.
And the winner is…
Despite Omicron now being detected in 38 countries, Delta remains dominant, but the World Health Organization say Omicron will overtake Delta in 2022.
The WHO said the same measures used to combat the Delta variant should remain as the fundamental basis for fighting the new strain.
The organisation said it will take several weeks to determine how infectious Omicron is, and to assess how vaccines, tests and treatments hold up against the new variant.